Body Jewelry Materials
Of the many stainless steels available, only 316L and 316LVM are appropriate for use as body jewelry. 316L is a low-carbon variety of 316. 316LVM is 316L that has been vacuum melted; the vacuum prevents any air or airborne contaminants to attach to the molecules in the metal, resulting in a more consistent steel. For most people, however, 316LVM steel is not a necessity to heal and maintain a healthy piercing.
316L / 316LVM stainless steel is comprised of several metals including nickel, to which some people are sensitive. However, the specific composition of 316L / 316LVM allows for very little exposure to the nickel molecules, thus reducing the risk of sensitivity.
The jewelry should be polished to a reflective shine (mirror finish), free from rough edges, tool marks, and wire-drawing lines and pitting which are present in the surface of the steel when it arrives from the mill. When polished, true 316L is a white, not grey, metal. Under-polishing will be most evident along the inside of the ring where polishing is most difficult.
316L arrives from the steel manufacturer at specified degrees of hardness. Most jewelry manufacturers use the least-hard (1/4 hard) steel available for rings. Working the steel and forming the steel into rings hardens it to some degree. Annealing, a controlled heating and cooling process performed in a vacuum, yields a more flexible steel, resistant to metal fatigue. Most piercers and jewelry manufacturers agree that steel rings should be annealed to some degree or made from annealed wire because an annealed ring is easier to safely and quickly manipulate for insertion; pliers are often unnecessary for manipulating thinner gauge rings. However, the softer (more annealed) the ring, the easier it is scratched by tools or simply by daily wear. The trade-off of using non-annealed rings is that harder rings require tools to manipulate, increasing the chance of scratching the jewelry during insertion. Very hard rings cannot be torqued open at all; bending can cause the ring to break or create fractures invisible to the unaided eye which can trap bacteria.
316L is classified as an austenitic steel. Austenitic steels are generally non magenetic when annealed, although some may become slightly magnetic by cold working (bending and shaping).
1 karat = 1/24th of the alloy is pure gold
Only solid gold of at least 14 karat (58.3% gold) is appropriate for body jewelry. Some piercers prefer to use only 18k gold (75% gold) in fresh piercings.
Gold-filled and gold-plated or jewelry is not appropriate. Gold plating is very thin and can wear away quickly with the friction to which body jewelry is exposed. Bending the jewelry after it is plated will cause the plating to fracture and chip. (All of Tribalectic's gold body jewelry is SOLID gold)
Some people are sensitive to the metals present in karat gold, namely nickel, silver, zinc and copper. White gold often causes more adverse reactions than yellow gold because a high amount of nickel is used to yield the white color. Many body jewelry manufacturers now use nickel-free gold alloys. White gold alloyed with palladium, an inert metal of the platinum group, instead of nickel is less likely to cause a metal sensitivity. (All of Tribalectic's white AND yellow gold is nickel-free!) Some people who cannot wear steel alloys can wear 18k white gold palladium alloys.
Green or pink gold should not be worn because of the higher concentration of copper and zinc used to produce the color.
Some people's perspiration is acidic enough to corrode the non-gold alloys in karat gold, evident by blackening of the jewelry and discoloration of the surrounding skin. Over a long period of time gold jewelry exposed to urine may acquire a rough, dull surface. The acids found in urine leach into the surface and dries to form a hard crust. Buffing or polishing the jewelry will remove this build-up. Daily cleaning of the jewelry will prevent this build-up.
Gold jewelry will often become discolored when exposed to povidone iodine. Gold jewelry may become discolored when steam autoclaved; the indicators on sterilization packaging and tape appear to cause discoloration. Discolored jewelry can easily be repolished with a soft buffing cloth.
Jewelry that has undergone surface depletion, or pickling, will be less likely to discolor. Pickling is a process of heating the jewelry or submersing it in a weak acid which removes oxidation of non-gold alloys fromthe surface of the metal.
Titanium is an extremely lightweight, elemental metal. The specific alloy used for body jewelry is 6AL4V ELI (6 parts aluminum and 4 parts vanadium with the remainder being Titanium), specifically 136 grade with extra low interstitial elements.
Titanium is the most bio-compatible of all metals due to its total resistance to attack by body fluids. Titanium is often used in permanent surgical implants where the tissue is encouraged to assimilate the implant; the pores in the metal allow for the tissue to attach. When titanium is used for body jewelry it should be highly polished to minimize porosity.
When exposed to air or water, titanium immediately reacts with oxygen to create a thin, inert oxide layer. While the titanium alloy contains aluminum and vanadium, the oxide layer does not contain any traces of either element.
Titanium jewelry is available in a range of colors which are produced through anodizing, not dyeing. During anodizing, the jewelry is submerged in an electrolyte solution and voltage is applied. Anodizing creates an oxide layer on the jewelry. The color results from refraction of light through the oxide layer, and the thickness of the layer determines the resulting color. The voltage applied during anodizing determines the thickness of the oxide. The anodized oxide eventually wears away, causing the color to fade or change; how long the process will take depends on the thickness of the oxide layer and the amount of friction and wear on the jewelry. Unanodized titanium is light to medium grey in color.
Black-colored titanium is produced by coating titanium with titanium carbide through a process called Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD).
Glass / Pyrex
Glass jewelry is available under popular trademarks such as Pyrex and Kimax or can also be referred to as borosilicate glass. There are many other types of glass, but these are the only types suitable for body jewelry.
They are tempered, medical-grade, non-porous and lead-free. Some suppliers also make jewelry under the names of Millicane or Dichroic glass – these terms refer to the colors inside the glass. These colors are created sometimes with metal alloys and other non-safe materials, so body jewelry made with these materials should be encased in a layer of Pyrex or Kimax glass to prevent exposure to unsafe elements.
Glass jewelry, although non-toxic and basically bio-compatible, should not be used for a fresh piercing or during stretching, but only on well-healed piercings. Also, keep in mind that glass is heavy, so the larger the piece of jewelry, the more strain it will cause on your piercing. Very large plugs or talons can cause involuntary stretching and then create healing problems.
Niobium is an elemental metal and is strong yet flexible and is slightly heavier than 316L stainless steel. Niobium is chemically non-reactive. Few people are sensitive to niobium.
Niobium jewelry is available in a range of colors which are produced through anodizing, not dyeing. During anodizing, the jewelry is submerged in an electrolyte solution and voltage is applied. Anodizing creates an oxide layer on the jewelry. The color results from refraction of light through the oxide layer, and the thickness of the layer determines the resulting color. The voltage applied during anodizing determines the thickness of the oxide. The anodized oxide eventually wears away, causing the color to fade or change; how long the process will take depends on the thickness of the oxide layer and the amount of friction and wear on the jewelry.
Black niobium is achieved by heating the niobium until it is red-hot and cooling it. After blackening, the jewelry can be polished. Black niobium will not fade.
Niobium jewelry is available in matte ("satin") or high-polish ("mirror") finishes. Niobium is very porous making it difficult to achieve a high polish. Poorly polished niobium can retain polishing compound residue which is often toxic. Matte finish niobium should not be used for new or healing piercings because the pores can trap bacteria and the rough surface will to adhere to the interior of the piercing, causing it to tear when the jewelry is moved.
Acrylic / Plastic
Plastics come in many forms and under many different names – Acrylic, Nylon, Teflon (PTFE), Silicone, Polymer, Lucite, Resin, Polyamide and Polyester.
Acrylic is probably the most well-known plastic, and there is a lot of acrylic body jewelry or accessories available. It’s inexpensive, versatile, lightweight and comes in a variety of colors. The problem with acrylic is that it’s not autoclavable, which is the only truly safe way to sterilize body jewelry of any kind. It also degrades if it comes in contact with alcohol, so keeping a piece of acrylic jewelry clean is a challenge. It also shatters under pressure, so things like biting down on your tongue barbell can be a real problem if you’ve got an acrylic ball on the end. Acrylic jewelry can suffocate a piercing that needs to breathe, and the end result can be redness, soreness, seeping and a bad odor. Although widely available, acrylic really is not recommended for piercings. If you must wear it, it should only be worn short-term and only in a well-healed piercing.
A couple of things that should be noted:
- The FDA has approved some grades of acrylic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100% safe for long-term use or are completely innocuous. Use common sense when dealing with any new piece of body jewelry – if it starts giving you problems, take it out.
- Glow-in-the-dark acrylic is a plastic that has a naturally occurring glow that is caused by carcinogens. This type of acrylic is not deemed safe for any kind of body jewelry. However, UV-reflective and blacklight-reactive acrylic jewelry is considered safe as they do not contain any harmful chemicals.
Silver / Sterling Silver
Sterling silver is 92.5% silver alloyed with copper or some other metal. Sterling silver jewelry is usually marked "925."
While silver and sterling silver jewelry can often be safely worn in healed piercings, neither should be worn in a new or unhealed piercing or in a piercing that is located in a moist area of the body such as the mouth or genitals.
Silver tarnishes quickly. When worn in a new piercing, the tarnish can be deposited into the skin causing it to darken or turn grey, often permanently.
Silver is very soft and is easily scratched. Scratches in the jewelry surface can easily irritate even a healed piercing and trap bacteria, encouraging infection.
Body jewelry made of wood has great versatility. It is lightweight, so even a largely stretched piercing can be accommodated without discomfort.
Wood comes in a variety of colors and hardness, depending on the source, which can be anything from the reedy bamboo to the rock-solid ebony.
There are, however, some cautions that should be taken regarding body jewelry made of wood. Although most raw woods are relatively safe, there are some that could be considered toxic when brought into contact with the skin, especially for a duration. Also, dyes and other chemicals are sometimes added to wood to enhance their natural beauty, but these can cause irritation of the skin known as “contact dermatitis”. The severity of the reaction to these toxins vary from person to person, but the best thing you can do is avoid them altogether. At Tribalectic we make sure that your organic body jewelry is safe to wear.
Wood is also not recommended for long-term wear, cannot be autoclave sterilized, and is not recommended for new or unhealed piercings. Don’t allow wood jewelry to get saturated or over-heated (remove jewelry before swimming, bathing, or entering a sauna), but it can be safely cleaned with mild liquid anti-bacterial soap and a small amount of water, providing that it is dried immediately. Then it can be lightly treated once a week with jojoba or olive oil to prevent cracking. Tea tree oil can also be used for cleaning and to add sheen.
Bone / Horn
Although they consist of different substances, bone and horn body jewelry can be treated essentially the same. They are semi-hard, porous, and can be carved into different shapes for a variety of body jewelry uses. Most bone jewelry will come from cow bones, and most horn jewelry comes from buffalo, although there are always exceptions to every rule and you need to be sure what you are purchasing.
Bone and horn are relatively lightweight, come in natural shades of white to black, and can be carved into different shapes. Bone and horn are fragile and can shard when broken, so care should be taken not to allow them to be exposed to extreme pressure. They are not autoclavable, but can be carefully washed with mild antibacterial soap and a small amount of water and then treated once a month with jojoba, coconut or olive oil. They are not recommended for new or unhealed piercings, should not be worn long-term or during swimming, bathing or sleeping.
Rubber & Silicone
Rubber and silicone are very similar products in that they are basically a plastic that is pliable and stretchable. They are acceptable for accessories, but not highly recommended for piercings, especially unhealed ones. There are now flesh tunnels available in silicone and while the material is bio-compatible, it comes with another set of risks. One is that silicone has the ability to auto-stretch, which can potentially cause tearing or over-stretching of the hole. Another is that because of the pliability of the material, it tends to cause a seal against the skin and could allow a build-up of seepage which could eventually lead to severe infection. If you use any of these products, it’s imperative that you keep the area clean and dry at all times.
Rock or semi-precious stone is also used to create beautiful body jewelry. It’s heavy, and usually won’t come in very large sizes. The weight can also cause the jewelry to fall out unexpectedly.
It’s more durable than other organic materials, but can still break if dropped or treated roughly. Despite it’s smooth surface and solid texture, stone still cannot be autoclave sterilized and needs to be cleaned with mild antibacterial soap and water.
Stone jewelry is not recommended for new or unhealed piercings and should only be worn for short periods of time.
Platinum and metals in the platinum group such as palladium are completely inert, making them excellent choices for body jewelry. However, platinum is economically impractical for most manufacturers and consumers. Platinum is also very heavy which makes platinum jewelry inappropriate for some piercings.