Body Jewelry: What’s It Made Of?

Just as body jewelry comes in various gauges, shapes & sizes, body jewelry also comes in a variety of materials.  They range from alloys like stainless steel to natural materials such as wood and bone.  Each type has different properties and not all are right for everyone.

The materials used in most body jewelry are chosen because they are very well suited for piercings.  While people do have allergic reactions to some of the jewelry materials they are not that common.  If you do find that a certain jewelry type irritates your skin you can easily find another to replace it.

Pricing of body jewelry will directly reflect both the material used and the craftsmanship involved in making the piece.  A handmade wood set will be more than a mass-produced one.  It will also depend on the price of the wood involved.  Gold will run you more than silver, no need to go into further detail.

Keep in mind that not all materials are right for everyone.  As mentioned before some may cause irritation and not all types of jewelry can be used in a new piercing.

Many natural materials require special cleaning and can’t be sterilized completely.  This makes them more of a decorative piece, worn periodically.

New piercings should have a surgically sterile piece of body jewelry used in the healing process.  This will be an elemental metal or a metal alloy.  The most widely used is stainless steel but other metals can be substituted if there is a known allergy.

Below are the different materials used in body piercing jewelry.

Stainless Steel Body Jewelry – The Industry Standard

Stainless Steel Body JewelryChances are your new piercing will have a ring or barbell made of stainless steel. This material is used so frequently in body jewelry for a number of reasons. Stainless steel is inexpensive compared to many other materials, it is easily sterilized, and it is easy for a new piercing to heal with this type of body jewelry.

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There are only two types of stainless steel that can be used in piercing jewelry, 316L and 316LVM.  In most shops, the 316L will be used, which is a low carbon variety. The 316LVM vacuum melted.  This process prevents contaminants from attaching to the molecules. In most cases, the 316L will be fine.

On rare occasion, the nickel in the alloy can cause irritation. If you have a known sensitivity to nickel you may want request the initial jewelry to be an elemental metal such as titanium or niobium.

Stainless steel jewelry comes in varying levels of hardness. Thin gauges of jewelry are usually able to be manipulated by hand for closing. The thicker gauges may require opening and closing pliers. The softer a piece is the easier it is to manipulate, but at the same time can be scratched or deformed.  Harder jewelry will not deform but can be difficult or near impossible to open and close.

For the most part, you won’t need to worry about this detail for your new piercing. Most shops will choose jewelry somewhere along the middle ground. Later though if you are purchasing jewelry for a healed piercing it is something you will want to take into consideration.

Overall stainless steel is a great choice for a new piercing. It makes great body jewelry and for that reason, it is the first choice for the vast majority of piercing shops.

Titanium Body Jewelry – Strong and Lightweight

Titanium Body JewelryTitanium is a great material for body piercing jewelry. It is lightweight and is resistant to interference by bodily fluids. When used for piercing it is highly polished and very non-porous.

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Through a process called anodizing, titanium can come in a wide variety of colors.  An oxide layer is formed over the titanium which provides the color.  Over time this layer will wear away due to friction.  But the underlying jewelry will still be suitable for use.  Titanium is naturally a grey color.

Titanium alloy does contain other elements. An oxide layer forms which doesn’t contain these elements. This layer prevents contact with the other elements and because of this irritation is very rare.

All of these factors make titanium a very good choice in piercing jewelry.  It’s also one of the toughest sounding elemental names out there.

Gold Body Jewelry – When Silver Just Won’t Do

Gold Body JewelryGold is another material frequently used in body piercing jewelry. Jewelry should only be made of solid gold. Gold plated jewelry will not work. The plating will quickly wear off either from friction or chipping when the jewelry is manipulated. A respectable shop will not carry plated jewelry.  So if you aren’t sure, pass it up.

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A piece of gold body jewelry must be at least 14K to be acceptable in a body piercing. One karat is the equivalent of 1/24th of the alloy being pure.

Gold jewelry can cause irritation for some people. This is due to the other elements present in the alloy. Nickel, zinc, copper, and silver are very commonly found in gold. The higher the karat the less the additional elements are present. Unfortunately pure gold is too soft to be used for any length of time.

Yellow gold and white gold are the only suitable colors for body jewelry. Any other color variations contain high concentrations of other elements to add color. Please avoid these.

Discoloration is quite common with gold jewelry. You will need to clean your jewelry on a frequent basis but this shouldn’t be a problem.

A quality gold piece of jewelry can be used in a new piercing. We are talking about gold so you are going to pay for what you get. The higher the karat the higher the price. But if you have the money to do so, go for it.

Sterling Silver Body Jewelry – Like Steel Only Shinier

Silver Body JewelrySterling silver is a material used to make some body jewelry. Silver jewelry used exclusively for piercing is not very common. Most will be decorative for earlobes, or other types of jewelry.  Keep in mind silver jewelry should not be used in a new piercing.

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Silver can tarnish very quickly, as anyone who has worn a silver ring can attest to.  For this reason, sterling silver jewelry should only be used in a well established and completely healed piercing.

In a new piercing, the tarnish can actually transfer to the unhealed area. This can darken the skin, sometimes permanently.

Silver is a very soft metal and must be checked regularly for damage. A nick or scratch is the perfect place for bacteria to gather.

925 sterling silver is what is used in the majority of piercing jewelry. The number refers to the fact that the alloy is 92.5% silver and the rest is other metals.

Platinum Body Jewelry – Wow, that’s expensive

Platinum Body JewelryPlatinum makes great body jewelry but unfortunately, it is one of the most expensive metals on the planet. Do a search for platinum body jewelry. I would be quite sad if I lost the ball off a 300 dollar barbell. For most consumers and merchants it is just not a practical material to use.

Niobium Body Jewelry –  Rare Elemental Metal

Niobium Body JewelryWhile not as common as some of the other jewelry materials, niobium can be used to good effect. Very few people experience irritation when using body jewelry made of niobium.

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Niobium comes in two different finishes, matte or “satin”, and high polish or “mirror”. Matte finished niobium should not be used in a new piercing. It is porous and can harbor bacteria. There is also a chance that the piercing could heal into these pours causing a tear upon removal.

Highly polished niobium can be used for new piercings. Cheap or poorly polished niobium, usually the same thing, can cause problems. Make sure you are using a highly polished piece of jewelry.

Through the process of anodizing niobium can come in a wide variety of colors. This forms a colored oxide layer. Over time this layer may fade due to friction.

Rock or Stone Body Jewelry – Basic and Colorful

Stone Body JewelryRock and stone jewelry is quite beautiful due to the huge amount of materials available. It goes without saying that rock is heavy. Sorry, I said it anyway.

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This makes large pieces of jewelry uncomfortable or impractical. Most of what you will find will be smaller pieces of jewelry. Large jewelry can damage a piercing or fall out.

Rock and stone no matter how polished is still porous.  You will need to clean it with an anti-bacterial soap and water. Body jewelry made of these materials is not recommended for long-term use or in new piercings.

Bone or Horn Body Jewelry – One of the Originals

Horn & Bone Body JewelryJewelry made of bone or horn is best used as decorative pieces. They can be carved into endless shapes and sized. As for colors they can be white, black or other natural shades in between.

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Horn and bone are naturally porous. The material cannot be run through an autoclave.  You will need to clean them with a mild anti-bacterial soap and water. They can be treated occasionally with jojoba or olive oil.

If a piece becomes it should be discarded. It is also best to remove bone or horn jewelry before it gets wet. Bone or horn should not be used in a new piercing and should only be worn for short periods of time.

Glass Body Jewelry – All Shapes and Colors

Glass Body JewelryBody jewelry made of glass, more specifically borosilicate glass, is a good choice for well-established piercings. This type of glass is sold under the brand names Pyrex and Kimax.

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Glass jewelry can be very heavy as you get into the larger pieces of jewelry.  It is important to keep an eye on piercings with heavy pieces in them. Stretching can occur and in extreme cases, a tear could form.

Jewelry made of borosilicate glass is smooth, non-porous, and medical grade. Glass jewelry can come in many different colors and shapes.

Overall glass can add a decorative look, but may not be suitable for everyday use.

Wood Body Jewelry – Versatile and Beautiful

Wood Body JewelryBody jewelry made of wood can come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. It can range from very soft to very hard. As a decorative piece in a healed piercing, wood can be a great accent to a piercing. There are precautions as well as some special care that you should be aware of.

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Wood jewelry is not able to be sterilized. Wood can also absorb water. It needs to be removed before showering, swimming or doing any other activity that may saturate. Cleaning the piece on a regular basis is also necessary. You will need to mix a mild anti-bacterial soap with water and clean it about once a week.

To prevent the wood from cracking you can also treat the piece with olive, jojoba or tea tree oil. You should do this every month or so.

Some woods can contain natural toxins that can irritate the skin. Yet others may contain dyes. It is best to check with the seller before buying and ask if the wood contains either of these.

Lightweight wood is great for stretched piercings of all stages. In all wood body jewelry makes a great decorative piece. It is not recommended for new piercings or constant use.

Acrylic Body Jewelry – Not Exactly Ideal

Acrylic Body JewelryAs far as piercing jewelry goes acrylic plastic is not recommended. You will probably see lots of it because it is colorful and inexpensive. This material does have several negative aspects.

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Acrylic body jewelry should not be used in a fresh piercing ever. Plastic and easily prevent a piercing from getting the air it needs to heal. This will quickly lead to infection.

A hard plastic will shatter under pressure as well. Which is bad.

Acrylic can’t be sterilized in an autoclave either. It will melt, which is also bad.

Light colored or clear retainers are commonly made of acrylic or similar plastics. These are acceptable for short periods of time, and only in completely healed piercings. Retainers are generally used to hide a piercing anyway so the long term shouldn’t be an issue.

It is best to use acrylic pieces sparingly or just avoid them all together.

Silicone or Rubber Body Jewelry – Beware of Stretching

Silicone Body JewelryJewelry made of silicone or rubber is not recommended for most piercing applications. It is very bad for a new piercing as the rubber can stretch and form a seal over the area. This will trap in moisture and bacteria and then you’ve got yourself a brand new infection.

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The most common use for rubber and silicon is in flesh tunnels and retainers. These should be used for healed piercings only. Keep the jewelry in for a short time only.

Special attention must be paid when using this material. It can and will stretch, which means it can tear a piercing of any size or age.