Body piercing materials

Body piercing materials

In modern Western body piercing, a wide variety of materials are used. Some cannot be autoclaved, and others are may induce allergic reactions, or harbour bacteria. Certain countries, such as those belonging to the EU, have legal regulations specifying which materials can be used in new piercings.


urgical steel

Surgical steel, also known as 316L and Implant grade steel is a steel alloy that is the most common body piercing material in the United States. It can be polished to a shiny surface, and many people prefer this material to titanium because of its luster.

Allergic reactions, when they occur, are rarely due to the stainless steel but from other factors (most commonly from mechanical irritation or harsh cleaning products). Allergic reactions typically include itching, redness, and swelling, with a discharge of clear fluid that is not lymph. The element in stainless steel that causes allergic reactions in some people is Nickel. Polishing the jewelry to a mirror like luster results in a protective layer of chromium oxide keeping the Nickel content trapped inside.

One disadvantage of 316L is its weight. In larger pieces of jewelry this can be a problem as it can cause tension in the body tissue, and also unwanted stretching of a piercing. In areas with low blood circulation, such as the earlobe, this can be potentially dangerous. However, with smaller jewelry, there is no need to worry.

Another downside is its tendency to become very cold during winter. This can cause problems; due to this, many change their jewelry to others made of horn, bone, wood, plastics and glass during winter.

The 316 series of stainless has a tendency to work harden and to form a long stringy curl when lathe processed, the use of a chip breaker is recommended. Like all steels, 316L may be sterilized in an autoclave.

Specific Gravity 7.95Melting Point 2550F

annealing 1850-2050 F (1010-1121 C), followed by rapid cooling. Can only be work hardened, and not hardened by heat.

The two standards for how to make surgical implant grade metals are ASTM F138 and ISO5832-1

Other standards for 316 include: AFNOR Z7CND 18-12-03, AISI 316, AMS 5524, AMS 5573, AMS 5648, AMS 5690, AMS 5696, ASTM A167, ASTM A182, ASTM A193 (B8M, MA, M2 & M3), ASTM A194 (316, 8M, 8MA), ASTM A213, ASTM A240, ASTM A249, ASTM A269, ASTM A270, ASTM A271, ASTM A276, ASTM A312, ASTM A313, ASTM A314, ASTM A320 (316,B8M, B8MA), ASTM A336, ASTM A358, ASTM A368, ASTM A376, ASTM A403, ASTM A409, ASTM A430, ASTM A473, ASTM A478, ASTM A479, ASTM A492, ASTM A493, ASTM A511, ASTM A554, ASTM A580, ASTM A632, ASTM A666, ASTM A688, ASTM A771, ASTM A813, ASTM A814, ASTM A826ASTM F138, DIN 1.4401, DIN 1.4436, MIL S-5059, MIL S-7720, QQ S763, QQ S766, and UNS S31600.

The following formulations, give percentages of material in the mix, single numbers represent maximum values

Forceps are usually made of 410 stainless (UNS# S41000) which by percentage is composed of: Carbon .15 Manganese 1 Silicon 1 Chromium 11.5-13.5 Nickel .75 Phosphorus .04 Sulfur .03Note small areas of surface rust are not unusual for this grade of stainless, it tends to be able to be scrubbed off with a wet steel wool soap pad such as Brill-O.

316 Stainless (UNS# S31600), This does not have low carbon content as compared to 316L, 316LM, and 316LVM. Formula Carbon .08 Manganese 2.00 Silicon 1.00 Chromium 16-18 Nickel .10-14 Phosphorus .045 Sulfur .03 Molybdenum 2.0-3.0 Nitrogen .10

316L Stainless (UNS# S31603), the “L” stands for Low Carbon. If any class of steel truly deserves to be called surgical stainless steel these "L" class derivates of 316 would be it, It never develops surface rust and is even resistant to constant salt water exposure. Formula Carbon .03 Manganese 2.00 Silicon 1.00 Chromium 16-18 Nickel .10-14 Phosphorus .045 Sulfur .03 Molybdenum 2.0-3.0 Nitrogen .10 This seems to be the same material as 316LVM (LVM may be a trademarked name)

316LM Stainless (UNS# S31653), is very similar to 316L, except with a slightly higher nickel and molybdenum content.

316LVM Stainless has the same elemental composition as 316L, but has been vacuum melted.,%20March%202003.pdf The Point]


When the EU passed the nickel law, and 316L was no longer an alternative for new piercings, implantatium, a new alloy with less nickel, was created, with the aim of replacing the surgical steel as the leading healing jewelry.

However, implantatium never became successful, mainly due to its high prices, uneven quality and a limited choice of jewelry. Instead titanium became the leading material.

The alloy consists of less than 0.05% nickel and is therefore compatible with the EU nickel law. It is safe to use in a healing piercing but as stated above, the choice of jewelry is very limited.


Titanium body jewelry is often manufactured in either commercially pure grades 1 to 5 or grade 23 Ti6AL4V ELI, also known as Implant Grade Titanium.

The grade considered suitable for piercing jewellery use is a disputed topic however the only Grade recommended for use by the association of professional piercers remains Grade 23 Titanium (ASTM F136).

The alloy has long been used for both piercings and medical implants, but it is difficult to see if long-term allergies and other complications could arise. Titanium, the alloy contains aluminum and vanadium.

When the EU Nickel Directive came into force - high nickel bearing alloys were restricted from use in primary (new) piercings. Because of its virtually 'Nickel Free' content Titanium has become one of the preferred materials used in piercing jewellery within the borders of the EU.

Titanium jewellery is lightweight (around 60% the weight of stainless steel given the same volume), it is highly corrosion resistant and less likely to react with body fluids, is not magnetic, it can be anodized to create a layer of colored oxide on the surface. Common colors are yellow, blue, purple, green, and rainbow.

Titanium can be sterilized in an autoclave.


Blackline was introduced to the medical business in the late 1980s and revolutionized what it was possible to do with materials. It is a technique still used to treat the surface of pacemakers and other medical equipment.

Blackline jewelry is produced by adding a surface layer of black and highly durable titanium film to a titanium core.

The jewelry is resistant to wear and causes little friction to body tissue.

Allergic reactions to blackline are extremely uncommon, which is why it is often used in surgical equipment. Although the surface layer isn't classified as permanent, it is very durable and lasts longer than, for example, anodized titanium.

Blackline is suitable for piercings that are still healing, as it is lightweight, safe and durable. However if used where in contact with hard body parts, such as teeth, the surface layer can be scraped off. It can be autoclaved.

Zircon Gold / Zircontwo

Zircontwo or Zircon Gold was developed as an alternative to gold jewelry. The method of production is similar to that of Blackline, but instead of titanium in the film, a material called zirconium nitride is used. The core of the material is most often a highgrade titanium alloy called Ti6AL4V ELI. Zircontwo, like Blackline, is used in medical equipment.

Zircontwo is better suited to a healing piercing than real gold, since it won't discolor as 18K (75%) gold often does. It is also more lightweight and has a smoother surface so it won't cause as much irritation. It is also cheaper and significantly more durable.

Zircon Gold / Zircontwo can be autoclaved.


Niobium is a metal resembling titanium, but it is heavier. When using niobium in a piercing jewelry it has to be as pure as possible, the threshold value being 99.9% niobium. This is sometimes referred to as "999 Niobium". Lower purity shouldn't be used as it can lead to allergies.

Pure niobium doesn't react to body fluids, oxygen or cleaning agents. It can safely be autoclaved. It is allowed in healing piercings by the EU nickel law.

Niobium can be treated to obtain a permanently dim black surface. A Septum retainer in black niobium is practically invisible.

The selection of niobium jewelry is much smaller than that of titanium and blackline, mainly because niobium jewelry is more expensive and more difficult to produce.


Bronze is often used in larger piercings in the form of earweights and ethnic jewelry from Indonesia and other places of the world.

Bronze is an alloy of different metals but the most common blend (in piercing jewelry) is 90% copper and 10% tin.

When buying bronze jewelry, make sure to buy it from a serious manufacturer as some bronzes can contain arsenic which can "bleed" into your body. Bronze can also discolor the skin with a greenish color which can be removed but if it gets into open wounds it can permanently discolor the tissue.


Jewelry made out of Silver, a noble metal, has been common for centuries in all forms of jewelry. It has a certain luster and can also be treated to make certain areas black which gives a nice contrast. However, silver is also one of the most common reasons for nickel-allergy.

It should also never be used in new piercings or damaged piercings as blood, sweat and other body fluids as well as cleaning agents can make the silver oxidize which makes the metal black and also releases nickelsalts which can cause severe allergies and also discolor the area around the piercing, a discoloring that will last through life.

The purity of silver is measured in hundreds. The numbers stapled on silver jewelry is what indicates this. For example, 925 means 92.5% silver, and 7.5% other metals, often nickel.


Gold is a noble metal. It is a beautiful metal for use in jewelry and has an old tradition.

When using gold for piercings, a lower purity than 14 or 18 carat (58 to 75%) is not recommended. Neither should gold plated jewelry be used and even though the EU allows it, gold should never be used in healing piercings.

Gold is about as soft as lead and is easily scratched. These scratches can irritate the body, especially in new piercings. Tonguebars in gold are not recommended as chewing on the beads is common. This makes the beads full of scratches and flaws. Zircontwo is recommended instead.

For piercing, a gold alloy is used, the most common being 18k, with 24k being entirely pure. 18k gold contains 75% gold and 25% copper and silver. Traces of other metals may also be present. In lower quality gold, zinc and nickel can also be found.

As said, gold jewelry should never be used in healing piercings as body fluids tends to discolor the metal and cause it to "bleed". Allergy to gold is uncommon but it does exist, and then mostly from white gold. In some extreme cases, the copper in the jewelry can "bleed" out and cause greenish discolorings to the tissue.

18k gold can become discolored from autoclaving.


Glass is a common piercing material which has been used for thousands of years. For example, earplugs made of glass have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

If correctly shaped and manufactured, glass is an excellent material: comfortable to wear, tough, and safe for the body. However, cheaper glass beads that are not covered in a metal shell can easily break into shards. If you drop glass jewelry on the floor, you probably won't be able to use it again. Also if you have a cheap bead in a tongue piercing and accidentally chew on it, it can break into tiny shards and cause lacerations.

It is possible to sterilize glass in a steam-autoclave but the heat may cause cracking in cheaper products.


Plastics have been used for a long time for both implants and piercings. Early piercers often used it as a healing jewelry. After the piercing was done, a product resembling a thick fishing line was inserted in the hole and its end was rivetted together. When the piercing was healed, the plastic was cut and pulled out, and then a real jewelry was inserted. The method is still in use today, but to a much smaller extent. There are many better and safer ways today.

Plastic is a light material, with an amazing resistance to the body's chemical reactions and safe against most allergies. However, many plastics have tiny pores, which makes it necessary to often take the jewelry out and thoroughly clean it from skinparts and such.


PTFE or Teflon was invented in 1938 and is used in the medical industry as well as for frying pans.

It is biocompatible, meaning it will not cause allergies. It's a lightweight plastic, it's bendable, autoclaveable, not visible with X-Rays, not magnetic, and very stable. It's well suited for implants and piercings, specially if you want a little elasticity in the jewelry.

It's also a good material to use as retainers, when you need to take out any metal jewelry, like when in surgery or when X-rayed, so that the hole won't shrink.

Acrylic, plexiglas

Acrylic or Plexiglas or any of a variety of names, is a transparent plastic, in piercing mostly used for plugs and tapers.

Due to the material's slipperiness, it is widely used for stretching. Many overenthusiasts have damaged their holes with acrylic tapers.

Jewelry made of acrylic has a tendency to collect body fluids and skin parts in tiny pores. This calls for regular cleaning to avoid bad smell and infections. It's not a good material for damaged or new piercings and neither should it be autoclaved as it can get discolored. It is also a fragile material and can easily shard if dropped.


Plastastic is a relatively new plastic. It is non-toxic, safe against the body's chemical reactions and does not cause allergies. It's available in several different colors and shapes.

The material is also widely used in the medical industry for sutures, synthetic arteries, reconstruction of tendons, replacement of cardiac valves, and boneplates and screws.


Gems or gemstones are mostly used as inlays in plugs and as beads in BCR:s.

The quality varies widely with different gems, and it can be hard to find stones big enough without cracks and scratches.

Some stones may affect the body such as malachite which contains copper that can discolor the skin. Others may contain lead or arsenic or other hazardous materials. However, stones are generally not a problem for the body as long as they don't have sharp or pointy edges or are very heavy. They can most of the time be autoclaved, but some stones, such as opals and corals can't stand the heat and should be cleaned some other way.

See Gemstones

Natural Materials


Wood is a common material for plugs and other shapes. Wooden pieces tend to keep warm in cold conditions, they are lightweight, they often stay in place better than other plugs and also they allow the body to "breathe" so the piercing is less likely to smell as it might with other materials.

The downside of wood as a piercing jewelry is its abundance of pores that give it more texture, and may absorb body fluids or chemicals. It also has a potential to dry out and lose luster. This can be prevented with vegetable oil such as jojoba oil.It should not be autoclaved as that can cause cracking, warping, or splitting.

Wood has grain that will rise if not properly finished, dramatically changing the texture. The porousity of wood and inability to be safely sterilized renders it inappropriate as a material for initial piercings or unhealed stretches.

Some types of wood are strongly discouraged for piercing jewelry as they can cause allergic reactions or otherwise be irritating for the skin. Hardwood is preferable. Correctly treated, it doesn't swell, it's durable, stable, does not absorb a lot of moisture or body fluids, and the surface can be polished to be very smooth.

Wood is also an excellent basis for more advanced jewelry. The flat faces of a plug can be inlaid with gemstones or metals, etc. Wood can easily be shaped and it comes in many colors.


Amber is a fossilized resin and has a long tradition of use in jewelry. Its most common color is a goldish yellow but it also comes in black, greenish, reddish, white, brown and blue and various blends. It can be found with natural entrapments of small animals and plants which can be amazingly well-preserved.

Amber is commonly used for inlays in metal jewelry or in plugs made of horn, bone or wood etc, but there are also massive amber plugs.

The material has a smooth surface that is kind to the skin, but tends to be a little fragile and can't handle heat very well, so it shouldn't be autoclaved. During winter, it will stay warm.


Biological Organic Materials are quite common in the world of piercings and are what were used by many cultures that pierced traditionally. They are generally considered more exotic than plastic and metal jewelry. Like wood, they are well suited for piercing jewelry as they are easily shaped and with bone, horn, ivory etc. you can get a nice smooth surface. Biological organic materials allow your body to "breathe" and they never get cold during winter. However, like wood, they can get dried out, which can produce cracks.

Badly cleaned materials can transfer remaining bacteria and such to the body of the jewelry-wearer, so therefore it is very important that you buy your jewelry from a serious manufacturer.

Lower quality jewelry might have scratches which can harbor bacteria, or poor finishes which can result in harsh textures.

Some people find the use of material from animals unethical (not to mention illegal in many countries), especially ivory and such from nearly-extinct species, therefore a good alternative is fossilized mammoth, mastodon, or walrus ivory, which is a half-fossilized material exported from Siberia or Alaska. Every year, large amounts of mammoth ivory are exposed in the permafrost of Siberia. The abundance of mammoth ivory, and the fact that the trade is legal, has dealt a hard blow against the illegal ivory trade. Mammoth ivory can be found in more than the normal white/yellowish colors normal ivory has. This is because minerals in the ground sometimes color the ivory. Mammoth ivory is prone to cracking due to changes in temperature and moisture levels if it is not properly cared for.

Bone, horn, ivory and such should not be autoclaved as it might dry them out. Neither should it be used in unhealed piercings as their surface is grounds for bacteria and other microbes.

ee also

*Body piercing
*Body piercing jewelry


* [ Organic LLC] : Information on care of natural materials, endangered wood species, possible allergic reactions to wood species, and more


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