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. Source Wikipedia.
Surgical steel, also know as 316L and Implant steel is a steel alloy with a bad reputation. The reputation comes from the fact that the EU prohibits materials with a high nickel percentage in new piercings. 316L has a rather high percentage, around 10-14%, but despite this, it is allergy-safe. This is due to the fact that the nickel is so tightly bound in the material, that the leakage of nickel is below the threshold value set up by the EU. However, since the fact is that it has a high nickel content, even though not dangerous, it is not allowed in new piercings in the EU. It can be used for piercings that have already healed.
316L can be polished to a shiny surface and many prefer this material to titanium because of its luster.
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 and due to this, many change their jewelry to others, made of horn, bone, wood, plastics and glass during winter.
316L may be sterilized in an autoclave.
Surgical steel is the most common body piercing material in the United States.
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 jewelry is often either pure Titanium or a "Grade 23" implant-alloy called Ti6AL4V ELI. They are both sold under the name Titanium.
Whether pure titanium or the alloy is best for your body is a disputed topic. The alloy has long been used for both piercings and implants without complications, but it's difficult to see if long-term allergies and other complications can rise. Besides titanium, the alloy contains Aluminium and Vanadium.
Pure titanium on the other hand, is softer and can more easily (though still not easily) be scratched by pliers and such. These scratches can lead to irritation in both new and healed piercings.
Regardless of its type, titanium jewelry is a popular option for piercings. It is lightweight (around 60% stainless steel), it does not react to body fluids, is not magnetic, and is generally allergy-safe.
The material can be anodized to create a layer of colored oxide on the surface. Common colors are yellow, bright blue, blue, purple, bright purple, green, and a rainbow mix.
It is the most common piercing material, especially within the borders of the EU. The EU has stricter rules regarding piercing materials; for instance, the surgical steel 316L and 316LVM were prohibited for use in new piercings for some years, which has created a bigger market for titanium jewelry.
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
Bodyspiral made in 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, but still much 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 and so-called ethical 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 mouth injuries.
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 thouroughly 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 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.
Acrylic Plastic Body Piercing Jewelry
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.
Wood is among the oldest materials for piercing jewelry, and jewelry in general. It is still a very common material for plugs and other things. 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 won't smell as it might with other materials.
The downside of wood as a piercing jewelry is its abundance of pores that suck up body fluids. It also has a potential to dry out and lose a lot of its luster. This can be prevented with vegetable oil. It shouldn't be autoclaved as that can cause the fibers to stand up.
The texture of wood renders it unfit as a stretching material as it's not so slippery. However this can be considered positive as it makes sure you don't stretch too fast.
Some types of wood can't be used for piercing jewelry as they can be poisonous or otherwise irritating for the skin. Hard wood is preferable. Correctly treated, it doesn't swell, it's durable, stable and doesn't 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. You can easily shape wood and it comes in many colors.
Animalic materials are quite common in the world of piercings. 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. Animalic 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 bad or ugly parts, especially white bone or horn which has a spongy core.
Some people find the use of material from animals unethical, especially ivory and such from nearly-extinct species, therefore a good alternative is mammoth ivory, which is a half-fossilized material exclusively exported from Siberia. 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. Thanks to its fossilized state, mammoth horn is more stable than other horns and bones.
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.
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. One of the oldest plugs ever found was made of amber.
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.