When shopping for jewelry to use in a new body piercing, you'll want to focus on metals and other materials that are safe. Some types of metals are safe for new body piercings, but others can either affect your body's recovery time, increase your risk of infection, and even react adversely with your skin. Materials that either absorb fluids or are prone to scratching also make poor candidates for safe body jewelry choices.
One common irritation culprit is nickel, a metal that's used in many inexpensive and expensive alloys, or mixed metals. Many people are sensitive to even small amounts of nickel, and popular piercing metals like sterling silver often contain it. Don't know how you'll react to nickel? If your skin turns green or black (or another color) when you wear costume jewelry, sterling silver, or even some types of gold, it may be reacting to nickel or another ingredient in the metal mixture.
Remember that your body is unique, and you could experience reactions to components that others have no problem with. If jewelry becomes an irritant, remove it immediately and try another piece of jewelry when the piercing is fully healed. If any irritation occurs, discard the jewelry and avoid wearing body jewelry made from that material.
Read on to learn about six hypoallergenic body jewelry metals that will prove safe and comfortable throughout the healing process and beyond, according to the experts.
Meet the Expert
- Cozmo Faris is an Atlanta-based professional piercer with over 12 years of experience who also handles membership applications for The Association of Professional Piercers (APP), contributes to the @safepiercing Instagram account, and teaches technique courses.
- Morgan Rabach, MD is a board-certified dermatologist, a co-founder of LM Medical PLLC, and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Surgical Stainless Steel (SSS)
"Surgical stainless steel (SSS) is very commonly used for [piercings] because it is both hypoallergenic and affordable," says Dr. Rabach. There are several grades and varieties of stainless steel on the market, but for safe and effective body piercings, you'll want to seek out one of the following types:
- 316L (the "L" refers to "low carbon") is the most commonly utilized surgical stainless steel for body jewelry. Used in body implants, it is durable and doesn't typically react with body fluids.
- 316LVM ("VM" indicates that the metal is produced in a vacuum) is similar to 316L but has a smoother finish.
People with very sensitive skin should consider that SSS does contain trace amounts of nickel, so it's worth checking in with your dermatologist to find out if SSS could irritate your skin before selecting this metal for a piercing.
While it can be tempting to opt for a low-cost piece of jewelry for a new piercing, our experts agree that investing in quality materials will result in a safer experience and a cleaner healing process. For that reason, Faris recommends "implant-grade" titanium, which is super durable and contains just tiny amounts of nickel.
"When [titanium] comes from a reputable company, it is high polish and hypoallergenic, which can make healing a new piercing a breeze. Titanium handles moisture well and is very body safe for the long-term wear body piercings require," Faris tells us.
Dr. Rabach also endorses titanium for new piercings, explaining that this metal "is a top choice for piercings because it’s biocompatible (meaning your body won’t recognize it as foreign and form a reaction against it). Titanium is so safe that it is often used as the metal of choice for surgical implants."
If you're looking for a hypoallergenic metal that falls between SSS and titanium in terms of price, then niobium may be a perfect fit for you. Like titanium, niobium is biocompatible, and it provides plenty of shine and impressive structural integrity. Also, niobium comes in a wide range of colors, making it an easy move for anyone hoping to customize their look. For best results, seek out jewelry labeled as 99.9% niobium or 999 Niobium.
When it comes to gold body jewelry, it's essential to pay attention to the quality and composition of the gold itself. Many pieces of jewelry that call themselves "gold" really consist of gold-plated metals and gold plating can easily rub off and expose the underlying metal, causing irritation or infection.
You may assume that pure gold jewelry is a safe bet for piercings, but that's not always the case. For example, 24-karat gold has a very soft texture, making germ-trapping nicks more likely. But according to Faris, solid 14K and 18K gold jewelry works well for first-time piercings. "Unlike lower-end gold-plated options, these materials won't degrade over time, [even] when introduced to moisture from sweat or showering," explains Faris.
Famous for its luminous shine, its lack of reactivity, and its rarity, platinum holds a vaunted position among high-value metals. Dr. Rabach also assures us that platinum can be safely used for body piercings: "Platinum is safe for first piercings [because] it’s inert and hypoallergenic. It’s good [as an alternative] when people have skin allergies to silver and gold."
Nevertheless, there is one distinct drawback to platinum piercings, as succinctly expressed by Dr. Rabach: "It’s pricey!" Platinum can be a worthwhile investment for people seeking a prestigious yet hypoallergenic piece of body jewelry, but you'll have to make sure that your budget can accommodate it.
When you start shopping for body jewelry, you'll likely notice that sterling silver shows up everywhere. This metal often markets itself as hypoallergenic, but sterling silver is typically made from 92.5% silver and 7.5% of another metal, usually copper. While copper makes the silver more durable, it may also be more likely to react with your skin.
Some clients who like the look of sterling silver but want to stay away from copper instead opt for pure silver (or "fine silver"), which claims 99.9% silver content. Pure silver is considered hypoallergenic, but piercing experts generally urge customers to approach silver jewelry with caution. The main reason? Pure silver, like high-karat gold, is extremely soft, leaving it vulnerable to scratching, chipping, and other infection-promoting types of wear.
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Hairui L, Toh PZ, Tan JY, et al. Selected Biomarkers Revealed Potential Skin Toxicity Caused by Certain Copper Compounds. Scientific Reports. 2016 Nov;6(1):37664. doi:10.1038/srep37664
Semenova A, Veselova I, Brazhe NA, et al. Soft Chemistry of Pure Silver as Unique Plasmonic Metal of the Periodic Table of Elements. Pure and Applied Chemistry. 2020 Jul;92(7):1007-28. doi:10.1515/pac-2020-0104