Some types of metals are safe for new body piercings, but others can either stall your body's recovery time or lead to infection. The metals and other materials you choose for new, unhealed body piercings should not react with body tissues. Body jewelry should also not be made from materials that either absorb fluids or become scratched easily.
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. 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 metal or other materials, like plastic or wood.
Metals and Materials to Avoid in New Body Piercings
1. Sterling Silver
Do not wear sterling silver jewelry in unhealed body piercings. Sterling silver is made from 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent of another metal, usually copper. While copper makes the silver more durable, but it's also more likely to react with your skin. Since sterling silver is still soft enough to scratch, nicks in the jewelry are a breeding ground for bacteria.
Sterling oxidizes when it comes in contact with body tissues and fluids. Tarnish, the end result, is not something you want in an open wound.
2. Costume Jewelry
Avoid all types of costume jewelry for unhealed piercings because this jewelry usually contains large amounts of nickel. In recent years, some costume jewelry has even been found to contain lead, which would be dangerous for you to wear in any type of jewelry, especially in new piercings.
In 2004, California sued several major retailers for not disclosing that jewelry on their shelves contained lead.
3. Plated Gold
While plated gold jewelry may be pretty, it isn't very durable. The plating can rub off and expose the underlying metal, causing irritation or infection. Gold-filled jewelry has a much thicker coat of gold than gold plated jewelry, but it should still be avoided. A deep scratch could expose the metal underneath and provide a home for bacteria.
4. High Karat or Low Karat Pure Gold
Some piercing pros recommend avoiding pure gold jewelry, but others feel that 14K and 18K gold are fine for unhealed piercings.
Consider this — pure gold is labeled as 24 karat gold. It is very soft, making germ-trapping nicks more likely. Because of this, 24K gold is not really a good candidate for new piercings.
All other solid gold incorporates other metals in the form of alloys to make gold more durable and affordable. Ten karat gold is less pure and contains more alloys. The lower the karat designation, the more "other" metals are in the mix, often nickel, palladium, or copper — which can cause a reaction in an unhealed piercing.
5. Alloys that Contain Nickel
Avoid gold or other metal alloys that contain nickel, and ask your piercing pro his or her opinion about wearing gold jewelry in unhealed piercings.
Pure Gold Alloy Breakdown:
- 24 karat gold is pure gold
- 18 karat gold is made from 18 parts pure gold and 6 parts of other metals
- 14 karat gold is made from 14 parts pure gold and 10 parts of other metals
6. Bone, Wood, and Other Absorbent Jewelry
For now, stick with safe metals and save bone and wood jewelry — and any other body jewelry made from an absorbent or non-smooth material — until your piercings are fully healed. And even then, watch how they react with your skin — some people can only wear that type of body jewelry for short periods of time.
Safe Metals for New Body Piercings
1. Surgical Stainless Steel (SSS)
There are tons of types of stainless steel, but only a few types of surgical stainless steel are typically used for in new body piercings.
- 316L is the most common SSS jewelry you'll see when you shop for body jewelry. Used in body implants, it is durable and doesn't typically react with body fluids (the L refers to low carbon).
- 316LVM is similar to 316L but has a smoother finish (the added VM indicates the metal is produced in a vacuum).
SSS does contain nickel, and it could be an irritant to those who are very nickel-sensitive.
2. Surgical implant titanium, Ti6A14V ELI
Titanium is expensive, but it is super durable and contains just tiny amounts of nickel. Titanium is also available in a ton of colors, giving you lots of options.
Look for jewelry labeled as 99.9% niobium or 999 Niobium. Niobium body jewelry is more expensive than SSS jewelry, but less expensive than titanium.
Tygon is a surgical plastic that can be used for new piercings in people who are sensitive to metals. These are often used for clear nose piercings, which can keep a piercing open, but appears nearly invisible if you need to not have obvious jewelry in the workplace.
Remember, if you have a metal allergy, be sure to avoid that metal at all costs in an unhealed body piercing. Opt for jewelry with minimal amounts of nickel or copper, which can cause irritation in new piercings. Once your piercings heal, try other metals and materials. If you notice any redness, swelling, or irritation, discontinue jewelry use immediately and contact your doctor or piercer for advice.
Edited by: Lauren Thomann