There’s a reason — several reasons, actually — why you often hear that piercing with titanium is the way to go.
Here’s a look at those reasons, some second-best options, and materials to avoid at all costs.
There are a few materials approved by the Association of Professional Piercers (APP), but implant-grade titanium is the one most piercers recommend for initial piercings.
- It’s nickel-free. Nickel is the most common contact allergen in the world, according to the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation. It’s regularly found in jewelry for piercings. Titanium doesn’t contain any nickel, which makes it safe for people with sensitive skin or a nickel allergy.
- It has a high strength-to-density ratio. In other words, titanium is considerably less dense than stainless steel and other metals, but just as strong (if not more so). This makes it durable and less likely to bend or break.
- It’s lightweight. That low density we just talked about is what makes titanium jewelry lighter than those made with other metals.
- It can be anodized. Titanium’s dark metallic color is cool as is. But unlike other stainless steel, you can get titanium in other colors. This is done through anodizing, an electrochemical process that changes the surface color while maintaining safety.
By implant-grade, we’re talking titanium that’s been certified for medical use and meets the standards for quality and safety set out by the American (now International) Society for Testing and Materials Standard (ASTM) or the International Standards Organization (ISO).
Look for jewelry made from titanium with these compliance designations:
- ASTM F-136
- ISO 5832-3
- ASTM F-67
As long as you don’t have a known metal allergy or extremely sensitive skin, you have other safe options outside of titanium.
The following are jewelry materials approved by the APP for fresh piercings.
Surgical steel is a popular choice for piercings because it’s affordable, durable, and safe for most. It does contain some nickel, but thanks to a low rate of transfer, your skin is unlikely to notice.
Just remember that not all steel jewelry is of the same quality. Only a few specific grades are biocompatible, meaning the jewelry won’t oxidize, tarnish or react with skin.
Make sure any steel jewelry you choose is one of the following:
- ASTM F-138 compliant
- ISO 5832-1 compliant
- ISO 10993-6 compliant
- ISO 10993-10 compliant
- ISO 10993-11 compliant
Like titanium, nobium is hypoallergenic. It can also be anodized, so you can find it in different colors.
These similarities — and its lower cost — make it a popular option that’s been used by piercers for a few years now.
If you go this route, look for unalloyed niobium that’s ASTM B392 compliant.
14 karat gold
Gold is another safe-for-most option, as long as you stick with gold that’s 14 karat, nickel-free, and biocompatible.
Biocompatible polymers (plastics)
For piercings in parts of the body with high movement, you’ll want extra flexibility and comfort. So, jewelry made from a biocompatible plastic may be the way to go.
The same goes for people seeking a substitute for metal jewelry because of sensitivity or budget concerns. Bioplast, Tygon Medica/Surgical Tubing, and PTFE (Teflon) are safe for new piercings.
If you can drop the cash, platinum piercings are a safe and more expensive alternative to titanium piercings — if you can find them.
Body jewelry made from this precious metal can be hard to come by because platinum is expensive and not as easy to work with as other materials.
When it comes to initial piercings, there are some materials that should be avoided because they can increase the likelihood of having an allergic reaction, poor healing, and rejection.
Here are the materials to avoid using on a fresh piercing:
Gold-plated jewelry isn’t recommended for new piercings. This goes for gold overlay or gold vermeil jewelry, which are just other terms for gold-plated.
Even if the jewelry is coated in 14 karat gold or higher, the gold is simply a thin coating over a metal base made of different alloys, including nickel.
The gold coating can wear off or flake, exposing your fresh wound to said alloys.
You’ll want to skip pieces made from sterling silver until your piercing’s fully healed.
Sterling silver is made primarily of silver, but it does contain other metals (usually copper). Those other metals can tarnish and cause skin irritation and staining.
Gold higher than 18 karats
You’d think a higher karat gold would be better, right? Nope. The higher you go, the softer the gold. The softer the gold, the more prone it is to nicks and scratches that can irritate your skin and damage tissue.
For new piercings, 14 karat gold is the sweet spot.
Gold lower than 14 karats
Jewelry made from 10 karat gold may give you the bling you like for less, but it isn’t necessarily safe for your body.
Low karat gold contains higher amounts of other metals, including nickel and copper.
Once a piercing is fully healed, quality materials are still important, but you can mix things up and relax a little.
That said, you’ll still need to be mindful of sensitive skin and allergies. Sticking with titanium jewelry, even after the initial piercing, will spare you an itchy, scaly red rash (aka contact dermatitis).
Here are a few other things to keep in mind, regardless of the material you choose going forward:
- Adornments like gemstones should be set securely into the metal to keep them from shifting or falling out.
- The jewelry surface should be polished and smooth, because a rough or jagged surface could cause irritation and tearing.
- Jewelry made of low-grade metals will eventually tarnish, scratch, or chip. And, they can damage healthy, healed skin.
You can’t go wrong with titanium jewelry, especially for a new piercing. Titanium piercings may cost a bit more than jewelry made from other materials, but the payoff is a reduced risk of complications.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.