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rec.arts.bodyart: Piercing FAQ 2A--Jewelry Materials

( PartA - PartB - PartC - PartD - PartE )
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Archive-name: bodyart/piercing-faq/jewelry/partA
Last-modified: May 01, 2000
Posting-frequency: Quarterly

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Summary: This posting contains information about body piercing.  Anyone 
    interested in the subject and/or who wishes to read/post to
    rec.arts.bodyart should read the Piercing FAQ first.

The rec.arts.bodyart Piercing FAQ is divided into 30 parts:

2A--Jewelry Materials
2B--Jewelry Sizes & Designs
2C--Facial Piercings & Their Suggested Jewelry
2D--Body Piercings & Their Suggested Jewelry 
2E--Genital Piercings & Their Suggested Jewelry
3--Getting A New Piercing
4A--Professional Organizations, Piercing Instruction
4B--Professional Piercers - United States - Alabama - California
4C--Professional Piercers - United States - Colorado - Iowa
4D--Professional Piercers - United States - Kansas - Nevada
4E--Professional Piercers - United States - New Hampshire - North Dakota
4F--Professional Piercers - United States - Ohio - Pennsylvania
4G--Professional Piercers - United States - Rhode Island - Wyoming
4H--Professional Piercers - Canada
4I--Professional Piercers - Beyond N. America
4J--Professional Piercers - Beyond N. America Cont'd
5--Care Of New Piercings
6--The Healing Process & Healing Problems
7--Healed Piercings
8--Historical Information
9A--Resource List
9B--Resource List Cont'd
10A--Personal Experiences - Facial & Unisex Piercings
10B--Personal Experiences - Genital Piercings
10C--Personal Experiences - Genital Piercings Cont'd
10D--Personal Experiences - Genital Piercings Cont'd
11A--Jewelry Manufacturers
11B--Jewelry Manufacturers Cont'd
11C--Jewelry Manufacturers Cont'd

This section includes:

2A  Jewelry Materials     
   2A.1  Metals
      2A.1a Report on Stainless Steel by Sean Christian
    2A.2  Non Metal Materials
      2A.2a Report on FDA Approved Acrylic by Michael Hare
    2A.3  Organic Materials
      2A.3a  Hardwoods
      2A.3b  Bamboo
      2A.3c  Ivory, Horn, Antler
All texts written and (c) 2000 by Anne Greenblatt unless otherwise
Please see Part 1 of the FAQ for information regarding copyright and
dissemination of the FAQ.

DISCLAIMER! The Piercing FAQ contains material of a sexually explicit
The information contained in the Piercing FAQ should not be construed as
medical advice.



The metals used for body jewelry are chosen for their
bio-compatibility, or
"body friendly" quality. However, some metals are more bio-compatible
others due to their specific compositions, or alloys. Please refer to
6, section 6.5, for more information about metal sensitivities.

Piercing jewelry manufacturing is unregulated in the United States and
largely unregulated in the rest of the world. Reputable manufacturers
disclose material specification certificates for the metals they use.
see section 2A.1a for an article about material specification and ASTM
ISO standards.


1 karat = 1/24th of the alloy is pure gold

Only solid gold of at least 14 karat (58.3% gold) is appropriate for
jewelry. Some piercers prefer to use only 18k gold (75% gold) in fresh

Gold-filled and gold-plated or jewelry is not appropriate. Gold plating
very thin and can wear away quickly with the friction to which body
jewelry is
exposed. Bending the jewelry after it is plated will cause the plating
fracture and chip.

Some people are sensitive to the metals present in karat gold, namely
nickel, silver, zinc and copper. White gold often causes more adverse
reactions than yellow gold because a high amount of nickel is used to
the white color. Many body jewelry manufacturers now use nickel-free
alloys. White gold alloyed with palladium, an inert metal of the
group, instead of nickel is less likely to cause a metal sensitivity.
people who cannot wear steel alloys can wear 18k white gold palladium

Green or pink gold should not be worn because of the higher
concentration of
copper and zinc used to produce the color.

Some people's perspiration is acidic enough to corrode the non-gold
in karat gold, evident by blackening of the jewelry and discoloration
of the
surrounding skin. Over a long period of time gold jewelry exposed to
may acquire a rough, dull surface. The acids found in urine leach into
surface and dries to form a hard crust. Buffing or polishing the jewelry
will remove this build-up. Daily cleaning of the jewelry will prevent

Gold jewelry will often become discolored when exposed to povidone
Gold jewelry may become discolored when steam autoclaved; the
indicators on
sterilization packaging and tape appear to cause discoloration.
jewelry can easily be repolished with a soft buffing cloth.

Jewelry that has undergone surface depletion, or pickling, will be less
likely to discolor. Pickling is a process of heating the jewelry or
submersing it in a weak acid which removes oxidation of non-gold alloys
the surface of the metal.


Niobium is an elemental metal and is strong yet flexible and is slightly
heavier than 316L stainless steel. Niobium is chemically non-reactive.
people are sensitive to niobium.

Niobium jewelry is available in a range of colors which are produced
anodizing, not dyeing. During anodizing, the jewelry is submerged in an
electrolyte solution and voltage is applied. Anodizing creates an oxide
layer on the jewelry. The color results from refraction of light
through the
oxide layer, and the thickness of the layer determines the resulting
The voltage applied during anodizing determines the thickness of the
The anodized oxide eventually wears away, causing the color to fade or
change; how long the process will take depends on the thickness of the
layer is and the amount of friction and wear on the jewelry.

Black niobium is achieved by heating the niobium until it is red-hot and
cooling it. After blackening, the jewelry can be polished. Black niobium
will not fade.

Niobium jewelry is available in matte ("satin") or high-polish
finishes. Niobium is very porous making it difficult to achieve a high
Poorly polished niobium can retain polishing compound residue which is
toxic. Matte finish niobium should not be used for new or healing
because the pores can trap bacteria and the rough surface will to
adhere to
the interior of the piercing, causing it to tear when the jewelry is


Platinum and metals in the platinum group such as palladium are
inert, making them excellent choices for body jewelry. However,
platinum is
economically impractical for most manufacturers and consumers. Platinum
also very heavy which makes platinum jewelry inappropriate for some

Stainless Steel

Of the many stainless steels available, only 316L and 316LVM are
for use as body jewelry. 316L is a low-carbon variety of 316. 316LVM is
that has been vacuum melted; the vacuum prevents any air or airborne
contaminants to attach to the molecules in the metal, resulting in a
consistent steel. For most people, however, that the steel be 316LVM is
a necessity to heal and maintain a healthy piercing.

316L / 316LVM stainless steel is comprised of several metals including
nickel, to which some people are sensitive. However, the specific
composition of 316L / 316LVM allows for very little exposure to the
molecules, thus reducing the risk of sensitivity.

The jewelry should be polished to a reflective shine (mirror finish),
from rough edges, tool marks, and wire-drawing lines and pitting which
present in the surface of the steel when it arrives from the mill. When
polished, true 316L is a white, not grey, metal. Under-polishing will be
most evident along the inside of the ring where polishing is most

316L arrives from the steel manufacturer at specified degrees of
Most jewelry manufacturers use the least-hard (1/4 hard) steel
available for
rings. Working the steel and forming the steel into rings hardens it to
degree. Annealing, a controlled heating and cooling process performed
in a
vacuum, yields a more flexible steel, resistant to metal fatigue. Most
piercers and jewelry manufacturers agree that steel rings should be
to some degree or made from annealed wire because an annealed ring is
to safely and quickly manipulate for insertion; pliers are often
for manipulating thinner gauge rings. However, the softer (more
the ring, the easier it is scratched by tools or simply by daily wear.
trade-off of using non-annealed rings is that harder rings require
tools to
manipulate, increasing the chance of scratching the jewelry during
insertion. Very hard rings cannot be torqued open at all; bending can
the ring to break or create fractures invisible to the unaided eye
which can
trap bacteria.

316L is classified as an austenitic steel. Austenitic steels are
non magenetic when annealed, although some may become slightly magnetic
cold working (bending and shaping).

Silver / Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is 92.5% silver alloyed with copper or some other
metal. Sterling silver jewelry is usually marked "925."

While silver and sterling silver jewelry can often be safely worn in
piercings, neither should be worn in a new or unhealed piercing or in a
piercing that is located in a moist area of the body such as the mouth

Silver tarnishes quickly. When worn in a new piercing, the tarnish can
deposited into the skin causing it to darken or turn grey, often

Silver is very soft and is easily scratched. Scratches in the jewelry
surface can easily irritate even a healed piercing and trap bacteria,
encouraging infection.


Titanium is an extremely lightweight, elemental metal. The specific
used for body jewelry is 6AL4V (60 parts aluminum, 40 parts vanadium),
specifically 136 grade with extra low interstitial elements. (4)

"Titanium is the most bio-compatible of all metals due to its total
resistance to attack by body fluids." (1) Titanium is often used in
permanent surgical implants where the tissue is encouraged to
assimilate the
implant; the pores in the metal allow for the tissue to attach. When
titanium is used for body jewelry it should be highly polished to

When exposed to air or water, titanium immediately reacts with oxygen to
create a thin, inert oxide layer. While the titanium alloy contains
and vanadium, the oxide layer does not contain any traces of either

Titanium jewelry is available in a range of colors which are produced
through anodizing, not dyeing. During anodizing, the jewelry is
submerged in
an electrolyte solution and voltage is applied. Anodizing creates an
layer on the jewelry. The color results from refraction of light
through the
oxide layer, and the thickness of the layer determines the resulting
The voltage applied during anodizing determines the thickness of the
The anodized oxide eventually wears away, causing the color to fade or
change; how long the process will take depends on the thickness of the
layer is and the amount of friction and wear on the jewelry. Unanodized
titanium is light to medium grey in color.

Black-colored titanium is produced by coating titanium with titanium
through a process called Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD). Titanium
is not biocompatible and does not meet the specifications established
"implant grade" materials set forth by the ASTM and ISO. In addition,
the coating will not have the smooth a finish necessary for body


(1) Internation Titanium Association,

(2) Reactive Metals Studio Inc.,

(3) TI Specialties,

(4) Gilliam, Brian; Anatometal, Inc.
    Report presented at the Association of Professional Piercings Open 
    Meeting, May 1998

2A.1a Report on Stainless Steel
      by Sean Christian
      Anatometal Inc. Body Jewelry, Santa Cruz, California
      Presented at the Association of Professional Piercers Open Meeting
      May 1998
      Edited by Anne Greenblatt


Surgical Stainless Steel: The term "surgical stainless steel" is not a
technical term. It is a term that was originally coined by knife and
cookware manufactures. It brought more marketable value to the material
they used. "Surgical stainless steel" is a generic term for a variety of
different grades of steel and is not commonly found in any medical or
metallurgical reports. There are no standards set for this type of

Implant Grade Stainless Steel: "Implant grade stainless steel" is a more
accurate term for the steel used in body jewelry. There are standards
for what materials can be called implant grade. There are currently
only two
different types of stainless steel that commonly match these standards:
and 316LVM. These materials have been employed successfully in human
implants that are in contact with soft tissue and bone for more than a

316L and 316LVM: Designations for types of steel that meet the
standards for
"implant grade." 316 is the designation number. The "L" in these two
designations stands for low carbon. The "VM" stands for vacuum melted.
of these materials meet the ASTM designation F138 for "Implant Grade
Stainless steel" and the ISO standard 5832-1 and 6892 for "Surgical
Material" and "Requirements Against Nickel Allergies."

The ASTM and ISO

American Society of Testing and Materials:  The ASTM is a
organization that compiles information and makes standards for
materials, and methods for just about everything. These standards are
considered to be of the highest qualities.

International Organization for Standards:  The ISO (which is not an
it is short for the Greek word isos meaning equal) is the European
of the ASTM. The ISO is trying to standardize all European trade and
manufacturing methods.

ASTM "F" Series:  The "F" series of the ASTM designations concern
grade materials" and are the guidelines for FDA approval of materials
used in
medical products. Responsible manufactures of any medical product
comply with
these standards.

ASTM F138 Grade 1 & 2:  F138 is the designation number for the "Standard
Specification for Stainless Steel Bar and Wire for Surgical Implants."
standard characterizes composition and properties to insure consistency
medical implant devices. 316L adheres to grade 1 and 316LVM adheres to
1 and 2. Implant Grade Stainless Steel is chemically inert and
atraumatic to
the body so as not to react with the surrounding tissues or the immune


The milling of stainless steel wire used in captive bead rings (not to
confused with bar stock that is used in barbells) work-hardens the wire
to a
point that it loses some of its corrosion resistance properties. It
these properties to be considered implant grade.

Annealing is a process of heat treating metal. It involves heating
steel to
about one half of its melting point and cooling it in a controlled
environment. Annealing stainless steel serves to produce changes in the
physical condition, mechanical properties and residual stress levels of
metal. Specifically, the annealing process serves to reduce the
tendencies of the work-hardened metal. During annealing, chromium
which markedly decrease resistance to inter-granular corrosion, are
Annealing literally cleans up the metal.

We all know that annealed jewelry is easier to work with, and what we
need to
understand is that non-annealed jewelry might not be safe to use in


There are purposes for polishing the surface of bead rings other than
aesthetics. A mirror finish is required for implant devices; the metal
be gray, blurred, or dull. When finished properly, stainless steel is
resistant to degradation by the body's internal environment. Having a
finish will improve impact strength, decrease corrosion, and produce a
non-porous surface that will not harbor bacteria.

Individuals do not have problems with the material content. Rather,
they have
problems if the material is not finished properly and breaks apart due
wear, fatigue, and material fragment build ups. The surface of the
metal must
be free of any nicks, scratches, or burrs that increase surface area
and allow
for bacterial colonization which interferes with the body's healing



Acrylic jewelry is most often worn in enlarged piercings when
jewelry is desired. Acrylic is not intended to be worn in fresh or
piercings. There is some debate among piercers regarding the safety of
term wear. Acrylic has not been clinically proven to be safe for wear
in the
body. Jewelry should be inspected frequently for scratches which can
irritate the piercing and trap bacteria.

Acrylic is very brittle and will shatter under stress. For releasing
in captive bead rings, first warm the ring in the palm of your hand; do
use ring-expanding pliers. Acrylic cannot be autoclaved. Extended
to any type of alcohol will degrade acrylic jewelry.

Nylon / Teflon

Monofilament nylon and teflon are used where a more flexible piece of
jewelry is desired or if the wearer is senstive to metals. Both can be

Securing monofilament is often difficult. Appropriately bored threaded
balls can be screwed onto the ends; the metal threads will cut threads
the monofilament. The ends may be flattened into a disc shape using a
knife but the results may not be smooth or comfortable.

2A.2a  Report on FDA Approved Acrylic
       by Michael Hare
       The Exotic Body, Sacramento, California
      Presented at the Association of Professional Piercers Open Meeting
       May 1998
       Edited by Anne Greenblatt

We have found a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acrylic
copolymer (hereby referred to as "our acrylic").  Our acrylic provides
superior resistance to stress hazing and surface grazing when compared
straight acrylic. The FDA has approved our acrylic for applications in
it is in contact with the body.  Our acrylic meets USP XXI Class VI
guidelines for medical devices.

The USP XXI Class VI testing is done by United States Pharmacopoeia
conducts biological tests for Class VI plastics. It has been determined
our acrylic meets USP XXI Class VI specifications and therefore is
acceptable for use in medical applications. Cytotoxicity as well as
Hemolysis tests were also done. The cytotoxicity test determine the
of cell destruction caused by exposing certain cell cultures to an
of the polymer. The Hemolysis test determines the degree of destruction
blood cells that occurs when specific extracts of the polymer are
into the blood. The results of these tests show that our acrylic is
non-toxic as well as non-hemolytic.

Glow-in-the-dark Acrylic

It is our position that no glow-in-the-dark acrylic can be safe for the
body. The phosphorescent material is carcinogenic. It should not be in
contact with the body for any time. The alternative is UV or Black Lite
acrylic which is reactive under a black light and appears to glow. This
material is not carcinogenic.

Sterilization and Disinfection of Acrylic

At this time no known acrylic jewelry can be sterilized by autoclave. We
have tested our acrylic in the most frequently used cold sterilization

MadaCide:  After soaking for 72 hours there was no cracking or
of the jewelry.

Isopropyl alcohol (91%):  Soaking for 48 hours yielded the same result.

We are in the process of looking into Gamma Ray Radiation sterilization.


Thanks to Erica Skadsen / Organic for the information contained in this
article. Please visit her webpage for photos and more information, at

2A.3a  Hardwoods

Hardwoods are most often used to make plugs for enlarged piercings,
such as
ear lobe, labret, and septum piercings. Hardwoods are natural materials
work in harmony with the body. They can "breathe" with a piercing and
an interchange of oils. Wood stays warmer than metals. Wood does not
the bad odor plastics can develop.

Hardwoods are broad-leafed, deciduous trees (angiospermous). The term
"hardwood" does not actually refer to hardness: for example, balsa is a
hardwood. The part of the tree normally used is the center heartwood,
darker and denser than the surrounding sapwood.

A few species of wood commonly used for jewelry, furniture and inlays
endangered or threatened. These species are regulated by CITES, the
Center for
International Trade of Endangered Species. Endangered species include
Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra). Threatened species include Mexican
mahogany (Swietenia humilis) and Carribean mahogany (Swietenia
Commoner (Guaiacum officinale), and Holywood lignum vitae aka "Tree of
(Guaiacum sanctum), Bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), and
mahogany (Swietenia meliaceae). In some cases, wood from threatened
species is
acquired by salvage or through sustainable harvesting.

Grain (fibers within the wood) is considered either open or closed.
Open-grained woods may collect bacteria, shed skin tissue, and dirt and
generally should not be used for jewelry.

The overall shape and dimensions of the piece should be consistent and
appropriate for the particular piercing with room to allow for possible
swelling. The finish should be free from scratches, pits or tool marks.
piece should be free of raised grain (wood fibers), even when wet.
varies from species to species and the wood may or may not shine.  An
plug will appear dull.

Because hardwoods are porous and readily absorb and release moisture,
oil, and
bacteria, hardwood plugs are best worn in healed piercings and dry
areas of
the body. Because hardwood jewelry cannot be sterilized it should
always be
handled by clean hands and only worn by one person. Autoclaving hardwood
jewelry may cause it to crack, split, and warp. Hardwood jewelry should
cleaned regularly with a non-chemical soap that is safe for the body.
Tea Tree
oil can also be used; prior to use a patch test is recommended to test
allergy. Hardwood jewelry should be oiled after cleaning to benefit the
and aid insertion.

The type of finish applied is usually an oil and sometimes a sealant.
finishing oils and sealing products contain chemicals, toxins, solvents,
petroleum or animal products, or pigments. Using a finish that entirely
a hardwood plug eliminates the purpose of wearing wood. I usually
recommend a
non-toxic oil or wax. Food grade oils such as olive and peanut are
safe but may break down (turn rancid) with heat and time; pieces
using food grade oils should be washed and re-oiled periodically to
turning rancid. Waxes can be animal or vegetable based; waxes may come
with heat or be rubbed off while cleaning. I do not recommend using
pigment as
most are chemical or solvent based and can fade or enter the

Some people are allergic to certain hardwoods. A sensitivity to
hardwoods can
also be acquired with exposure. The risk of developing a sensitivity to
certain hardwoods is increased for those who work with the woods by way
of the
dust which is produced in the production process. The hardwoods likely
cause allergic reactions include all woods within the Dalbergia genera,
or the
rosewoods: African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), Brazilian rosewood
(Dalbergia nigra), Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), Indian rosewood, aka
blackwood (Dalbergia latifolia), Kingwood aka Violetwood (Dalbergia
cearensis), Tulipwood (Dalbergia frutescus), Teak (Tectona grandis),
Purpleheart aka Amaranth (Peltogyne spp.); and possibly Greenheart and
Satinwood (Chloroxylon swietenia). Some woods may be very hard to
for example, African blackwood can masquerade as ebony.

2A.3b  Bamboo

Bamboo is not a wood but a grass. Several thousand different species
ranging from tiny plants to huge towering trees. Many species are light
yellow, tan, or green; some can be purplish or black. Most species are
in color; some can be striped or spotted.

Bamboo stalks are hollow and segmented with solid portions of culm.
Bamboo is
lightweight; its cross-section may be round, oval, or slightly cardioid
(heart-shaped). The outside of the bamboo is naturally smmoth and
and should not be removed to make plugs. The inside is normally whitish
may have a papery lining which is usually removed or is shed over time.

2A.3c  Ivory, Horn, Antler

Thanks to Jesse Jarrell <> for the information
in this article. Please visit his webpage for photos and more
information, at

Stabilizing Treatments

All of these materials are somewhat porous and readily absorb moisture
skin oils. This can lead to cracking in a few of these materials.
of  moisture can be avoided by coating or pressure impregnating the
with a substance such as bee's wax or a hypoallergenic sealant. I would
recommend oiling ivory or horn jewelry as it will tend to promote
rather than deter it.

Skin oils make these materials more flexible. With designs such as the
bead ring, this can result in lost beads if the carver does not adjust
expansion. I recommend using a coating or some type of pressure
treatment to
prevent the ring from becoming flexible. Untreated captive bead rings
be very tight before they have been worn. If you are afraid of breaking
untreated ring you should wear the ring without the bead for about a
day to
soften the ring.

Mammoth Ivory

Mammoth ivory is easily acquired in Alaska, Siberia and other places
where it
has been preserved underground in permafrost for thousands of years.
miners often find it during erosion mining in glacial silt. Because of
age mammoth ivory is difficult to acquire in large solid pieces. Ivory
softer than most stone and is flexible which makes it ideal for
intricate and
delicate carvings. The foremost disadvantage of using aged or
fossilized ivory
for body jewelry is that it absorbs skin oils which causes it crack.
ivory ranges in color from a cream white to a medium brown. Darker
ivory is
more fragile and will crack with moisture much more easily, making it
unsuitable for delicate work.

Fresh Ivory

Most sources of fresh ivory such as elephant tusks are subject to legal
restrictions. Two sources of unrestricted ivory are warthog and
tusks. Fresh ivory does not have the same problems with cracking that
ivory has.

Dall Sheep Horn

Dall sheep horn is semi-transparent material with an opaque white
grain. The
advantage of sheep horn is its superior flexibility over other organic
materials. Sheep horn tends to distort or bend when exposed to moisture
skin oils. Body jewelry that must to hold a precise shape or is
dependent on
tension, like a captive bead ring, must be stabilized.

Water Buffalo Horn

When polished, water buffalo horn looks similar to ebony. It is not as
flexible as sheep horn and has a much stronger grain, which makes
delicate or
detailed work more difficult. Because of the grain it will crack with
to skin oils and thus cannot be used for body jewelry unless stabilized.

Moose, Elk and Deer Antler

Antler varies in color from ivory white to shades of brown and gray and
sometimes has a purplish hue near the surface. White antler can be
indistinguishable from ivory in appearance. Antler will almost never
with exposure to moisture or skin oils. It is an excellent substitute
ivory because of its comparative cost, availability, and durability.
it is a bit softer and more porous than ivory, resulting in less
against fractures.


                              Anne Greenblatt
                Manager of the rec.arts.bodyart Piercing FAQ
                             Piercing Exquisite

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM