One common irritation culprit is nickel, a metal that's used in many alloys, mixtures of several metals that are whipped up to create a new metal. Many people are sensitive to even small amounts of 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 create no problems at all for your friends. If jewelry becomes an irritant, remove it at once and try again when the piercing is fully healed. If any irritation occurs, discard the jewelry and avoid wearing body jewelry made from that metal or other material.
Metals to Avoid in Unhealed Body Piercings
- 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, which makes the always-soft silver more durable. But copper is another metal that creates problems for many people, and sterling is still soft enough to scratch, creating nicks that are a breeding ground for bacteria.
Sterling oxidizes (reacts with oxygen) when it comes in contact with body tissues and fluids. You've seen the end result -- tarnish, and that's not something you want in an open wound.
- Avoid all types of costume jewelry for unhealed piercings, because it 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. In 2004, the state of California sued several major retailers for not disclosing that jewelry on their shelves contained lead.
- Do not choose body jewelry made from plated gold, because the plating can rub off and expose the underlying metal, probably mostly nickel, causing irritation or infection. Gold-filled jewelry has a much thicker coat of gold, but should still be avoided, because a deep scratch could expose the metal underneath and provide a home for bacteria.
Some piercing pros recommend that you even avoid true 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, so not really a good candidate for new body piercings. Other metals are used to make gold more durable and to reduce its cost.
Remember the number 24, because it tells you how many "parts" are in a mix of gold.
- 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
You get the idea, the lower the karat designation, the more "other" metals in the mix, often nickel or palladium if a white gold is desired, copper to create a rose color and silver to add a hint of green. Learn more about gold alloys and buying gold jewelry.
Avoid gold alloys that contain nickel and ask your piercing pro his or her opinion about wearing gold jewelry in unhealed piercings.
Bone, Wood & Other Absorbent JewelryFor now, stick with safe metals and save the 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.
Metals for New Body PiercingsSurgical Stainless Steel (SSS)
There are many types of stainless steel, but only a few types of surgical stainless steel are typically used for jewelry, or should be used in new 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 could be an irritant to those who are very nickel-sensitive.
Surgical implant titanium, Ti6A14V ELI
Titanium is expensive, but is super durable and contains just tiny amounts of nickel. Titanium is available in a rainbow of colors.
Look for jewelry labeled as 99.9% niobium, or sometimes as 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