WARNING! This is a long read containing lots of facts and figures (We're sorry but Aiden wrote this!)
Body piercing is currently more popular in the Western world than it has every been. The last government survey in 2008 found that 1 in 5 adults had a piercing other than ear lobes and over 50% of females had a none ear lobe piercing. With such a large number of people getting pierced knowledge of what goes into your body is important.
First off here are a few key terms that help to understand piercings:
Initial – This is when a piercing is fresh and therefore the jewellery will come into contact with bodily fluids. Jewellery selection is critical at this stage.
Healed – This is when a piercing is completely healed and no longer has any bodily fluid secretion, pain, discomfort or scar tissue.
Implant Grade – This is a medical term covering a range of materials that are suitable for long term wear (more than 2 days) in the body.
Novelty Grade – This is a piercing term that covers jewellery that is generally made form low grade materials that is only suitable for short term wear (less than 2 days).
Common Jewellery Materials:
The majority of body jewellery is made from bio-neutral (safe for the body) metals but there are other material options available to. Due to people having allergies and sensitivities a wide variety of options is important to keep people safe. Most body jewellery is made from:
Steel – an alloy of Iron, Carbon and other materials
Titanium – A pure metal
Niobium – A pure metal
PTFE – A bio-neutral plastic
Glass – A form of heated silica
Organics – A group of materials including woods, bone, horn and stones.
Each of the different materials available has different standards and pros and cons that apply to them. This blog will attempt to shed some light on this for those of you thinking of getting or upgrading a piercing.
The first step of steel production is to mine iron ore, this is then converted into steel by melting it in a blast furnace and adding heat and carbon. Steel and Iron manufacture was pioneered right here in Shropshire in the Ironbridge Gorge.
Steel has been being used in the Western piercing world since piercing started to gain popularity in the 1970's. Many different grades have been tried and tested with the piercing community now agreeing that 316LVM being current best possible grade. 15% of the UK population has an allergy to Nickel and as this is found in 316LVM steel it can cause irritation and cause a piercing to not heal, especially if the jewellery doesn't have a mirror polish. Steel is suitable for both initial and healed piercings
Pro's – Cheap, easy to produce, commonly found, wide range of jewellery options, suitable for initial and healed piercings
Con's – Contains Nickel which can cause allergies/sensitivities in people, heavy, cannot be coloured
Titanium is mined from the Earth's crust in the form of ores known as Ilmenite and Rutile. Titanium is then extracted from this ore by processes of heating and crushing. This process leaves traces of gas in the Titanium which means it is only ever 99% pure. The majority of the worlds Titanium is manufactured in China, Russia and Japan.
Titanium has become more of a standard within Western piercing as there are so few reactions to it in the human body. Less than 1% of the UK population has a Titanium allergy. The current highest grade used by piercers meets standard ASTM F136, this is 90% Titanium, 6% Aluminium and 4% Vanadium. Medical implants such as false hips and knees are made from this grade of Titanium. Titanium can safely be used in both initial and healed piercings.
Pro's – Highly bio-compatible, lightweight, can be coloured, can be used in initial and healed piercings
Con's – Expensive, hard to manufacture, few ethical suppliers
Niobium is very similar to Titanium but is much rarer. It is from the same family in the periodic table of elements as Titanium and has very similar properties.
Pros – Can be coloured black!
Cons – Very expensive
PTFE stands for Polytetrafluoroethylene (a bit of a mouthful!), it is a bio-neutral plastic that is manufactured from crude oil. It is relatively new as a piercing material as jewellery suppliers ahve had to catch up with technology.
PTFE is especially useful for people with metal allergies, piercings in flexible locations and for people whose body changes shape and size (e.g. Pregnant women's navel piercings). PTFE can be used in initials piercings as it is safe to go through an autoclave. The major downside of PTFE is that it can be easily damaged and can then irritate the piercing channel or damage the jewellery e.g. Biting a nick into a PTFE labret bar placed in the lip or stripping the screw thread off a bar.
Pros – Flexible, light, cheap, lots of jewellery options
Cons – Easily damaged, there are better materials to aid healing
Glass is made by melting silica sand and allowing it to cool. The manufacturing processes for glass are quite expensive as a lot of heat input is required. Silica sand is found naturally around the world. Glass can be shaped and coloured in many ways but not as many shapes of jewellery are available as with other material choices.
For body piercing fused glass quartz, lead free borosilicate or soda lime glasses are the best forms to use for both initial and healed piercings as they can all be autoclaved. Due to this glass is a great choice as a beautiful piece of jewellery can be selected to begin with. The major downside to glass s that if it is dropped it can be chipped or smashed. Body jewellery glass grades are all heat treated so that they are tough and will require a large amount of force to break so are safe to wear in the body without fear of damage.
Pros – Lots of colours available, autoclavable, suitable for initial or healed piercings
Cons – Easily damaged, expensive, jewellery shape is limited
Organics are the oldest form of body jewellery materials available. As they are naturally found they have been used by indigenous peoples around the world for millennia. Organics can come form both ethical and unethical suppliers so make sure to ask where it was sourced.
Organics covers a wide variety of materials that are naturally found. These include semi precious stones such as amethyst, animal horn and bone such as water buffalo horn and woods such as peanut wood. None of these materials are suitable for an initial piercing as they are generally heavy, porous or dangerous if they secrete fluids into the body. These materials all have a place within jewellery options e.g. wood for lobe plugs as they are light and can help reduce the 'cheese' smell, but they should be restricted to fully healed piercings.
Pros – Lots of material options
Cons – Not suitable for initial piercings
Silicone is also made from Silica. Chemical processes are used to bond silica particles to themselves and other elements such as oxygen or hydrogen. Within body piercing Silicone is a very new material with companies still carrying out test for long term wear. At the moment Silicone jewellery should only be used in completely healed piercings (not to be used for stretching!) and for short term wear only. Silicone jewellery commonly dries out a piercing and can cause irritation.
Pros – Lightweight, super flexible, lots of colour options
Cons – Not suitable for initial piercings, temporary wear only, still being tested for long term use
With all of that knowledge at your fingertips make sure you make good decisions about the jewellery you wear. Whether you are looking for ethical jewellery, animal friendly or just a certain style make sure you respect your body and always wear the highest quality jewellery you can find and ask your piercer about what they are using in your body.
The Adorn Piercing Team.