Stainless Steel, Titanium, or Gold | Which is Best for Your Piercing?
Two predicaments that have been the bane of the piercing industry are infections and allergic reactions. While cleaning and proper care are sufficient enough to starve off infections, the material used in the construction of your jewelry is of utmost importance with respect to allergy reactions and complications that could result from it.
There are several types of these materials used in the production of body jewelry with each having its distinct advantages and corresponding shortcomings, but as far as the industry is concerned three of them stand out;
- Stainless steel
In the United States and most countries in the world where piercings are commonplace, Stainless steel is the most widespread material used for body jewelry. While there are many commercial forms of stainless steel, the acceptable grade recommended for use in body jewelry are the 316L and 316LVM variants.
Stainless steel is an excellent choice material in the body jewelry production industry because it is abundant, has a high resistance to corrosion, easily malleable and most importantly relatively cheaper than most other options for body jewelry source material. However, present in stainless steel is the alloy Nickel (which gives stainless steel its characteristic resistance to rust and corrosion) that is known to induce and potentiate allergy reactions.
Although all grades of stainless steel contain Nickel, high-end body jewelry makes use of a refined variant which either has an extremely low nickel content or has been sufficiently polished to give a mirror finish that efficiently mitigates the allergenic properties of Nickel. It is this sort of steel that reputable companies employ in the production of their body jewelry. That said, most convenience stores sell body jewelry piece made from low quality stainless steel that is advertised as ‘medical grade’.
One other downside of stainless steel is that it a higher tendency to accumulate or disperse heat than the other two metal classes. What this translates to in daily usage is that body jewelry made of stainless steel has the tendency to be hotter in the summer and colder in winter than those made from titanium and gold.
Titanium apart from being highly resistant to corrosion and wear/tear also has the characteristic of being chemically inert. Although most of its commercially available forms are implant compliant, the recommended grade for use in body jewelry is the titanium 6AI4V ELI variant. Because it contains no nickel, there have been very few incidences of allergic reactions.
One defining a characteristic of Titanium is its lightweight (1lb of titanium is 60% lighter than 1lb of stainless steel), this coupled with its high tensile strength make it a better option for larger jewelry pieces than stainless steel or Gold. Titanium can also be anodized to give produce different color shades and gamut giving it an edge in the customizability department as well.
The major drawback for titanium is its cost, pound for pound it is more expensive than stainless steel, this price difference is, however, negligible except you are looking to purchase a very large jewelry piece.
Of all elements, gold is one of the most chemically inert and biocompatible naturally occurring material. For individuals with heightened sensitivity, it is the go-to solution.
Gold in a highly pure state of 24 karats and above is highly recommended for use in even new piercings; this is because among the three metals, in this form it probably the most inert. However in this pure state Gold is extremely malleable and prone to deformations and scratching which are sure-fire ways to irritate your piercings. This coupled with the fact that pure Gold is freakishly expensive is why many manufacturers choose to use gold alloys.
For body jewelry, gold alloys lesser than 14 karats are unsuitable as these contain a variety of metals (Zinc, Nickel) that are known irritants to body cells and tissue. Alloys of 18 karats upward are usually shy of this metals and are constituent of 75% gold and 25% copper or silver or both; these are less likely to induce an allergy reaction.
- Which is the best option?
In the long run, the best choice of jewelry material is more often than not tied to the personal preference and predisposition of the intending body jewelry user.
Generally speaking, Stainless steel and titanium will appeal to users who are comfortable with the more generic body jewelry pieces and are not predisposed to allergy reactions. Of the two titanium has the advantage of being lightweight with more corrosion resistance, and although stainless steel is cheaper, like I mentioned earlier the price disparity is often insignificant except in the case of bigger jewlery pieces.
For people who have heightened sensitivity and are predilect to allergy reactions, gold is the better option. Apart from being more aesthetically pleasant than the other two metal class, gold also has a status symbol of being high end. This comes at a cost though, as the price of the Gold body jewelry pieces is way greater than their stainless steel or titanium counterparts.