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Jewelry Metals and Materials

 No matter how well the piercing is placed or how well it is taken care of, if the jewelry is substandard, the wrong size and/or made of a material that is improper, problems will still present themselves throughout and after the healing. Over the first 4 years or so, the Axiom was in business, I did business with at least 20 different manufacturers in the search for the best quality jewelry at a good price. A lot of work goes into a good piece of jewelry, it takes proper metals, well-manufactured ends/tips, true bends and high polish finishes. Each piece of jewelry sold at The Axiom is individually inspected against defects and flaws, placed in a sterilization pouch and then placed in an autoclave to be sterilized. The Axiom does, has and will always stand completely behind any and all jewelry that is sold here. If a defect is found on any piece of jewelry we will replace the jewelry free of charge for up to one year.

 

Choosing a metal that will not cause a reaction and/or stand up to the abuse of the body is very important. If the piercee has a reaction to the metal it could cause the piercing to migrate or refuse to heal altogether. The jewelry we stock is of metals that are Body placement friendly then high polished to reduce wear and reactions. We require that our suppliers provide the ATSM(American Society of Testing and Materials) http://www.astm.org information. The ASTM is the benchmark for metal alloys and testing. They are a non-governmental organization that set standards and compiles information for manufacturing, materials, and methods of production.

 

See ASTM# below, when "F" is included in these #s that means that the metal has met the guidelines for FDA approval of materials used in medical products. The "1" or "2" that follows the "F" refers to the metal being of implant grade 1 or 2. Our jewelry is also solid, not plated or filled because plating can chip or flake with wear and cause reactions. The metal types we stock are as follows: 

 

316L OR 316LV STAINLESS SURGICAL STEEL ASTM-F138-86:

 

Often referred to as SSS or Stainless it is the same metal used for needles, medical replacement such as pins or hip replacements, and medical equipment. There are a number of stainless steels being sold as body jewelry but 316L and 316LVM are the best for body jewelry. Understand that just because it is labeled as 316L or 316LVM doesn't mean that it is implant grade. When in doubt ask for the ASTM info. The L refers to the alloy being of the low-carbon variety of 316. Since it is of low-carbon it should not trip metal detectors, which are set to detect high-carbon metals(this may have changed in this post 9/11 world). LVM means that it is vacuum melted. Vacuum Melting prevents air and other airborne contaminants to attach to the molecules in the metal. This creates a more consistent steel.

 

The Axiom only stocks 316LVM ASTM-F138-86. However, the specific composition of 316L / 316LVM allows for very little exposure to the nickel molecules, thus reducing the risk of sensitivity. It should be avoided if the piercee is prone to reactions to nickel. If you are unsure if you are sensitive to nickel a cheap and easy test is to tape a nickel to your arm for 10 to 12 hours and if a rash occurs then you should stay away from SSS. 316LVM does, however, allow very little exposure to Nickel Molecules. Due to the fact that lead is part of the alloy, however, if the finish is not of the highest grade problems could occur when the lead leaks from the jewelry. A good way to judge the finish is to look at the inside of the ring because this is the hardest area to polish. When polished to a reflective shine or mirror finish the jewelry should have a white, not grey color. We stock only annealed( a process of controlled heating and cooling in a vacuum. This yields a more flexible steel, and jewelry more resistant to metal fatigue. Thus uses of pliers is not needed on jewelry under 12g which could cause scratches or marks in the finish. Also, the jewelry should be free of rough edges, pitting and wire-drawing lines. 

 

NIOBIUM ASTM-B392: 

 

Often referred to as Nb or Ni(which not correct. Ni=Nickel). Niobium is a pure element that when an electric current is applied to the metal it will become anodizing and produces an oxide layer on the jewelry. The jewelry is submerged in an electrolyte solution and then the voltage is applied. This produces about 15 or 16 different shades of colors and color combinations. The color is caused by refraction of the light through the oxide layer. The different colors are produced by the difference in the voltage applied during the anodizing. The thicker the layer usually the darker the color. Black Nb is created by heating up the jewelry till it is red hot and then cooled. This called blacking and black Nb will not fade like anodized Nb. Also, Nb reactions are rare and no dyes or paints are used and because it is a pure element it is not toxic. The main problem with Nb is that it is a soft metal(like most elements) and tends to erode from normal wear over time and loses its color. Since it is nontoxic the body will not react but if given time it will erode to its natural color which is a dark grey. A good rule is the darker the color the deeper the oxidation and the longer it will take to wear off.

 

Due to the fact that it is a rough or porous metal (especially with matte black oxidation), it can trap contaminants. This can be combated with a high polish. Matte finished jewelry should never be placed in a fresh piercing. It should always be a high polish. It is important that your jewelry manufacture is proficient with the polish, this is due to the fact that Nb is porous metal it can trap polishing compound residue which can be toxic. At the Axiom, we no longer stock Nb. Lastly is that it's heavier then SSS, 14kt and 18kt gold, and Titanium and could add to migration. 

 

TITANIUM 614v. ASTM-F136 also known as titanium 6/4: 

 

Often referred to as Ti it is quickly replacing SSS as the material for body placement because it has no lead content. Ti is an extremely light metal alloy of 60 parts Aluminum and 40 parts vanadium. 136 is the best grade because of it's total resistance to erosion. Unlike when Ti is used in surgical implants where the tissue is encouraged to attach to the implant, with jewelry it should be of the highest polish to combat how porous Ti is. When Ti is exposed to air or water it reacts with the oxygen to create a thin, inert oxide layer. This oxide layer does not contain any traces of the elements(aluminum and vanadium) contained in the alloy. This creates the most biocompatible of all body piercing jewelry. Reducing reactions to almost null.

 

Like Niobium Titanium jewelry comes in a large range of colors. These colors are produced by anodizing the jewelry in the same way as Niobium. Also, this oxide layer can just like with Nb erode over time by normal wear. Titanium carbide can be coated on to the titanium to create Black-colored titanium this process called Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD). Since Titanium carbide is not biocompatible and the coating will create a surface or finish that is not smooth a finish, it is not a good choice for Body Jewelry. 

 

GOLD:

 

Gold must be 100% pure 14kt or better. The Karat weight is based on 1kt equals 1/24th of the alloy being pure gold. So if a piece of jewelry is 18kt it is 3/4th pure gold. The lower the karat weight the higher percentage of other metals in the alloy, commonly nickel, silver, zinc and/or copper. So, if the karat weight is say, 10kt(the weight that most rings are at to reduce wear) then there is an increased likelihood of a reaction. Most manufacturers use reduced nickel or nickel-free gold. Whenever in doubt request nickel free and the higher karat weight is best. Some manufacture also plate the gold with Platinum to reduce nickel reactions (especially with white gold which has a higher nickel content).

 

The fact that it has nickel in it gold can cause reactions with some people. With white gold, it is best to substitute palladium(an inert metal of the platinum group) for nickel . Green or pink gold increases the chances for a reaction because of the higher concentration of copper and zinc used to produce the color. Plated or filled jewelry is not a good choice because of normal wear and bending of the jewelry during insertion can cause clipping and wear of the thin plating. Always spend the money and go with solid gold.

 

Gold is soft and porous, so not only can there be problems with losing shape but it can trap contaminants. Also, Gold is prone to tarnish and tarnish is a fungus which could cause an infection. If iodine comes in contact, it can stain the metal (just one more reason not to use Iodine based antiseptics). If a person's perspiration is acidic enough to corrode the non-gold alloys in karat gold, causing darkening of the jewelry and discoloration of the area around the piercing. Exposing the jewelry to urine can cause the jewelry to get a rough and dull surface. This caused by the acids in urine leach into the surface of the jewelry and drying to form a hard crust. Discoloration can be reduced by surface depletion or pickling. Pickling is a process in which the jewelry is heated or submerged into a weak acid to remove the oxidation of the non-gold alloys from the metal's surface. Due to the cost of Gold we no longer stock it.

 

Lastly, many who feel that they can only wear gold may find Titanium or Niobium better and even Implant grade steel because of the nickel content of most gold jewelry. 

 

Other Materials Novelty Jewelry: 

 

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the uses of non-metal materials and sub-standard metals for novelty jewelry. Neither of these types of jewelry works well in healing piercings. There is a number of reasons, like the increased likelihood of harboring contaminants because of the porous surface, improper shape, the fact that most, if not all these material cannot be sterilized in an autoclave or substandard metals, are used and the increased likelihood of the jewelry eroding, breaking or shattering. There is also the increased chances of reactions to the metal and tarnishing.  This is most common in Barbells for the Navel and in most cases, the packaging has stated that the jewelry was Surgical Stainless Steal even though only the post section was steel while the setting and ends where made of everything from Sterling to chrome plated plastic.

 

ACRYLIC

 

Acrylic is a hard plastic that comes in a variety of colors and styles. It is often worn in large gauge piercings because it is lighter than most other materials. It also tends to be cheaper than other materials, making it ideal as a low-cost alternative for stretching piercings. Since not all Acrylic has not been clinically proven to be safe for wear in the body and the jewelry is more prone to scratches and deterioration, though acrylic styrene copolymer is FDA approved. The jewelry should be checked regularly for scratches and cracks because they can irritate the piercing and trap bacteria and other pathogens. Due to the fact that Acrylic is brittle, it can shatter under stress making it not the best option for long-term wear in oral piercings. Also Acrylic cannot be autoclaved(sterilized) and prolonged contact with Alcohol can speed up deterioration.

 

The following is Industrial Strength's "Acrylic Jewelry Care Instructions:" - "Acrylic jewelry is very fragile. It is not as strong as Stainless Steel or Titanium jewelry. Acrylic jewelry should be worm as a novelty item instead of everyday wear. We recommend cleaning acrylic jewelry with antibacterial soap and water only. To ensure the longevity of acrylic jewelry: DO NOT AUTOCLAVE THE JEWELRY, DO NOT SOAK IN ANYTHING CONTAINING ALCOHOL OR HARSH CLEANSERS, DO NOT STORE IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT OR EXTREME TEMPERATURES, DO NOT BEND, TWIST OR CHEW ON."

 

Glow-in-the-dark Acrylic is not a good choice especially for oral piercing such as tongue piercing where the acrylic is a great deal more prone to shatter. The phosphorescent material that makes the material glow is carcinogenic, in layman terms, it can cause cancer. This material should never be in contact with the body. UV or Black Lite acrylic that reacts with a black light and has the effect of glowing is safe for body contact because it is not carcinogenic.

 

OTHER METAL AND NOVELTY JEWELRY/SILVER 

 

In the last few years, there has been an influx of jewelry made of both sub-standard materials including lower grade SSS and Sterling Silver. These are often referred to as "novelty jewelry" and are not designed to be worn in fresh piercings or for long periods of time. A large majority of these are for navel piercings and usually are curved barbells and created to target the explosion of Navel Piercing. A good reference to what kind of a market these manufacturers are targeting is something I saw in a recent catalog I got, "You don't need to know anything about body piercing to sell body piercing jewelry."

 

Due to the fact that each person is shaped differently and changing the jewelry to a different type can cause reactions. When in doubt as to whether or not the jewelry is going to not be a problem, ask your piercer. Also, understand that a majority of this type of jewelry is not intended to be worn in the body for long periods of time. Curved barbells with high fashion ends are really popular and can cause problems. Since the shaped ends(flowers, butterflies, hearts and etc...) are usually made of sterling or some other material other than SSS they can cause reactions. Silver has a number of problems including reactions to the copper content. Since, Silver tarnishes very quickly, if worn in a fresh piercing, the tarnish can deposit into the skin causing it to darken or turn grey. Though this discoloration often wears or washes away, it can in some cases be permanent. Also since Tarnish is a fungus there is also a possible infection or reaction caused by wearing silver.

 

The other problem with the shaped ends is the size or the shape of the object itself. Always, take into account the size of your navel. Chances are that your navel is not going to increase or stretch to fit the end. This will cause the barbell to be forced outward against the piercing. This can cause a reaction in even a well-healed piercing or even migration. Also, consider that if the end has sharp edges or points and how that is going to feel inside your navel. Lastly, if the jewelry has objects or a chain hanging from the jewelry or the end, consider what it is going to feel like and the amount of damage can be caused if it were caught on something and quickly tugged.

 

Silver:

 

Silver should not be worn in the body for long periods of time. There is not only the risk of fungal infections but with piercings that are in the area where the tissue is a mucous membrane, there are the added risks of sliver poisoning also known as Argyria. Argyria causes a discoloring of the skin and will require cosmetic treatment to remove. The discoloring is usually a ring of dark gray or black coloring around the piercing holes. Understand that silver is slightly toxic to humans but usually only causes this discoloring and thus is considered only cosmetic. For this reason, I do not suggest wearing silver in any piercings but I especially advise against wearing silver jewelry in nostril, septum, oral and genital piercings.

 

MONOFILAMENT NYLON & TEFLON: 

 

Monofilament nylon and Teflon can be used to keep the piercing open when for a medical or other reason the jewelry must be removed. Neither show up on x-rays or react to other medical procedures or products. They both can be autoclaved or sterilized. The ends can be secured by simply tying both ends or threading on an externally threaded barbell end. A less safe practice is flattening the ends into a disc shape using a hot knife. This can cause rough edges and discomfort. A great source for Monofilament Nylon is fishing line and since it comes in a variety of weights it is not too difficult to match the gauge. 

 

ORGANIC MATERIALS: 

 

Organics are used mainly in large gauge plugs worn in lobes. They come in a large variety and are becoming very popular as has stretching lobes. Though they are at times very high priced, they make a good alternative to metal and acrylic plugs. Also, natural materials are too a degree more in harmony with your body. 

 

Hardwoods:

 

 Woods can "breathe" with a piercing and interchange of oils. the bad odor that is common with larger gauge jewelry and especially with Acrylics, tends to not develop with wood jewelry. Also, the wood doesn't cause the temper changes that occur in other materials. Hardwoods are defined as a broad-leafed, deciduous trees (angiospermous). The material used for jewelry comes from the heartwood which is darker and denser than the sapwood surrounding it. There are a few species of wood used in jewelry that is on the Endangered Species of the CITES. These are Commoner (Guaiacum officinale) Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), Mexican mahogany (Swietenia humilis), Carribean mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), Holywood lignum vitae aka "Tree of Life" (Guaiacum sanctum), Bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), and American mahogany (Swietenia meliaceae). We would hope that these materials are from salvage or control harvesting but always keep this in mind when buying rare woods.

 

Since the wood or the piercing may swell, it is best to have a piece that is slightly smaller than the piercing. Some woods can collect bacteria, dirt and shed skin and should not be used especially open grained woods. Just like any type of jewelry the finish should be free of scratches and defects. This means running down to the local hardware store and picking up a doll rod is not the best choice. Hardwoods cannot be sterilized and great care should be taken that hands and etc.. are clean. The jewelry should be cleaned using a non-chemical soap or tea tree oil on a regular base. Since people do have reactions to tree tea oil and it tends to dry out the tissue in the area, I suggest doing a test area before using and diluting the oil. After cleaning it is best to oil the jewelry with an oil or sealant. It's best to use a non-toxic oil or wax. Food grade oils such as olive oil or peanut oil can be used but they turn rancid with heat and time and need to be repeatedly re-oiled to avoid this. With waxes try animal or vegetable based. It is always possible to be allergic to hardwood or even develop one with long-term exposure. This is most common in woods within the Dalbergia genera, or the rosewoods: African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), Indian rosewood, aka Bombay 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). 

 

Ivory, Horn, Antler:

 

Since these materials are porous they can absorb moisture and skin oil, they can crack. This can be avoided by coating the material with bee's wax or a hypoallergenic sealant. With Mammoth ivory, it is softer than most stone and is flexible which makes it ideal for intricate and delicate carvings. The problem with aged or fossilized ivory for body jewelry is that s it absorbs skin oils causes it crack. Dall Sheep Horn Dall sheep horn is a semi-transparent material with an opaque white grain. Though Sheep horn tends to distort or bend when exposed to moisture or skin oils it is more flexible than other organic materials, making easier to work with. When polished, water buffalo horn looks a great deal like ebony. Due to the fact that the grain it will crack with exposure to skin oils and It must be stabilized before it can be used for jewelry. Moose, Elk and Deer Antler Antler can be a good choice because it is less likely to crack when it comes in contact with moisture and the skin oils but it is softer and more prone to fractures.  

 

Glass/Pyrex: 

 

Pyrex jewelry is gaining acceptance as an alternative to Acrylic and organic jewelry for a number of reasons. Glass is body friendly or hypoallergenic and can be autoclaved or sterilized. It is also very light and comes in a variety of styles and types. Pyrex also is not as prone to temperature changes like other materials. A common question is will glass break? The answer is yes and no. The chances are that it will not. This is the same material that science equipment like beakers and test tube are made of. It is next to impossible to break but there is always a chance. However, instead of shattering it will break into two pieces. Usually, the jewelry will have to be dropped on to a hard surface like concrete from a height of at least 3 feet. It can crack if the jewelry is subjected to extreme levels of heat and then cooled very quickly. Also, it has a very smooth finish which means it is ideal for fresh piercing especially if the piercee is sensitive to metals. Since Glass jewelry is made of Clear Medical grade Pyrex, it is completely non-porous, hypoallergenic and lead-free. There are a number of designs and types available including designed that are inside the glass.

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