“So, I read your blog about surgical steel and I know better than to get that. This time I definitely got pierced with titanium, so I know my jewelry is great quality!” Well….I wish it were that easy. For many years piercers, myself included, have spent time educating clients about the difference between mystery metals like “surgical steel” and quality metals like implant grade titanium and steel. But just like the clients have caught on, the crappy body jewelry companies have caught on as well. Just getting “titanium” jewelry doesn’t really cut it, and just titanium doesn’t mean it’s safe. Theres so many other factors that go into creating a piece of high quality body jewelry that is safe for you, beyond just the material itself. Today, let’s look at what factors alongside material matter, and what makes safe body jewelry.
All Titanium is not created equal
When looking for jewelry to be pierced with, it’s not enough to just look for “titanium”. Specifically, you want to find implant grade titanium, most often ASTM-f136. Theres lots of different recipes and ways to make titanium, kind of like there’s all sorts of different methods to make a cake. For our body piercings we don’t want titanium that’s for car parts, or electronics, or sculptures. We want titanium that’s safe for our bodies, and that’s going to be implant grade titanium. As clients have learned about the difference in materials and moved away from surgical steel, many lower quality companies got wise. They started using cheap, lower quality titanium to make jewelry, and advertising it as simply “titanium” online, because hey if its titanium it’s safe. Other companies advertise “titanium coated” or “titanium dipped”. These are all clever spins on what end up being coated and painted jewelry- not quality or safe. If it’s not implant grade, its not worth it.
Everyone Lies, even Companies
Yes, some companies may lie to you about the jewelry they are selling. Companies may list jewelry online as ASTM-f136 titanium. They might even say they have their mill certs listed on their website. But if those mill certs don’t actually meet ASTM standards or are from countries who don’t follow ASTM standards, they don’t matter. There are a few well known companies who blast everywhere online that they have implant grade titanium, top of the line, best thing for you. And time and time again their mill certificates for their metal don’t actually meet ASTM standards. They are literally just lying to you. It’s very unfortunate, but you need to trust the company you are purchasing from is telling you the truth about their materials.
Count on a Countersink
A countersink is a shallow hole drilled onto a bead or decorative end, which allows the barbell shaft to “sink” into it when a piece is assembled. Countersinks are great because they allow pieces to assemble more securely, and the prevent buildup from getting into the threading of the jewelry. High quality jewelry has a perfect countersink- the barbell and the bead assemble perfectly with no excess gap or space. Low quality companies are often easy to spot by improperly made countersinks, and that gap can allow crust and debris to collect on the jewelry and cause irritation and issues. These poor countersinks and connections can even make jewelry less secure and easier to loose. Some companies even have uneven surfaces where a piece meets the post, or with threadless jewelry it doesn’t fully assemble. All of these things can cause issues and irritations for your piercing, and even possibly cause a piercing not to heal correctly.
Just Scratching the Surface
Possibly the second biggest factor after exact material, is surface finish. That means how smooth or rough the surface of the jewelry is. For a piercing, the surface of the jewelry should have a mirror finish- this means free of any knicks, scratches, imperfections, or stamps. Anything on the surface can cause irritation to a piercing or allow bacteria and debris to build up on the jewelry. So a perfect polish on pieces are essential. Titanium is a great metal for piercing because it holds a mirror finish well. That being said, cheaper companies cut costs by not perfectly polishing jewelry. Some even charge an extra fee to to polish jewelry just up to minimum standards, not even perfectly. Meaning if the piercers don’t pay that fee, they get jewelry with a surface quality we know isn’t safe for piercings. Which just seems absurd- why even offer unsafe or barely polished pieces? Just polish everything perfectly! Surface finish can be impossible to confirm without magnification, so it’s important to focus on buying from brands you trust to sell a quality product, and polish it well. Even if you have a quality piece, if you take tools to it too harshly, or damage it while storing it, that piece isn’t safe for your piercing anymore. The surface has to stay mirror finish for a piece to be quality.
Ready, Settings, Go!
Gem and stone settings are another huge factor in a quality piece of jewelry. High quality brands only use hardware settings- meaning their gems are always set by the metal of the jewelry, never glued in or with adhesives. This is important because glue will break down over time, from showering and swimming and lifes daily needs. Hardware set pieces can last a lifetime. But those settings need to also be well made- bezels should still be polished, prongs should be smooth and tight to the stone. Many low quality companies cut corners by making shoddy settings, which loose stones easily and leave you with an empty setting that can collect debris from your piercing. Or worse, set and advertise titanium but then set the stone in steel or a zinc alloy- which you can be sensitive to. Gem quality matters as well- many companies use low quality foil back gems which turn green or cloudy over time. Quality companies work with cubic zirconia, often from top of the line brands like Swarovski, which means your gems and stones will look beautiful and bright for a lifetime.
I’m proud these days of how many clients know the difference between titanium and surgical steel, and internal and external threading. But when you learn, the bad guys learn too. So, let’s keep learning and stay ahead of low quality companies who’ll do anything to make a quick buck, even if it hurts you. Now you know more about what to look for from actual, safe, quality jewelry, and you can be more informed next time you order jewelry or set foot in a studio!