Stainless steel and titanium are two of the most common metals used to make body jewelry, and niobium is fast becoming one of the third most popular body jewelry materials. In this blog post, we take a look at the differences between these metals and what makes each one an ideal body jewelry material. We've listed these three metals in order of their varying degrees of inertness–the quality that makes them hypoallergenic–with stainless steel being the least inert of the 3 options and titanium being the most inert.
Stainless steel–and particularly surgical stainless steel–is the most popular material used to make body jewelry. It also has many biomedical applications, but why? And what makes stainless steel such a great body jewelry material? The main reason is that surgical stainless steel is corrosion resistant, particularly when it comes in contact with biological fluids, which makes it safe for use in biomedical implants and piercings alike. It's also more economical to produce body jewelry and piercing tools from surgical stainless steel compared to other corrosion-resistant metals like titanium.
Any stainless steel products that may be put under pressure, such as bone screws and body piercing jewelry, are often made from austenitic steel like 316L and 316LVM stainless steel that's compliant with ASTM F138 standards. The L in 316L implies that the stainless steel has a low carbon content, whereas 316LVM implies that the steel has a low carbon content and is vacuum melted to eliminate airborne contaminants from adhering to the surface of the steel product in question, whether it be body jewelry, medical tools or something else. F138 standards for 316L and 316LVM stainless steel are set by ASTM International, which is the organization that outlines safety guidelines for different types of steel to ensure that various steel-based products like body jewelry, aircraft material, and children's toys all utilize the most appropriate and safest types of steel available.
316L and 316LVM stainless steel are more resistant to immune system reactions that can be caused by the higher nickel content in supplemental materials found in lesser grades of stainless steel. The anti-corrosive benefits of 316L and 316LVM stainless steel implants inserted in the human body reduce the chances of infection occurring, which is why these types of higher-quality surgical stainless steel have been in use since the early 1900s. All of the surgical stainless steel body jewelry produced and sold by Painful Pleasures is made from either 316L or 316LVM surgical stainless steel for the same reasons–to reduce chances of infection and minimize other reactions customers may have to their stainless steel body jewelry.
Niobium was first used commercially in the early 20th century. It's official name stems from Niobe, daughter of Tantalus in Greek mythology. Until 1949, niobium and columbium were used interchangeably to describe this lustrous, gray-white, ductile (i.e. malleable) transitional metal that's often found in the mineral pyrochlore. Niobium became the official name for this metal in 1949, but columbium is still used to describe it in metallurgy to this day.
Brazil is the leading producer of niobium, with roughly 85% of all of this metal originating from Brazil for use in a wide variety of commercial purposes. For instance, niobium is often added to alloys in a small percentage for purposes like enhancing the strength of steel for pipelines, among other purposes. It also has a host of benefits that make it ideal for use in crafting body jewelry. It's soft and malleable, it has low toxicity, it can be anodized to other colors, and it's corrosion resistant. Although titanium is even more corrosion resistant than niobium, niobium is lower priced and even more highly available. It's also one of the most inert metals, making niobium an ideal hypoallergenic body jewelry material for those who have more sensitive skin.
Titanium is a lustrous, silver-colored transition metal that's low in density yet incredibly strong. It's highly resistant to corrosion in sea water, the yellow, fuming liquid aqua regia (which is 1 part nitric acid and 3-4 parts hydrochloric acid), and chlorine. Titanium can be mixed with other metals like iron and aluminum to create lightweight, strong alloys for aerospace, military, medical, and other purposes, including the creation of titanium body jewelry. It has immense corrosion resistance and the highest strength-to-density ratio of any metallic element. Titanium can be as strong as steel, but it's significantly less dense.
There are a number of factors that make titanium the ideal metal for crafting body jewelry. First, it's the most inert metal, meaning that it's the most hypoallergenic material for creating medical implants and body jewelry alike. It's also incredibly strong yet lightweight. Its low density makes titanium malleable and easy to shape into different body jewelry styles ranging from simple straight barbells to curved belly button rings to tiny titanium dermal anchors and beyond. Titanium has fairly low electrical and thermal conductivity, too.
Stainless Steel, Niobium & Titanium Body Jewelry
Since progressively more people have metal allergies than ever before, surgical stainless steel, niobium and titanium have fast become the ideal metals for creating body jewelry–particularly starter body jewelry used in new piercings. In fact, titanium is considered the only acceptable material for body jewelry and medical implants in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., either titanium or surgical stainless steel must be used for these purposes, although exceptions may be made for people with severe metal allergies.
You can purchase everything from straight barbells to circular barbells, bent barbells, captive bead rings, tongue rings, labret studs, dermal anchors, nose studs, septum jewelry, and nearly every other style of body jewelry imaginable made from these hypoallergenic metals. The body jewelry found on Painfulpleasures.com is made of the highest-quality versions of these materials, too, to ensure that our clients have access to the safest, least irritating types of metal body jewelry on the market. Unlike some of our competitors, we don't offer jewelry made of coated titanium, which can chip and expose lesser materials beneath that may cause an allergic reaction in the wearer. We exclusively use 316L or 316LVM surgical stainless steel, pure niobium, and solid titanium to craft our body jewelry, and we're proud to sell it at wholesale prices even to the general public. Our goal is to make premium body jewelry available to everyone, regardless of their budgets.
For those who have such sensitive skin that they can't even tolerate the highest-quality versions of stainless steel, niobium and titanium, we also offer PTFE body jewelry alternatives. PTFE, which is also known as BioPlast or BioFlex, is flexible jewelry made from a soft plastic-like hypoallergenic material. No matter what your needs are in terms of body jewelry material, style, and size, we have it all here. Check out the thousands of options available to you in our Body Jewelry section, or jump right to a particular area to find the specific type of jewelry you want, like Straight Barbells, Bent Barbells, Captive Bead Rings, and more.