Surgical Steel and Hypoallergenic Metals

June 3, 2013

If you’re designing hypoallergenic earrings or other jewelry, what are your options? What metals are safe to wear? Is surgical stainless steel the same as hypoallergenic or nickel free? The answers aren’t as simple as you might hope, but there are some great (and economical) choices.

First, a few definitions:


Hypoallergenic means “below normal” or “slightly” allergenic. The term was coined by the cosmetics industry in the 1950’s, and became a popular marketing term for jewelry soon afterwards.

Many people are allergic to nickel, so “nickel free” and “hypoallergenic” are sometimes considered synonymous. Be aware that hypoallergenic does not mean nickel-free, nor does it have a legal or medical definition for use in jewelry. You’re better off using specific materials rather than the vague term “hypoallergenic.”

Many people believe that stainless steel is nickel free, but most stainless steel alloys (even surgical stainless steel) contain 8-12% nickel. Roughly 6-12% of the population is allergic to nickel, so although it’s legally acceptable to put a “hypoallergenic” label on all stainless steel, it doesn’t seem quite fair to those who are looking for nickel-free jewelry.

Just a few more terms to define, before I get to the list of good metals to try.

Elements and Alloys

Alloys (such as stainless steel, sterling silver and 14kt gold) are mixtures of elements (such as iron, gold, copper and zinc). People create alloys to change the color, melting temperature, and/or strength of lone elements. For example, solid gold is too soft for ear wires — to make it stronger, it is alloyed (mixed) with other elements such as silver and to make 14kt or other alloys of gold. Iron is alloyed (mixed) with other elements primarily to make it stronger and resistant to rust.

Nickel Free or EU Nickel Directive?

Since there isn’t a formal US definition of nickel free, and alloys vary, a good way to find items that are very low nickel, is to search for items that say they meet the EU Nickel Directive. Another method is to avoid alloys entirely, and focus on elemental metals such as niobium and titanium. For more information about the term “nickel free”, see our Nickel-Free Metals Information page.

Good Metals to try:

Because different people are allergic to different metals, I can’t give you a “one size fits all” solution. However, the metals listed below tend to cause fewer problems than others. Carefully check out these metals and links (updated October 2015) to see which metals are likely to work best for you.


Hypoallergenic Teal Niobium ear wire

Niobium is an excellent choice for people with metal allergies. It is highly resistant to corrosion and other reactions, and is used in medical implants.  Niobium is not plated or painted, so the color will not flake or chip. It is anodized, meaning it is colored by dipping it into an electrically charged “bath.” Because it is an inert element, with no nickel, lead, or other additives, most people with metal allergies can safely wear niobium.  It doesn’t match basic silver and gold colors — but it is available in rich black, copper, blue, bronze, green, pink, purple, teal and yellow.

Do not be confused by the color similarities of anodized niobium and anodized aluminum. Both metals can be anodized to wonderful bright colors, but aluminum is too soft for ear wires.

Rings & Things stocks colorful Niobium head pins, eye pins, and jump rings in addition to Niobium ear wires.


Titanium flat pad post for gluing

Titanium is a very strong metal, frequently used in medical implants, and is another excellent choice for people with nickel allergies.

Titanium and Brittania

Our titanium ear wires and earring posts are Grade 1 ASTM F67, which is unalloyed commercially pure titanium, and meets the EU nickel directive. Our titanium earring posts have either a Brittania pewter pad (tin, antimony and copper), or a stainless steel flat pad.

Stainless Steel

There are over 100 alloys of stainless steel, and each is denoted by a unique SAE steel grade number, which may include one or more letters. Stainless steel alloys include steel (iron with carbon), chromium for scratch resistance and corrosion resistance, nickel to reduce brittleness and improve strength at both high and low temperatures, and other trace elements. For stainless steel alloys used in jewelry, these trace elements are approximately 0.75% silicon, 0.045% phosphorous, 0.03% sulfur, 2% manganese, and 0.1% nitrogen.

304 stainless steel is the most popular grade of stainless steel. It is 18-20% chromium, 8-10.5% nickel, 0.08% carbon, plus iron and the trace elements listed above. It is commonly used in the food industry (sinks, coffee urns, dairy storage and hauling, beer/brewing, citrus and fruit juice handling, etc). The same corrosion and stain resistance that make it great for food handling, also make it popular for jewelry.

Beadable Cheese Knife

Rings & Things stocks over 100 items made from 304 stainless steel: wire, ear wires, earring postsstringing cable and cable chokers, jump ringssplit rings, hair findings, lobster clasps, spring loaded clasps, dog tags, glue bails / pendant plates, beadable silverware, and beadable wine bottle stoppers. Some are plated, but most are raw stainless steel.

2-tone gold / stainless ear wire

2-tone stainless steel ear wires allow you to have a plated (gold, copper, etc.) ball and coil, with a raw stainless steel ear wire. They may look odd in the package, but look great on the ear.

304L Stainless  Endless Necklace Chain

304L stainless steel is almost the same as 304, but has a lower carbon content (0.03%), and may contain a slightly higher amount of nickel (8-12%). This alloy has increased weldability and resistance to corrosion (great for men’s jewelry).

430 Stainless Steel Ear Wire

430 stainless steel contains less than 0.75% nickel, and some forms of 430 stainless steel meet the EU nickel directive (less than .05% nickel ion migration). 430 stainless steel has good corrosion resistance compared to non-stainless steel, but not as good as the 304 and 316 alloys.

XC45 Steel is a high-quality structural carbon steel made of 0.42 – 0.5% carbon, 0.3% (or less) nickel, and small amounts of silicon, manganese, sulfur, phosphorous, chromium and copper. This grade provides the springy strength required for genuine French barrette backs (made in France) and French shoe clips.

Surgical Stainless Steel

Adding the word “surgical” to a stainless steel alloy’s name does not actually make it a better grade of steel. The SAE grade number (304, 430, 316L, etc.) defines the alloy and its properties, so the word “surgical” simply tells us “non-SAE-tech people” that 316 and 316L stainless steel alloys have properties suitable for temporary medical implants, or for making durable surgical instruments.

316L Stainless Steel Leverback Hoop

316 and 316L surgical stainless steel contain 2-3% molybdenum for even greater resistance to harsh corrosives (both industrial, and in the body). 316L is a low carbon version of 316, with extra corrosion resistance, and is frequently used for stainless steel watches and marine applications. Like most other stainless steel, it contains 8-10.5% nickel, making it unsuitable for people with nickel allergies.

Sterling Silver and Fine Silver

Sterling Silver Marquise Ear Wire

Sterling silver is an alloy containing at least 92.5% silver. The most popular sterling silver alloy is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. To prevent tarnish while on display in department stores and high-end jewelry stores, some sterling is plated with rhodium. Most people can safely wear good quality sterling silver, but a few are allergic to silver or copper. Sterling silver from reputable vendors is nickel free, but be aware that some jewelry marked sterling or 925 — especially if the price seems too good to be true — may contain little or no silver at all, or be alloyed with random metals.

Argentium Leverback

Argentium™ sterling silver replaces some of the copper with 1.2% germanium (the remainder is 6.3% copper and 92.5% silver). Argentium sterling silver is tarnish resistant, laser weldable, and has other unique properties.

Other special alloys of sterling are occasionally available, each with its own unique properties. More info about sterling silver, including hallmarks.

Silver Fill

Silver fill (also called silver overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of sterling (.925) silver to a base of less costly metal, usually brass. The minimum layer of silver must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item. Silver fill is 100’s of times thicker than silver plating, so it lasts many years longer before wearing through the layer of silver. If you can wear sterling silver, you can most likely wear silver-fill items for quite a few years before you wear through the top layer to any irritating basemetal layers beneath it.

Vermeil, pronounced “vehr-MAY” [French], is gold plated sterling silver. If you can wear sterling silver, it’s very likely that you can wear vermeil.

Karen hill tribes butterfly pendants

Fine silver, sometimes stamped “.999”, is 99.9% pure silver, which means it is softer and more malleable than sterling. It is commonly used for bezels, handmade ball-end head pins, and components made by the Karen Hill tribes.

Just like sterling silver, fine silver can be misrepresented. If you’ve experienced allergies to cheap items marked sterling, 925 or 999, you may want to try again from a reliable, knowledgeable vendor before you rule out silver entirely.


Karat (kt) gold
: Pure gold is 24kt, meaning 24 out of 24 parts are gold. 24kt is too soft to be functional, so it is alloyed with other metals for durability, cost and color. 14kt is 14 parts gold out of 24, and the remaining 10 parts are other metals. Depending on the color of gold (which can be yellow, rose, green or white), the other parts may be copper, silver, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium and/or manganese. People with nickel allergies should be aware that, until recently, most white gold contained nickel. Today, palladium is used to make a white gold alloy that is less likely to react to the wearer’s skin.

12kt Gold Star Jewelry Link

Gold fill (also called gold overlay) is made by using heat and pressure to apply a layer of karat gold to a base of less costly metal. This produces a surface with karat gold. The minimum layer of karat gold must equal at least 1/20 of the total weight of the item. Gold fill is 50 to 100,000 times thicker than regular gold plating, so it lasts many years longer before wearing through the layer of gold. If you can wear 14kt gold, you can most likely wear gold-fill items for quite a few years before you wear through the top layer to the brass or other basemetal beneath it. Roughly half our gold-fill items are 12kt gold fill; the other half are 14kt gold fill.

Copper and Brass

copper heart blank

Copper is a lovely reddish metal. It is easy to work with, but oxidizes quickly, and where it comes into contact with skin, can turn skin green. The “green skin” factor makes it unpopular for ear wires or earring posts. You can lacquer (or otherwise coat) it, but high contact points — such as going through an ear — wear off quickly.

Most people can safely wear copper, but aren’t always excited to have their skin turn color where it touches them. For this reason you may want to mount copper bracelet designs onto a sterling backing, or use copper-colored niobium ear wires on copper earrings.

Alternatively, many people believe that copper can prevent arthritis, so solid copper bracelets are popular. For this effect, it needs to touch (and react with) your skin, so skip any protective layers.

raw brass blanksBrass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Depending on the desired properties, the percents of copper and zinc can vary greatly. Because brass is usually 50-90% copper, it has roughly the same “green skin” properties as copper.  Cheap brass earrings may have irritating impurities in their alloy, causing an allergic reaction to people who aren’t allergic to either copper or zinc.

brass ear wirepurple electrocoating brass ear wireBrass is a popular material for plated ear wires, because it is inexpensive, easy to plate or electrocoat, and is relatively allergy-free.

Non-Metal Earring Findings

E'arrs pierced-ear protectorsSome people are allergic to so many metals that it can be frustrating (or impossible) to find any that are wearable. A good solution is E’arrs Ear Protectors, non-metal sleeves that slide over earring posts (and ear wires).  These add a bit of thickness to the earring post (or ear wire) so they can be annoying for the first few days. After that, they are fine as long as you continue to wear them.


I hope this article help you pick the perfect metals for the jewelry you make (or modify).  If you have any questions, please leave them as comments below and I will answer as quickly as I can.


Edited October 2015, to update links.

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  • Sereia Recart August 26, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Dear Polly,
    Thanks for the helpful info on metal allergies. It seems that I am okay with platinum. Which of the suitable silver toned metals you mentioned come in thin wire? Does platinum also come in thin wire? I’d like to make briollet pendants to hang from a platinum chain.
    Many thanks,

    • Polly August 27, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      Hi Sereia,
      I recommend fine silver wire for making your own briolette pendants. It is easy to work with, and would work perfectly for making briolette pendants. Platinum is also available in wire form (although not from us), but it is a very hard metal, plus it would be very expensive to practice with. If you want a briolette pendant made of platinum wire, I recommend having the pendant custom-made by a professional jeweler in your town/city.

    • Peggy January 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      What a wonderfully, all encompassing, fully informative blog. I found this to be so helpful. I knew bits and pieces of these facts and had been mis-informed on others. It’s really nice to have it all spelled out in one place,
      in such a concise manner,
      easy to understand,
      and in this natural progression that you have laid out.
      You didn’t overwhelm with details, but enough to lay the groundwork and basics.
      Then you are available to answer specific questions people have about certain metals and situations. It’s great how you share your knowledge & allowed one reader to duplicate your blog page to be used in her book for her jewelry customers to help them understand better what metals may be causing their irritations.
      I didn’t see how you’ve learned all of this, are you a Metallurgist? Or have you just learned this with experience.
      Thanks for sharing. It’s been very helpful.

      • Polly January 21, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        Hi Peggy, Thanks!
        Not a metallurgist; just lots of bits of research on pertinent (and perhaps impertinent) topics over the years! And working in the jewelry industry since age 4 has giving me lots of experience.

    • Edith Oh July 21, 2017 at 8:57 pm

      What about acrylic?

      • Polly July 24, 2017 at 9:48 am

        Hi Edith,
        I’m really not sure. According to, “Acrylic plastic refers to a family of synthetic, or man-made, plastic materials containing one or more derivatives of acrylic acid. The most common acrylic plastic is polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), which is sold under the brand names of Plexiglas, Lucite, Perspex, and Crystallite.”
        I’m afraid I have no idea how the average human body reacts to either polymethyl methacrylate or any of the other variations of acrylic. I know people have made lucite rings and bangles, and I haven’t heard of any reactions to them, … oh well actually, it’s because I hadn’t ever done any research on it yet. I just googled “lucite allergy” and came up with quite a few sites that talk about allergies to acrylic clothing, dental acrylics, and others, including allergies to acrylic hearing aid molds, so that doesn’t bode well for pierced earrings made of acrylic either. But then again, different people are allergic to different things. If one person has an allergy to nickel, and another to silver and another to gold, at least one of those people will hopefully not have an allergy to acrylic!

  • Lisa September 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I love how you have put all this metal information together for easy use!!
    I make and sell jewelry, specializing in metal allergies, and people ARE often very uninformed about what metal ares, metal allergies and which metals they are actually allergic to.
    If it is acceptable to you, I would appreciate it if I could print this off and put a copy in my product sample notebook. I could then refer to it when I am at a craft show or with a customer. That way customers can also read the information themselves to help them make better informed decisions.
    Thank you.

    • Polly September 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      Hi Lisa,
      Thank you for asking – yes, you are welcome to print this blog article and put it in your notebook.

      • Lisa September 5, 2013 at 7:00 pm

        Thank you so much. That will provide useful information and make things easier!

  • Cheryl September 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    is surgical steel softer than stainless steel ?

    • Polly September 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Cheryl,
      Not necessarily. Surgical steel is a type of stainless steel that is formulated to react less to the conditions in the body. The conditions in the body, are that the metal is surrounded with the chemicals found in the bloodstream and tissues. This doesn’t mean surgical steel is harder or softer, just that it reacts less with people. Surgical steel is a subcategory of stainless steel, and both can have varying degrees of hardness depending on how they are made, and how they are handled/formed after they are made.

  • Tammy October 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I have a friend whose ears turn black when she wears wire hook earrings. But they only turn black at the very bottom of her earlobe where the hook rubs. The hole and immediately below the hole are fine. I have been trying to find a solution for this. I have tried sterling silver and then argentium silver, thinking that the metal used as an alloy for the sterling was causing the issue. The argentium still caused her ear to turn black. Another person suggested trying nickel-free metal, but I thought that the argentium earwires were nickel free. Weirdly enough, she has some cheapy gold-toned earrings that do not cause this problem, so I am flummoxed.
    Do you have a suggestion for another metal to try? She wants me to switch out all of her earrings. I was thinking of trying titanium, but I don’t want to buy a gross of them if they aren’t going to solve the problem.

    • Polly October 21, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Hi Tammy,
      It’s most likely the copper and/or the silver itself in sterling silver alloys that are tarnishing on her ears. Sterling is usually nickel-free, so simply going to another nickel-free alloy won’t necessarily solve the problem.
      Stainless steel is specifically designed to avoid tarnish and other surface discoloration — Nickel is actually added to stainless steel to help with this process. So a stainless steel (nickel-free or not) could work well for her. If she is allergic to nickel, of course you’ll want the nickel-free alloys.
      Titanium is a very non-reactive metal, so it is almost guaranteed to work for her, both on the allergy front and the not-tarnishing front.
      On a side note keep in mind that she will probably have the same discoloration problem with silver plate, since a good/genuine silver plate contains silver.

  • Janet November 8, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Thanks for the helpful article! I am allergic to any kind of earring except .925 sterling silver or gold fill. I have not been that adventurous to try other metals, except I know that surgical stainless steel still irritates my ears a lot. Just some more information, there is also another type of post earring option called ‘plastic post’, they are earrings made with a post entirely made of plastic.
    I have also tried E’arrs Ear Protectors, and I find they do not work well with post earrings but work excellent on hoop earrings only.
    In any case it’s good to find something that works for you, whatever the option is. I found mine!

  • iris January 23, 2014 at 3:56 am

    hi guys, i came across your webpage and found it very informative!
    i make contemporary jewellery out of 316L stainless steel and i would like to blacken it, do you know if the black oxide process is safe for earring application and would the earrings still be hypoallergenic??
    any info would be greatly appreciated!

    • Polly January 27, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      That’s a good question. I’m afraid that adding chemicals to change the surface is likely to irritate some people’s ears.
      For a good black color that will be hypoallergenic, you might want to see if you can get some Niobium that has been anodized black.

  • Leah February 13, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I am wondering about iron. I recently purchased a package of ear wires that indicate that they are made out of iron; are there any know health risks associated with wearing iron?

    • Polly February 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Leah,
      Iron is *the* primary ingredient in steel, so it is likely that your ear wires are some type of steel, just loosely labeled, or perhaps imprecisely alloyed.

      • Leah February 14, 2014 at 9:01 am

        Thanks. I just wanted to make sure there was no risk of rust or anything like that. It is labeled to be Nickle free, so I guess that is what I was looking for.

        • Polly February 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm

          Hi Leah,
          Since they aren’t labeled stainless steel, there actually is a high chance of rust, especially if they are not plated. The elements that are alloyed with iron, to make stainless steel and surgical stainless steel, are added to make the raw iron stronger and resistant to rust and other discolorations.
          If you have a bulk package of ear wires, you may want to conduct a test with 1 or 2: put them in water for a day or two, maybe spray one with some hairspray or perfume first to see if they have a coating that is easily damaged. Then after they soak for a day, allow them to dry naturally and see if they rust.

  • Jennifer August 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    My daughter seems to be allergic to everything when it comes to jewelry .so someone suggested titanium .what are your thoughts on this .she is 13 thanks Jennifer

    • Polly August 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Hi Jennifer,
      Both Titanium and Niobium are good choices to try.
      If you can’t find them locally, we sell both Niobium and Titanium ear wires, that you could use to trade out ear wires that bother her, and replace with new ear wires. Titanium – we only sell in bags of 144 pieces: (Updated 11/2017 to add a link to additional styles of Titanium earring supplies).
      Niobium is available in some great colors that I think she would like a lot, and we sell them in smaller quantities (you can order a single pair):

  • Lachinita September 23, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    I’m curious, my ears turn bright red an get extremely itchy when I wear sterling silver earrings. Do you know what causes this? I can’t seem to wear anything but real gold. Whether it’s white gold, rose gold or just gold. Which is a bummer since I love sterling silver jewelry.

    • Polly September 23, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Hi Lachinita,
      You could be allergic to silver or to copper (sterling silver is an alloy of 92.5% silver, and usually the other 7.5% is copper).
      I agree, it is a bummer — I love sterling silver jewelry too. I think it’s weird that different people are allergic to different things. My mom can wear sterling silver all day, but can only wear surgical steel for 1 to 3 hours because she’s allergic to nickel. Whereas you might be the opposite. White gold usually has a lot of nickel in it, and you can wear that. And now that I say that, I realize you are probably not allergic to copper, because rose gold has a lot of copper in it. So you must simply be allergic to silver.
      A solution to some of your woes may be to get some white gold or titanium ear wires, and switch those out for the sterling ear wires in some of your favorite earrings.

      • Lachinita September 24, 2014 at 7:18 am

        Could it be possible that only my ears are allergic to sterling silver? I have no problem wearing sterling silver rings, bracelets, or necklaces.

        • Polly September 24, 2014 at 10:44 am

          Yes, it’s quite likely that your ears, or any other piercings, are more sensitive.
          Many people are only a little allergic to Nickel, and can’t wear earrings with nickel in them, but have no problems with the steel snap on their jeans, and little or no itchiness from the stainless steel on the back side of their watch. But some people are so allergic to certain materials that it can’t be anywhere on their skin. Silver is a less common allergy, but still quite real, and I expect it to behave similarly.

  • Janice September 30, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    I am wanting to learn how to make my own bezels for micro and mini mosaic glass insets. I have watched You Tubes but can’t find out what kind of metals to use or information.. Your blog is great. I am thinking, after reading your metal information, that I may want to use titanium. Could you please give me suggestions of how to purchase titanium for the spbase of a bezel,, strips to form the edges of the bezel, solder to use, type of solder gun, flux, etc. I’m desperate for information after searching so long. A workshop would be nice, but where???
    Thanks for any help.

    • Polly October 1, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Janice,
      Titanium is a very hard metal, so is not easy to cut or shape. I believe that most jewelers who cut it, use a laser.
      To find out how to solder it, google the melting temperature. Silver (for sterling silver) solder melts/flows around 1240F to 1365F depending on the grade of solder. Copper is similar. Butane micro torches (which we sell) get up to about 2450F.
      Titanium’s melting tempurature is closer to that of platinum, so if you find out what type of torch you need to for platinum, the same is likely to work for titanium. However … I have never actualy seen a piece of soldered titanium, so I’m not sure it’s actually possible… I’ve only seen it shaped and riveted.

  • Heidy February 2, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Thank you so much for such helpful information! I haven’t been able to wear earrings for so many years. I had worn silver earrings (don’t know the type of silver), my earlobes got red & itchy within minutes (similar necklaces give me similar reaction on my neck ). Samething happens when I wear gold unless is 24 karat. Some sweet people got fantasy jewelry for me, which I worn to show my appreciation but it was worse. Which metal (that is not too expensive) do you think I should try first? Thank you for your help.

    • Polly February 2, 2015 at 6:04 am

      Hi Heidy,
      If we can determine what type of metal your existing silver jewelry is, it will help narrow down the options.
      If you look closely at the clasps of your necklaces, are the end pieces stamped with any tiny letters or numbers? If there is a little stamp saying .925, it is sterling silver, and .999 is fine silver. If there is no stamp, then the metal could be anything, and is probably plated. If you can tell you’ve already tried sterling and it didn’t work, then skip the sterling link below.
      Some easy things to try are basic sterling silver hoop earrings, or stainless steel hoop earrings. Niobium ear wires are my favorite, but you need a pair of small pliers to trade them for your original ear wires or posts, and their colors don’t always work out properly as replacements.

  • Polly October 6, 2015 at 10:20 am

    With our new website, I just noticed that all my old links in the comments are broken – I will update them as soon as possible! ~Polly

  • Rachel November 13, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Hi Polly,
    Thanks for all of this great information! I had searched the internet high and low and had not found anything nearly as comprehensive until now that I’ve found your blog. I was wondering about lacquering copper as I am starting to make rings. The rings are brass and are then electroplated with copper. If I lacquer them (as they could endure a lot of use like you said with the earrings) do you think they will turn people’s fingers green? Do you perhaps have any suggestions on which type lacquer to buy?
    Many thanks!
    Rachel 🙂

    • Polly November 17, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Rachel,
      All lacquers will wear off of high-wear items like rings. It works well for pins and wall hangings, but not so well for rings, bracelets or pendants.
      So yes, your brass rings (copper plated or not) will turn people’s fingers green. This could be a selling point … never worry about being pinched on St. Patrick’s day! Or, to be more serious, many people purchase copper jewelry believing it helps with arthritis. And if it is lacquered to prevent discoloration, that also means you’re not getting any of the benefits of the copper. I don’t know for sure if wearing copper helps with arthritis, but I’ve talked to many people who swear it helps them.
      I would google heavy-duty skin-safe lacquers. They don’t have to specifically be for jewelry; they just have to be non-irritating to skin. UV resins like these would be even better: They are more durable (similar to the new UV resin fillings that dentists use). But might be tricky to get evenly onto the inside of a ring.

  • ANN November 20, 2015 at 5:31 am

    I could hug you for the amazing breakdown on various allows and metal allergies. I found out only after having a severe allergic reaction to dark hair dye and went for allergy testing, that I was allergic to both Nickle and Gold.
    Thank you so much for fantastic post, Ann

  • Ashlyn August 11, 2016 at 9:01 am

    This article was so helpful! I just got my ears pierced for the third time since the other two times my ears got infected. My mom and I came to the conclusion that I was allergic to gold. This time I got them pierced with titanium, and I am so happy with the results. They don’t bother me at all!
    So it’s been six weeks and I can finally change my earrings, but I don’t know what metal would be best to try out next because it’s really hard to find titanium earrings that I like. I was thinking maybe stainless steel would be a good option?? I don’t really know… I’m not allergic to sterling silver for a fact because I have three sterling rings that I wear every single day that don’t bother me one bit. But the problem with sterling is that it’s kind of expensive, so I want to try a different metal.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated, Polly. Thanks for the great article. –Ashlyn

  • Herminia Villasenor November 17, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Hello, I had a question. Is european standard steel grade E safe for cartilage piercing?

    • Polly November 18, 2016 at 9:59 am

      Hi Herminia,
      Any metal that you have had success with before, should be fine for cartilage piercing. The main difference between cartilage piercing, and the fleshy part of the ear, is that there is less blood flow to the cartilage area, so it heals much more slowly.
      I can’t find any specs for “european standard steel grade E” — all I can find is that the “E” may stand for Engineering, which doesn’t tell me much. If you are trying to find a type of steel that does not have Nickel in it, or a type of steel that is medical grade, then you’ll need to get more information about the grade — you will probably need a letter followed by 3 numbers, like E285 or something like that. And then you can google that number and the words “alloy” or “composition” to find out what it is made of. I hope this helps!

  • Beth January 2, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    I’m definitely allergic to nickel. Takes about 30 min-45 min. before I get a reaction. (itchy rashes) Silver and even stainless silver I can get a slight reaction after 45 min. of use. Stainless steel I can get a reaction after about 6 hours of use. I never really tried bronze or copper, they look suspicious, as in I would get a reaction.
    But thank you very much for the info. It greatly helps my search for wearable jewelry.

  • Kathy March 20, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    My 21 year old’s ears tend to abscess. Thought she was never going to be able to have pierced ears. She decided to give it one last try and went to a tattoo shop. They used surgical steel. Healed just fine and looked like it would work, until recently. She decided to change the earrings the shop put in and now she’s trying to get an abscess. Hopefully putting the SS back in will take care of it. My question is, would titanium be better than surgical steel? Be nice to make her some cute earrings and I’d like to use the best thing for her ears.

    • Polly March 21, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Hi Kathy,
      Titanium is an excellent choice — very few people are allergic to it, and it’s a strong metal that can be anodized into awesome colors — but it all really boils down to what each unique individual is sensitive to.
      I would ask the shop what alloy of surgical steel it was. Often the part # or name will have a number like the types of steel above (304, 304L, XC45, etc.), and googling that, will tell you the composition. If she’s allergic to some stainless steel, but not others, those #’s will help you figure out which metal she’s allergic to. Have you tracked what the earrings are made of, that’s she’s allergic to so far? Or are they just generic plated fun stuff?

  • Anne May 6, 2017 at 4:54 am

    Hi Polly,
    Your article is comprehensive and quite informative. I sell jewelry and would love your permission to copy and/or reference it on my websites.
    Thank you for a great blog post.

    • Polly May 8, 2017 at 9:07 am

      Hi Anne,
      Thanks! If you copy the information directly, be sure to include a reference link to this blog in each spot it’s used.
      Or if you paraphrase / re-write it, I don’t need credit … since all of the technical info in here, I got from (and confirmed at) multiple sites that make and sell the various grades of steel and other metals referenced. I just translated the technical info into regular English as much as possible =) … and you’ll find my opening statement about the legal definition of “hypoallergenic” many places as well, once you know what to look for.

  • Kris November 21, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I am not sure if this is the place for this question but here it goes.
    I have a stainless steel plate in my foot from a surgery. It is still giving me some issues. pain and mild swelling. A friend suggested I soak my foot in some hydrogen peroxide and water, a very low concentration of peroxide of course. I am not sure of the exact makeup of the plate but the doctor said it was stainless steel. I am hesitant to try this because I do not want to cause any damage to the plate itself. I can try to get information on what type of steel was used in the plate from the doctor since I am guessing it is not pure steel. It seems an odd request but I am not able to use much in the way of pain medications. My stomach does not handle them well and I do not want to use narcotics if I do not have to. Any information anyone has on this subject would be very much appreciated.

    • Polly November 21, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Kris,
      Our specialty is making jewelry, so I don’t really feel qualified to give advice on how to reduce pain or swelling as a result of surgery. However, I do still have some advice, information, and questions.
      1) How long ago was the surgery?
      1a) Was it fairly recent, so it’s normal that it still hurts? (If so, see what the paperwork says that the doctor gave you when you left — normally they have some followup care recommended to help heal after surgery. If not, give them a call or an email and ask what they recommend.) Peroxide does a nice job killing stuff you don’t want in a wound, but won’t help with pain, and it’s my understanding that it will only help with the swelling if the swelling is caused by an infection.
      1b) Or… was the surgery months ago? If it was a long time ago and you still have swelling, then you are probably allergic to nickel or something else in the steel. Which leads me to…
      2) Steel is never a “pure” metal. Steel is not an element (see “Elements and Alloys” heading near top of page); it is an alloy (and actually it is a DOZENS of alloys, each formulated for a different purpose). We carry jewelry components made of at least 5 different alloys of steel. Steel is primarily made of iron, which rusts when exposed to common things like water and salt. There is a lot of water and corrosive stuff like salt in the body, so the iron is alloyed with a variety of things (common components of the alloys are listed above) to prevent it from rusting.
      If your foot is still swollen and red months after the surgery, then sadly, you may be allergic to one of the ingredients in stainless steel, and you might need to convince your insurance company to fork out some big bucks to do a new surgery and replace the steel with titanium (which very few people are allergic too, but it’s more expensive and more difficult to work with).
      I understand how you feel about painkillers – my system doesn’t like them either, so I avoid them whenever possible, and usually I’ve been able to! The remainder of the time, I take a half-dose and still sometimes end up laying on the floor until the room stabilizes.

  • Laura McClung May 12, 2018 at 1:44 am

    Question, I have purchased a stainless steel necklace… I have charms that are “costume type” will the stainless steel cause low quality misc other metals to “turn green/tarnch”, etc.?? Thanks for the help!

    • Polly May 14, 2018 at 8:39 am

      Hi Laura,
      The metals themselves should not cause each other to turn green or tarnish.
      Chemicals such the ones in hair spray and perfume can eat through the finishes on costume (and other) jewelry, increasing the speed at which they change color. But what usually causes them to actually change color is moisture (rain, sweat, or high humidity) + salts, such as the salts in sweat. To keep inexpensive charms from tarnishing, keep them away from chemicals, moisture and sweat.

  • Inga October 23, 2018 at 5:16 am

    Are brass plated setting Lead free, Nickel Free, Cadmium Free and meet the EU Nickel Directive? Thanks.

    • Polly October 23, 2018 at 7:31 am

      Hi Inga,
      Yes, TierraCast’s brass plated settings are nickel-free, cadmium free.
      TierraCast Gold, Silver, Brass, Copper and Black (Gunmetal) plated cast pewter components comply with the EU Nickel Directive. These finishes are normally indicated in our online store with part numbers that end in -4, -3, -6, -7, and -9. Unfortunately at this time, TierraCast Rhodium finishes (-1 ) do not yet comply with the nickel directive.
      Thank you for asking. I will update our product descriptions soon with this information.

      • Inga Pudane November 9, 2018 at 2:23 am

        Hello, please tell me what is gunmetal?What does it have in the rust, does it change color, or is it allergic?Thanks for the reply!

        • Polly November 9, 2018 at 10:18 am

          Hi Inga,
          Gunmetal is a black plating (like silver plate, gold plate, rhodium plate) and the other plating colors. Some batches of gunmetal plating are a little bluer or grayer than some other batches, but it does not seem to change color later (although you can eventually wear through the plating layer, same as other platings). Depending on the manufacturer, gunmetal plating may contain nickel. However, we do know that TierraCast’s gunmetal plating does NOT contain nickel.
          My apologies that I have not yet had a chance to update our TierraCast product descriptions. It is still high on my list of website updates! ~Polly

        • Polly November 9, 2018 at 10:25 am

          I forgot to answer the rest of your question: is it allergic? Personally, I do not have any problems wearing gunmetal chain and findings, but I am only slightly allergic to nickel. I can’t wear surgical steel ear wires for more than few hours, or my ears start to itch, and I can’t wear white-gold rings that are made with a nickel alloy (I eventually get blisters!) But I have no problem with our gunmetal chain. This does not mean it is 100% safe, because someone who had different allergies than I do, might react differently. I have not heard of any problems, and we’ve been carrying gunmetal chain and findings for over 10 years, but since I really don’t know what’s in it (and each manufacturer has its own secret recipe), I can’t make any guarantees, with any of the manufacturers other than TierraCast.

  • Carter December 27, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Wow Polly, you seem very smart. Thank you so much for all of your in-depth research. I am a veteran custom jeweler of 30+ years. I specialize and noble metals and precious gemstones. I am in negotiations with some clients who want to produce a body jewelry line. Most of this product falls into the stainless/surgical steel category and I am less than familiar with such production techniques. I do have 13 years of watch repair experience so I am familiar with refinishing and laser welding techniques for stainless steel. Terms of manufacturing that I am familiar with are referred to as Dye striking, Casting, electroplating, electroforming, fabrication, drawing/pulling, forging, Ext. What manufacturing techniques are used for surgical steel jewelry? Seeing how we are starting from design phase. Do you have any referrals that would be helpful for mass production of this product line? I’m going to build the prototypes in base metal for workability properties. But the final production will be in surgical steel.

    • Polly December 28, 2018 at 8:51 am

      Hi Carter,
      I don’t have any experience in the manufacturing techniques. (I make stuff like this: However, I can give you a good starting spot for your research. Pick a type of stainless steel that you’re interested in working with – for example, 403 Stainless Steel, since it has less nickel, and google it with ASTM at the end. This will give you a number of manufacturing sites, each of which list the types of production they do for this type of steel. Keep in mind that surgical steel normally contains 8 – 10% nickel, which will prevent you (or your clients) from selling this in the EU. It’s still popular for body jewelry in the US, because it doesn’t tarnish due to the corrosion-resistant additives in in (including nickel). So you might also want to consider titanium for those end-customers who are allergic to nickel. I don’t know much about the manufacturing processes for titanium either, other than you have a lot of limitations due to the high heat resistance and strength of titanium. But some jewelers do work with it quite successfully, and make incredible jewelry with it. (Google something like “titanium art jewelry”.) Best of luck with your prototypes and production processes! ~Polly