Glass jewelry is available under popular trademarks such as Pyrex and Kimax or can also be referred to as borosilicate glass. There are many other types of glass, but these are the only types suitable for body jewelry. They are tempered, medical-grade, non-porous and lead-free. Some suppliers also make jewelry under the names of Millicane or Dichroic glass – these terms refer to the colors inside the glass. These colors are created sometimes with metal alloys and other non-safe materials, so body jewelry made with these materials should be encased in a layer of Pyrex or Kimax glass to prevent exposure to unsafe elements.
Glass jewelry, although non-toxic and basically bio-compatible, should not be used for a fresh piercing or during stretching, but only on well-healed piercings. Also, keep in mind that glass is heavy, so the larger the piece of jewelry, the more strain it will cause on your piercing. Very large plugs or talons can cause involuntary stretching and then create healing problems.
Plastics come in many forms and under many different names – Acrylic, Nylon, Teflon (PTFE), Silicone, Polymer, Lucite, Resin, Polyamide and Polyester.
Acrylic is probably the most well-known plastic, and there is a lot of acrylic body jewelry or accessories available. It’s inexpensive, versatile, lightweight and comes in a variety of colors. The problem with acrylic is that it’s not autoclavable, which is the only truly safe way to sterilize body jewelry of any kind. It also degrades if it comes in contact with alcohol, so keeping a piece of acrylic jewelry clean is a challenge. It also shatters under pressure, so things like biting down on your tongue barbell can be a real problem if you’ve got an acrylic ball on the end. Acrylic jewelry can suffocate a piercing that needs to breathe, and the end result can be redness, soreness, seeping and a bad odor. Although widely available, acrylic really is not recommended for piercings. If you must wear it, it should only be worn short-term and only in a well-healed piercing.
A couple of things that should be noted:
- The FDA has approved some grades of acrylic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are 100% safe for long-term use or are completely innocuous. Use common sense when dealing with any new piece of body jewelry – if it starts giving you problems, take it out.
- Glow-in-the-dark acrylic is a plastic that has a naturally occurring glow that is caused by carcinogens. This type of acrylic is not deemed safe for any kind of body jewelry. However, UV-reflective and blacklight-reactive acrylic jewelry is considered safe as they do not contain any harmful chemicals.
Nylon & Teflon
Monofilament Nylon and Teflon (PTFE) are favored over acrylic because they are autoclavable and flexible. These plastics are sometimes an option for someone with a severe sensitivity to all metal jewelry, and have also been successful for surface piercings and implants with lower rejection rates. However, not all piercers are experienced in using these materials since they are more challenging when it comes to inserting and threading. You would need to discuss the availability and options of using Nylon or PTFE for a new piercing with your piercer, but replacement jewelry and accessories are widely available.
Rubber & Silicone
Rubber and silicone are very similar products in that they are basically a plastic that is pliable and stretchable. They are acceptable for accessories, but not highly recommended for piercings, especially unhealed ones. There are now flesh tunnels available in silicone and while the material is bio-compatible, it comes with another set of risks. One is that silicone has the ability to auto-stretch, which can potentially cause tearing or over-stretching of the hole. Another is that because of the pliability of the material, it tends to cause a seal against the skin and could allow a build-up of seepage which could eventually lead to severe infection. If you use any of these products, it’s imperative that you keep the area clean and dry at all times.
The next page of this article discusses organic materials.