If you have an allergy or sensitivity to steel, you might be upset to learn that surgical steel is the most common type of metal used for new piercings.  Piercers love the inexpensive price and wide availability.  Teens and adults love the shine and durability associated with surgical steel.  There are times when it may seem like the only people who aren’t fans of surgical steel are the ones with a steel allergy.  Luckily, steel isn’t your only option when it comes to body piercings.


Steel is an alloy.  If you slept through your chemistry class a few too many times, an alloy is a substance that contains a mixture of two or more elements.  Nickel is one of the leading causes of skin rashes, and nickel happens to be an element used in most steel mixtures.  Additional causes of surgical steel irritation include a reaction to the harsh cleaning products used to make steel shine and a general sensitivity to metal products.  Some folks also find that steel is too heavy for them, resulting in pain, tearing or stretching of the piercing site.


Women are more likely than men to have a reaction to surgical steel, and a reaction can occur at any point in your life.  Allergies can even occur in individuals who have worn surgical steel piercings for years, making it important to learn the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to steel.  Some reactions are mild, with a slight red rash or itching sensation.  Severe reactions may result in large fluid-filled pockets or crusty scabs.  If you notice a reaction, remove your steel body piercing immediately and contact a doctor.  Topical steroids and emollient creams usually help clear up an infection caused by a reaction to steel.


Surgical steel is a favorite of many piercers, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have other options.  Talk to several piercers in your area to find out if they use materials other than steel for new body piercings.  Some piercers use titanium, an alloy with very few reports of side effects or allergic reactions.  Niobium is similar to titanium, but it is generally more expensive and not as easy to find.  You can also request that your piercer use gold jewelry.  A few other options are glass, Blackline and acrylic, but acrylic has been known to cause a reaction in folks with sensitive skin.  Regardless of the material you choose for your new body piercing, make sure to care for it properly.


  • Sam M

    December 2, 2014at1:39 am

    The only thing I do not like about this article is suggesting that someone take out their jewelry if they think there is an infection. Jewelry should not be removed except by an experienced piercer or doctor. This is because if it is done improperly skin could form over the hole but the infection can get trapped inside.

    • Nora Newman

      January 30, 2018at6:28 am

      You are so right Sam M. You should not remove it because it helps it drain till its changed.

  • Aviva Guttmann

    June 18, 2018at11:12 am

    Very helpful. In fact after 3 months when my pierce refused to heal my dermatologist determined I was allergic to the surgical steel and told me to change my earring to 18 k gold. Seems like he may have been right as so far the scanning and itching has stopped.

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