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Most people, for many years, have thought that stainless steels were hypoallergenic, but they were wrong! But due to metal allergy awareness campaigns all around the world, “does stainless steel contain nickel in it?” is being asked more frequently now than usual. A few years back, I thought I knew everything there was about allergenic metals until, BOOM! I developed a rash on my ear piercings.
Stainless steels have been with us for quite a long time. We have used this lustrous, non-corroding, scratch-resistant, glamourous piece of metal in many ways.
It has been used in utensils, electronic appliances, cookware, machinery, children’s toys, cars, ships and boats, airplanes, and certainly our jewelry, yet not many people know much about it, most notably about if stainless less is hypoallergenic or not!
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A brief history of stainless steel
We owe a million thanks to the Sheffield metallurgist Harry Brearley for discovering the stainless steel that we have so much relied upon for a shiny finish.
Stainless steel, as the name indicates, is an iron alloy, but does stainless steel contain nickel in it?
Let’s find out as we proceed.
Stainless steels are made of iron, chromium, carbon, and NICKEL, yes, nickel, some other kinds of stainless steels also may contain molybdenum – this being the answer to the question “does stainless steel contain nickel?”
For Stainless steels to be alloyed, they must contain at least 50.1% of iron, 10.5% of chromium, 0.1% to 1.2% carbon (0.1% for example in ferritic), and varying percentages of nickel, carbon, and sometimes molybdenum, without these minimum percentages of elements, the resulting alloy would be either prone to corrosion, tarnish, scratch, rust, or not as silvery.
Stainless steels come in different types; some are alloyed with more iron, and others are not. Generally speaking, stainless steels come in four families, and they include austenitic, ferritic, martensitic, and duplex steel families, and each family consisting of different grades of stainless steels.
There are over 100+ different grades of stainless steel grades, but we will only discuss the grades used in jewelry making.
Stainless Steel VS Surgical steel
The two most common ones being the 304 and “surgical steel” 316 (including their low-carbon versions 304L and 316L), all used in jewelry and surgical equipment.
304 and 304L stainless steels are widely used in today’s jewelry market. The difference between 304 and 304L lies in the “L,” which stands for “low,” and it depicts the use of lower-carbon presence in the alloy. The low-carbon percentage increases its resistance to corrosion.
These 304 and 304L stainless steels belong to the austenitic family and contain the lowest percentage of nickel, therefore, for a person who is not HIGHLY allergic to nickel, and still wants cheap stainless steel jewelry, this is the best, more affordable substitute to an “allergenic” jewelry metal.
The 304 and 304L also called 18/10 and 18/8, showing the ratio of chromium and nickel in each one, respectively.
316 and 316L, widely known as “surgical steel” also belong to the austenitic family. Surgical steels have an added 2-3% molybdenum and added resistance to corrosion. The surgical steels derived their names from its primary use, which is in the medical sector, precisely in its use in constructing surgical implantations and surgical tools.
The name “surgical steel” doesn’t make it better steel than the 304 and 304L’s; on the contrary, the 304 and 304L are much suitable for jewelry crafting like earrings, necklaces and most especially body piercing arts.
Stainless steels unlike some alloys, such as brass do not turn your skin green
Now that you have access to this information, how would you answer these questions:
- is stainless steel hypoallergenic?
- Does stainless steel contain nickel?
Is Stainless Steel Allergy-free or Hypoallergenic?
Jewelry metals labeled as “hypoallergenic” does not necessarily mean the absence of nickel, uniquely when referenced to an alloy, for example, a zinc alloy jewelry.
Instead, in some cases, it means the percentage of nickel content is so small or minute it should not cause allergic reactions.
Stainless steel contains nickel; therefore, it may pose a risk to people who are very sensitive to nickel, this is also the same for all foods high in nickel.
So, is stainless steel allergy-free? The safest answer is NO.
With that said, it’s evident that many people who are allergic to nickel may not present an allergic reaction when in contact with stainless steel.
The bottom line? For some people who are very sensitive to nickel, as little as 0.1% of nickel would flare up their allergy in no time, that’s why it’s advisable to only interact with precious element metals like niobium, titanium, gold, or platinum as they are less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Does Stainless Steel Tarnish or rust?
The name stain “less” steel doesn’t automatically mean the ability to withstand corrosion, rather it means it may corrode, or tarnish, but only in an extreme environment.
stainless steel may rust depending on the component metal percentages which it is alloyed with. If it has a high percentage of iron, then it will tarnish and rust just as an iron metal would, given the “right” rusting conditions.
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Choosing hypoallergenic jewelry that isn’t stainless steel
There are other options for people who are sensitive to stainless steel, and that includes jewelry made from platinum, 18k gold, niobium, REAL sterling silver jewelry, and titanium.
Medical plastic jewelry is also making a big wave in the fashion industry; it offers a complete resistance against an allergic reaction.
Please keep a lookout, as we are currently performing in-depth research on the best hypoallergenic metals for jewelry that are truly hypoallergenic.
What are your thoughts on “Does stainless steel contain nickel?” Would you say a yes, or a no?
Please share your views and comments with us!