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Can I wear sterling silver in my nose piercing?

Sterling silver has been the go-to suggestion for earlobe jewelry for decades, and you may be wondering if sterling silver is okay for nose piercings, too.

The answer to that depends on how new your piercing is and what type of jewelry wearer you are. Sterling silver doesn’t belong in your fresh nose piercing, and it is not a good option if you’re looking for jewelry that you can wear 24/7.

Want a nose hoop for your healed piercing that you can leave in long term? Check these ones out: Niobium Nose Rings

What is Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is an alloy that contains a mix of silver, copper, and sometimes another metal for added strength, a brighter white color, or better tarnish resistance. The alloy contains metals (silver and copper) that tarnish, which means they turn dull and black, when they are exposed to chemicals found in the air. The speed of this reaction is expedited when the alloy is exposed to high levels of moisture, sunlight, and other things like salt water, makeup or skincare products.

One of the most common arguments that you’ll come across for not wearing sterling in your piercing is that it contains nickel. While there are many reasons why you may not want to wear it in your piercing, it is worth mentioning that nickel isn’t commonly used as part of the alloy anymore in the United States (I can’t speak for other countries as I’m a jeweler located in the US).

Some of the modern sterling silver alloys that are nickel-free include Argentium®, Continuum®, and Sterlium Plus®. All three of those alloys are a brighter white color and more tarnish resistant than traditional sterling silver. That being said, if you’re sensitive to nickel you should always ask whether it’s part of the alloy.

Sterling Silver in New Piercings

Silver nose jewelry should be considered “special occasion” jewelry, and only worn in fully healed, well established piercings for short duration (this also includes .999 fine silver jewelry, too). It does not belong in your unhealed nose piercing, and it is not a good metal to get your nose pierced with. A reputable piercer will not pierce someone with a sterling silver piece. If yours did, then you need to go find a more trustworthy piercer to change the jewelry out for you.

Here are a few reasons why sterling silver doesn’t belong in a new piercing:
  • You shouldn’t be touching your jewelry. If your piercing is not healed yet, then you’re not ready to change your jewelry out and a good piercer will have used an appropriate metal for the initial jewelry (not sterling silver). You need to wait for the full amount of time that your piercer recommends before putting in new jewelry to allow your piercing to heal properly.
  • It will tarnish. All silver tarnishes, eventually turning a dull black color, and how quickly it does so depends on your individual body chemistry and environment. Sterling silver tarnishes quickly when it’s in contact with a moist environment like a nose, and even more quickly when exposed to the lymph from a fresh piercing. To keep silver jewelry shiny it has to routinely be taken out for cleaning and polishing, which is something that you can’t do with a new piercing.
  • Sterling silver may leave a permanent dark grey ring. When tarnish is deposited inside of the unhealed fistula, the tissue can potentially heal over the deposits leaving a grey color around the piercing hole. This dark stain is sometimes referred to as a tarnish tattoo. In other words, there will be a permanent grey-black ring around the piercing hole. It isn’t dangerous, but it is unsightly. This is not the same as the hyper-pigmentation (skin darkening) that can sometimes happen around new piercings. 
Wearing Sterling Silver in a Fully Healed Nose Piercing

As long as you aren’t sensitive to any metals in the alloy, there’s no reason why you can’t wear a sterling silver piece for a short duration in an established piercing. However, sterling silver pieces aren’t suited for people like me who are lazy jewelry wearers! I like to put my jewelry in and forget about it. If that sounds like you, I would recommend passing on the silver pieces because they do require frequent maintenance.

If you’re going to pick out sterling silver nose jewelry, then I would highly recommend avoiding endless nose rings. A stud or an open hoop (in the shape of a “C”) are better options because both styles can be easily removed for cleaning. An endless hoop, sometimes called a seamless ring or catchless ring, isn’t a good option in sterling silver because you will need to take the jewelry out frequently to clean and polish it. Taking an endless hoop out over and over is not only tedious, but the constant twisting motion will weaken the metal and you will break it faster. If you like the look of hoops, I would highly recommend sticking with niobium, titanium, gold, or platinum.

The Best Metal for a Nose Piercing

The best metal is a subjective thing. It depends on which metals your body tolerates well, how old the piercing is, and also your personal aesthetics. The best metals for nose piercings are ones that are known to be bio-compatible over long periods of time and won't discolor when they're exposed to bodily fluids. Your piercer is the best person to ask for metal suggestions if you aren’t sure.

My preferred metals when I first get a piercing are titanium and niobium, which can both be found listed in the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) Initial Jewelry Standards. Both are highly bio-compatible, neither react with body fluids, and they are also relatively inexpensive options, which is one of the main reasons why they’re my personal go-to metals. I recommend waiting on the more expensive metals, like high-karat gold and platinum, because the initial jewelry that you are pierced with won’t fit well once the swelling goes down and the piercing is healed. Since you will need to replace the initial piece with a new one eventually it’s more cost effective to use titanium or niobium in the beginning, and then replace the jewelry with a “forever” piece that fits your nose perfectly later on.

When you’re picking out a metal for an established, completely healed nose piercing, it’s largely based on what you think looks good. If you don’t mind a silvery-grey color, niobium or titanium that has not been anodized works great. Alternatively, both metals can be anodized in a wide range of vibrant colors if that suits your personality better. The colors produced from anodizing will not flake off, although they can fade over time if you’re wearing a hoop that has to be twisted open and closed.

If you’re looking for a white colored metal, platinum and palladium-white gold make great alternatives to sterling silver. Palladium-white gold is a nickel-free white gold alloy, and it is a white color without being rhodium plated when you get an 18-karat piece. Unplated 14-karat palladium-white gold pieces will be a slightly darker grey color, which also looks really pretty to me (but may not be what you’re looking for if you like silver). Platinum is virtually maintenance free and doesn’t need any plating to look white which is why it’s my favorite. Although neither platinum or 18-karat palladium-white gold will be as bright white as sterling silver if you were to hold them side by side, they will look very silvery on their own.

If you prefer a yellow color, look for pieces that are at least 14-karat gold. The color will be a richer yellow if you get 18-karat yellow gold. It is worth noting that even gold jewelry will require some maintenance. Over time, 14-karat yellow gold will develop a orange-red color when it’s worn in a moist environment, like a nose piercing (or even an ear piercing if you leave your jewelry in while showering), and you will need to polish it to restore the shine. You can keep it looking nicer for longer stretches between polishing if you take the time to dry it off thoroughly after washing your face or showering.

If you’re highly sensitive to nickel, then you should avoid wearing 316L surgical steel because nickel is part of the alloy. Low sulfur stainless steel alloys, like 316L steel, have been shown to be unlikely to elicit contact dermatitis, which is why many people are able to wear surgical steel piercing jewelry without problems.

Better Ways to Wear Silver in Your Healed Piercing

If you love the look of silver but you don’t want to deal with the maintenance, then there are several options for you. For example, you may consider using one of the white-colored metals listed above as an alternative. People with stretched piercings can wear a sterling silver piece through a tunnel so that the piercing isn’t in contact with the metal, however for most nostril piercings this won’t be a viable option. Instead, another good alternative would be finding a nose stud or a hoop that only uses silver as part of the decoration (such as a threaded end, a fixed charm, or a captive bead) and uses titanium, niobium, or gold for the part that actually goes through the piercing.

Need a new nose hoop? Check out these colorful, low maintenance ones: Niobium Beaded Hoops

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