Stainless Steel Vs. Surgical Steel Earrings | Pros & Cons of Both Materials

If you’ve been wondering which metal wins the stainless steel vs. surgical steel earrings face-off, we’ve got the answer for you.

We all love a good pair of earrings, be they studs, drops, hoops, or even mismatched earrings! 

But no matter how stunning the design is, you just can’t wear an earring if it’s made of subpar materials. Otherwise, your earlobes will be paying the price. Earring backs are an often overlooked part of your earrings, but they can have a huge impact on how snug and safe your earrings feel.

And yes, silver and gold are the best metals for jewelry, earrings included, but they don’t come cheap. That’s why stainless steel and surgical steel earrings are popular among jewelry lovers.

a woman wearing a long earring with pearls

A Little About Both Metals

When deciding a winner between stainless steel vs. surgical steel earrings, you first have to understand what each material is. Moreover, you need to know each metal’s uses, advantages, and disadvantages to better choose the material that best suits your needs and preferences.

So, let’s take a look at each material, shall we?

What Is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is a metal alloy of iron and carbon mixed with chromium and other metals such as titanium, molybdenum, copper, nickel, and silicon.

a female person wearing big earrings

Stainless steel is known for its high heat and corrosion resistance. Typically, stainless steel’s chromium content is what makes it quite “Stainless.”

Chromium creates a passive layer that prevents the iron in the steel from reacting with the surrounding water and air, consequently preventing the oxidation and rusting processes. As such, chromium is what makes stainless steel a great material for making jewelry of all kinds.

Now, over 100 stainless steel alloys exist, and they have various uses in making cutlery, appliances, kitchen fixtures, and even various components for the automotive and aerospace industries.

However, the ones used in jewelry usually contain nickel, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, manganese, and nitrogen, of course, in addition to iron, carbon, and chromium. These alloys are renowned for their remarkable scratch and corrosion resistance, strength, and durability.

Pros of Stainless Steel Earrings 

  • Stainless steel earnings have a silvery finish, thus looking very luxurious.
  • Generally, earnings made of stainless steel are much more affordable than silver, gold, or even surgical steel earrings.
  • Stainless steel earrings are quite sturdy and will not bend or break. This makes them the perfect choice for your go-to everyday earrings.
  • They’re highly corrosion and tarnish-resistant, even if exposed to water or worn for a long time.
  • Simply use a soft cloth dipped in warm, soapy water to wipe off the dirt and you’ll see that cleaning stainless steel earnings is super easy. Once you’re through, wipe them dry.
  • They won’t lose their shine, and accordingly, you won’t need to polish them unless you expose them to extremely harsh conditions, such as highly concentrated salt water.

Cons of Stainless Steel Earrings 

  • You may not find highly intricate designs because it’s quite hard to work with stainless steel since it’s very rigid.
  • The rigidity of stainless steel makes it difficult for craftsmen to add jewels and gemstones like diamonds or emeralds to earrings.
  • Most stainless steel earrings contain nickel, which is a common allergen for some people with highly sensitive skin—as such, waring them can cause allergic reactions and ear pain.
  • When subjected to high pressure/compression, stainless steel jewelry can become dented.

What Is Surgical Steel?

Surgical steel, also called surgical stainless steel, is medical-grade stainless steel mainly used for biomedical applications. Accordingly, surgical steel’s uses include the manufacturing of temporary medical implants as well as surgical instruments like needle holders, retractors, blade handles, and the like. 

metal jewelry

And although the metal is called surgical steel and is of a surgical grade, it still has other applications outside the medical field. 

In terms of final crystalline structure and manufacturing process, surgical stainless steel can be either martensitic or austenitic in nature, with the former being the more common. Jewelers often employ martensitic 420 and 440 and austenitic 316 surgical steel metals as their primary surgical steel metals.

Generally speaking, martensitic steel has a lower corrosion resistance than austenitic steel. Accordingly, austenitic surgical steel has a wider application in jewelry making, while martensitic steel is more commonly used when high levels of hardness are required, such as in the fabrication of knives. 

a woman wearing classy earrings

Notwithstanding, both metals are highly scratch and corrosion resistant, much more so than regular stainless steel. This is mostly due to the substantial amounts of chromium and molybdenum they contain, which are known for reducing the liability for staining and corrosion.

All the same, what makes surgical steel a truly beloved metal by jewelry enthusiasts is the fact that it’s hypoallergenic. Accordingly, most people who have metal allergies or are afraid of possible skin irritations prefer surgical steel earrings over stainless steel ones. 

However, keep in mind that hypoallergenic is not synonymous with nickel-free; most surgical steel steels still have a good percentage of nickel, but it’s much smaller than that found in standard stainless steel types. 

In other words, if you have a nickel allergy, it’d be better to stay away from any steel earrings, as the nickel content in them can cause some serious irritation. It’d also be a good idea to steer clear of silver-plated and gold-plated earrings, as the outer layer can chip off, exposing the base metal underneath.

Pros of Surgical Steel Earrings

  • Surgical steel earrings are much more suitable for people with sensitive skin.
  • Since it’s highly corrosion resistant, surgical steel is great for body jewelry and piercings like nose rings, belly-button rings, and so on.
  • Surgical stainless steel doesn’t need to be polished as it doesn’t lose its natural shine. Just a simple cleaning every once in a while will remove any grime or dirt covering the original shine.
  • Surgical steel is highly scratch-resistant, so it’ll look great even after repeated use.

Cons of Surgical Steel Earrings

  • Come at a much higher price tag than stainless steel earrings
  • Some grades of surgical steel have significant amounts of nickel, so they aren’t suitable for people with severe nickel allergies
  • Surgical steel earrings tend to weigh more than stainless steel ones

What Is the Difference Between Surgical Steel and Stainless Steel?‎

Price

Price-wise, stainless steel jewelry is much less costly than surgical steel jewelry. However, keep in mind that any piece of jewelry can get pricier depending on where you buy it

Shine 

Surgical stainless steel earrings tend to shine brighter than regular stainless steel alloys. However, both metals have quite the satisfying shine, so you wouldn’t be disappointed either way.

a portrait of a woman wearing big earrings

Corrosion Resistance

While both materials are significantly resistant to corrosion, surgical steel’s corrosion resistance is considerably better, mostly due to its higher molybdenum content. 

Durability

Both materials have similarly impressive durability and hardness, as they’re basically made of the same metal materials. Moreover, they’ll both withstand daily wear and retain their natural shine with minimal maintenance.

Allergy-Induction 

Surgical steel jewelry is better for people with sensitive ears as it’s hypoallergenic for the human body due to containing minimal amounts of nickel when compared to normal stainless steel. As such, It’s much safer.

FAQs

Is Stainless Steel or Surgical Steel Better for Piercings?

Both materials can be used for piercings; however, surgical steel tends to perform better when it comes to body jewelry due to its superior tarnish and corrosion resistance. Moreover, it’s hypoallergenic, so it’s much better tolerated in body piercings.

Is Surgical Steel Good for Earrings?

Absolutely! Surgical steel can be used to make a variety of stunning earrings. Still, keep in mind that it’s somewhat heavier than stainless steel earrings, so waring it might be quite the workout for your pierced ears!

two women wearing earrings

Final Thoughts

To sum up, both stainless steel and surgical steel earrings are great options for people who love shiny jewelry but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for them. Both metals are highly durable, and they won’t rust or lose their shine with time.

Nevertheless, each material has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to certain aspects, and it’s up to you to decide which aspect is most important to you.

For instance, if the material expense is important to you and your skin isn’t particularly sensitive, then it’s best you go with stainless steel which is also frequently used in magnetic earrings. They won’t cost much, they’ll look great, and they’ll last you a long time. But you probably won’t be finding many intricate designs to choose from.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for hypoallergenic earrings because you have a low-grade allergy to nickel, then surgical stainless steel earrings (see also best magnetic earrings for men) should be your go-to. Still, remember some surgical steel grades do have a high nickel content, and they don’t come cheap by any means. So, save a few more bucks and get a silver earring if you have highly sensitive skin.

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