Surgical steel was the term used for stainless steel before 1920.

The first “stainless steel” was developed around 1870 and was used for bone screws and cutlery.
It was developed to replace silver for knives, spoons, and forks, but its corrosion resistance led to its use for implants. This was roughly what the AISI now classify as 302.

In 1920, a new grade of stainless was developed and quickly took over in prominence. This was 18-8 or more commonly known as 304.
Since its use was becoming more widespread, the term surgical steel was changed to stainless steel.

In 1950 we saw 316L being produced… at this time all implants switched over to 316L.

Depending on which metals are used and which quantity of those are mixed, different characteristics are obtained. The steel most commonly used to make body piercing jewelry is the one classified by the AISI as 316L(VM), where 316 is the ‘family’ of steel, L stands for Low Carbon Content and VM for Vacuum Melted. This last process is not always done for the steel used for Body Jewelry.

About 30 years ago the increasing popularity for this application, pushed both the ASTM and the ISO to study and define the structural characteristics necessary for the 316L(VM) steel to have an optimized performance when used for implants in the human body, and to create standard sets of tests necessary to determine if a stock of stainless steel meets those characteristics.
ASTM made the F138 designation and the ISO the 5832-1: both very similar.

To clarify:

  1. The code 316L(VM) only describes stainless steel with high corrosion resistance.
  2. The term often heard ‘Surgical Steel’ it is only a marketing tool.
  3. ONLY Stainless steel certified to meet the ASTM F138 or the ISO 5832-1 designations can be called implant grade.

If the metals composing the 316L(VM) stainless steel (like Chromium and Nickel) would leach outside the alloy bond into the body, they could lead, in time, to sensitivity and dermatitis.

To minimize risks of skin complications, paying attention to the implant grade certification is necessary when buying Stainless Steel body jewelry, as much as to its smooth, flawless, and high polished surface finish.
Unfortunately, most of the body piercing jewelry on the market today do not meet those safety requirements.

Not to worry.  All of Anatometal’s Stainless Jewelry are ASTM F138 certified Implant Grade.  They also all have a mirror finish making it safe to use on the human body.

Implant grade surgical stainless is a very hard, durable and insoluble in water, therefore rarely causes an allergic reaction.(※There are although some people who have suffered an allergic to stainless steel.  If you are worried, please take an allergy test at the doctor to be safe. Most of the time, the allergic reaction is caused not by the stainless steel but from other materials that have been blended onto it.)

ASTM stands for American Society for Testing and Materials and their standards are used around the world to enhance safety and improve product quality of metals.


  • The Point ISSUE 24 (Association of Professional Piercers newsletter)
    Understanding Steel – Page 1
  • The Point ISSUE 28 (Association of Professional Piercers newsletter)
    Material Steel – Page 16
  • Acceptable Body Piercing Jewelry Forum on the BME IAM community

How to care for your Stainless Jewelry

Jewelry that is going to be used in a healing piercing must be sterilized beforehand.
Before being used it in a healed piercing, it can be washed with soap and warm water and wiped down with propanol or 70% isopropyl alcohol.
While wearing it, it is a good idea to wash the jewelry regularly for example while taking a shower. Avoid leaving soap or shampoo on the piercing, as it could be cause of irritation.