is stainless steel nickel-free? Does Surgical Stainless Steel Contain Nickel? There is the perception that surgical stainless steel is synonymous with being nickel-free and thus hypoallergenic. However, is that the case?
In this article, we are going to debunk myths and set the record straight about surgical stainless steel and also answering the question, ‘does it contain nickel?’
Stainless steel and surgical stainless steel
Stainless steel is a mix of over 100 alloys. Some of the alloys include steel, chromium, nickel, and other trace elements.
Each alloy has a different property. For example, chromium makes stainless steel scratch and corrosion-resistant.
Nickel is present because it makes the metal less brittle and improves the overall strength in both high and low temperatures. For stainless steel used in making jewelry, you’ll also find trace elements such as silicon, nitrogen, sulfur, manganese, and silicon.
When it comes to surgical stainless steel, it is not that different from the other grades of stainless steel.
Instead, the term ‘surgical’ is used to alert the buyer that the stainless steel has a much higher resistance to harsh corrosive.
That could be industrial and even the body. The added strength is thanks to the added 2-3 percent molybdenum that makes the surgical stainless steel to have this property.
Does surgical stainless steel contain nickel?
The reason it doesn’t cause a reaction, in theory, is because it is bonded to the other alloys present and thus not able to affect the skin directly.
That said, there are people who still do have a reaction to surgical steel, especially if they are particularly sensitive to nickel and other allergens. That said, the reality is that about 6-12 percent of the population is allergic to nickel.
Pro tip: Hypo-allergenic is not synonymous with nickel-free. If you are allergic to nickel, look for those labeled having met the EU Nickel Directive, which is a directive put forth by the EU to regulate the use of nickel in jewelry and products that generally come into contact with skin.
Alternatively, you can avoid alloyed metals and opt for pure elemental metals like titanium.
Do note that nickel-free does not mean that the metal doesn’t contain nickel. It only means that the quantity is minimal that only extremely sensitive instruments can detect it.
Why surgical stainless steel contain nickel?
More than two-thirds of the nickel produced on the Earth gets used in stainless steel production.
The reason for that is that it enhances the properties that stainless steel has. Examples include assisting in formability, welding, and ductility.
It also increases corrosion resistance in specific grades of stainless steel. Without the nickel, stainless steel couldn’t be the versatile alloy it is.
The other purpose of nickel in stainless steel is that it allows for the metal to get used in high temperatures.
It also makes the alloy non-magnetic and thus allowing it to get used in a wide range of applications. These cases include in the health sector, domestic and the chemical industry.
Also, nickel adds toughness to stainless steel. It makes it possible for the alloy to absorb energy without breaking.
Lastly, most materials that contain nickel are fully recyclable after the product reaches the end of its usefulness. It is, therefore, environmentally friendly and reduces the energy and virgin materials required in production.
How much nickel is in 304 Stainless Steel?
The 304 stainless steel is the most preferred alloy there is. It is also what is gets used in jewelry making mainly to make clasps, findings, and wires.
In it, you will find about 10.5 percent nickel along with other metals to form the alloy. Here, the nickel makes the stainless steel corrosion-resistant.
How much nickel is in 304L Stainless Steel?
304L stainless steel contains low carbon content compared to 304.
It does have more nickel, standing at upmost 12 percent. This type of stainless steel is known for its durability and its use in food processing equipment, kitchen appliances, and fittings, among others.
How much nickel is in 430 Stainless Steel?
If you’re looking for stainless steel that meets EU compliance regulations, then the one to settle for is the 430 stainless steel.
In general, they contain less than 0.75 percent nickel, but there are those that have less than 0.5 percent nickel. Therefore, be sure to specify the nickel content before making a purchase even in jewelry.
How much nickel is in 316 and 316L Surgical Stainless Steel?
The nickel found in 316 and 316L surgical stainless steel is 8-10.5 percent. The difference between 316 and 316L is that the latter has lower carbon content.
In general, there is the assumption that surgical stainless steel does not contain nickel when that is not the case.
It is also not a better grade compared to the other varieties of stainless steel that exist.
What makes it different is the 2-3 percent molybdenum it has that makes it more resistant to corrosion. Otherwise, if you have a nickel allergy, surgical stainless steel is not suitable for you.
If you have been looking for surgical stainless steel as an alternative to a metal that contains no nickel, then you’ve been making a mistake.
The reality is that it does contain nickel, and if you fall in the 6-10 percent of the population that is allergic to nickel, then it is not for you.
Otherwise, if you already own surgical stainless steel and you have not reacted to it, then that means, typically, you are not allergic to nickel.
That means you can continue wearing the jewelry and even purchase more. In the event you have indeed worn surgical stainless steel jewelry and gotten a reaction, we hope that this article has shed light as to why: you are allergic to nickel.