Tag Archives: ear lobes

Ivory, Horn, and Antler Body Jewelry

This article is from the Piercing FAQ, by Anne Greenblatt with numerous contributions by others.

2A.3c Ivory, Horn, Antler

Thanks to Jesse Jarrell for the information
contained in this article. Please visit his webpage for photos and
more information, at

Stabilizing Treatments

All of these materials are somewhat porous and readily absorb moisture
and skin oils. This can lead to cracking in a few of these materials.
Absorption of moisture can be avoided by coating or pressure
impregnating the material with a substance such as bee’s wax or a
hypoallergenic sealant. I would not recommend oiling ivory or horn
jewelry as it will tend to promote cracking rather than deter it.

Skin oils make these materials more flexible. With designs such as the
captive bead ring, this can result in lost beads if the carver does
not adjust for expansion. I recommend using a coating or some type of
pressure treatment to prevent the ring from becoming
flexible. Untreated captive bead rings should be very tight before
they have been worn. If you are afraid of breaking an untreated ring
you should wear the ring without the bead for about a day to soften
the ring.

Mammoth Ivory

Mammoth ivory is easily acquired in Alaska, Siberia and other places
where it has been preserved underground in permafrost for thousands of
years. Gold miners often find it during erosion mining in glacial
silt. Because of it’s age mammoth ivory is difficult to acquire in
large solid pieces. Ivory is softer than most stone and is flexible
which makes it ideal for intricate and delicate carvings. The foremost
disadvantage of using aged or fossilized ivory for body jewelry is
that it absorbs skin oils which causes it crack. Mammoth ivory ranges
in color from a cream white to a medium brown. Darker ivory is more
fragile and will crack with moisture much more easily, making it
unsuitable for delicate work.

Fresh Ivory

Most sources of fresh ivory such as elephant tusks are subject to
legal restrictions. Two sources of unrestricted ivory are warthog and
hippopotamus tusks. Fresh ivory does not have the same problems with
cracking that aged ivory has.

Dall Sheep Horn

Dall sheep horn is semi-transparent material with an opaque white
grain. The advantage of sheep horn is its superior flexibility over
other organic materials. Sheep horn tends to distort or bend when
exposed to moisture or skin oils. Body jewelry that must to hold a
precise shape or is dependent on tension, like a captive bead ring,
must be stabilized.

Water Buffalo Horn

When polished, water buffalo horn looks similar to ebony. It is not as
flexible as sheep horn and has a much stronger grain, which makes
delicate or detailed work more difficult. Because of the grain it will
crack with exposure to skin oils and thus cannot be used for body
jewelry unless stabilized.

Moose, Elk and Deer Antler

Antler varies in color from ivory white to shades of brown and gray
and sometimes has a purplish hue near the surface. White antler can be
nearly indistinguishable from ivory in appearance. Antler will almost
never crack with exposure to moisture or skin oils. It is an excellent
substitute for ivory because of its comparative cost, availability,
and durability. However, it is a bit softer and more porous than
ivory, resulting in less strength against fractures.

Body Jewelry Materials – Hardwoods

This article is from the Piercing FAQ, by Anne Greenblatt with numerous contributions by others.

2A.3a Hardwoods

Hardwoods are most often used to make plugs for enlarged piercings,
such as ear lobe, labret, and septum piercings. Hardwoods are natural
materials that work in harmony with the body. They can “breathe” with
a piercing and allows an interchange of oils. Wood stays warmer than
metals. Wood does not develop the bad odor plastics can develop.

Hardwoods are broad-leafed, deciduous trees (angiospermous). The term “hardwood” does not actually refer to hardness: for example, balsa is a hardwood. The part of the tree normally used is the center
heartwood, normally darker and denser than the surrounding sapwood.

A few species of wood commonly used for jewelry, furniture and inlays
are endangered or threatened. These species are regulated by CITES,
the Center for International Trade of Endangered Species. Endangered
species include Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra). Threatened
species include Mexican mahogany (Swietenia humilis) and Carribean
mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), Commoner (Guaiacum officinale), and
Holywood lignum vitae aka “Tree of Life” (Guaiacum sanctum), Bigleaf
mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), and American mahogany (Swietenia
meliaceae). In some cases, wood from threatened species is acquired by salvage or through sustainable harvesting.

Grain (fibers within the wood) is considered either open or closed.
Open-grained woods may collect bacteria, shed skin tissue, and dirt
and hence generally should not be used for jewelry.

The overall shape and dimensions of the piece should be consistent and
appropriate for the particular piercing with room to allow for
possible swelling. The finish should be free from scratches, pits or
tool marks. The piece should be free of raised grain (wood fibers),
even when wet. Luster varies from species to species and the wood may or may not shine. An oiled plug will appear dull.

Because hardwoods are porous and readily absorb and release moisture,
oil, and bacteria, hardwood plugs are best worn in healed piercings
and dry areas of the body. Because hardwood jewelry cannot be
sterilized it should always be handled by clean hands and only worn by
one person. Autoclaving hardwood jewelry may cause it to crack, split,
and warp. Hardwood jewelry should be cleaned regularly with a
non-chemical soap that is safe for the body. Tea Tree oil can also be
used; prior to use a patch test is recommended to test for
allergy. Hardwood jewelry should be oiled after cleaning to benefit
the skin and aid insertion.

The type of finish applied is usually an oil and sometimes a sealant.
Many finishing oils and sealing products contain chemicals, toxins,
solvents, petroleum or animal products, or pigments. Using a finish
that entirely seals a hardwood plug eliminates the purpose of wearing
wood. I usually recommend a non-toxic oil or wax. Food grade oils such
as olive and peanut are generally safe but may break down (turn
rancid) with heat and time; pieces finished using food grade oils
should be washed and re-oiled periodically to avoid turning
rancid. Waxes can be animal or vegetable based; waxes may come off
with heat or be rubbed off while cleaning. I do not recommend using
pigment as most are chemical or solvent based and can fade or enter
the bloodstream.

Some people are allergic to certain hardwoods. A sensitivity to
hardwoods can also be acquired with exposure. The risk of developing a
sensitivity to certain hardwoods is increased for those who work with
the woods by way of the dust which is produced in the production
process. The hardwoods likely to cause allergic reactions include all
woods within the Dalbergia genera, or the rosewoods: African blackwood
(Dalbergia melanoxylon), Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra),
Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), Indian rosewood, aka Bombay blackwood
(Dalbergia latifolia), Kingwood aka Violetwood (Dalbergia cearensis),
Tulipwood (Dalbergia frutescus), Teak (Tectona grandis), Purpleheart
aka Amaranth (Peltogyne spp.); and possibly Greenheart and Satinwood
(Chloroxylon swietenia). Some woods may be very hard to identify; for
example, African blackwood can masquerade as ebony.