Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel Jewelry

Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel Jewelry

Silver-toned jewelry! 2022 trends indicate that silver colored metals are coming back in style but which type of silver-toned jewelry is right for you? Sterling silver or stainless steel? You might be wondering what the differences are and which type of metal is better for you. 

The most common questions center around...

‣ Is stainless steel hypoallergenic?
‣ What is sterling silver made of? What is stainless steel made of?
‣ Is stainless steel waterproof?

    Let’s go through these questions.

    What does hypoallergenic mean?





    Hypoallergenic simply means that something is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. The general rule is that less than 10% of the material contains an allergenic material. So jewelry that contains less than 10% of a reactive metal, like nickel and copper, is considered hypoallergenic. Both sterling silver and 304 stainless steel are considered hypoallergenic.

    Break it Down - Metal Alloys

    Sterling silver and stainless steel are both metal alloys which means that they are made from a mixture of different metals.

    Sterling Silver is most commonly made with 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Because the presence of copper is below 10%, sterling silver is considered a hypoallergenic metal and non-reactive to most people with sensitive skin.


    Stainless steel on the other hand, has a more complex mix and can come in various types. The two most common types found in high quality jewelry are 304 and 316L. (A quick way to tell if your stainless steel jewelry is not made with these types of stainless steels is if they are magnetic)

    These stainless steels are made with a combination of chromium, nickel, molybdenum, and a mix of iron, manganese, phosphorus, and nitrogen. This combination of metals makes stainless steel harder, more durable, and resistant to corrosion.


    As you can see, the biggest difference between these two types are the amounts of nickel and the presence of Molybdenum, which make it even more corrosion resistant. Though these metals have nickel in its chemical composition, these metals typically do not release enough nickel to cause nickel dermatitis, even in nickel-sensitive people.


    Haudrechy, P., Mantout, B., Frappaz, A., Rousseau, D., Chabeau, G., Faure, M., & Claudy, A. (1997). Nickel release from stainless steels. Contact dermatitis, 37(3), 113–117.

    Still, those with known nickel allergies might try 304 stainless steel pieces. Of the two, 304 has a much lower nickel content and is even less likely to cause a reaction. 

    STUDIYO Jewelry uses 304 stainless steel for the majority of our stainless steel designs. Earrings that are made from one sheet of metal like the Catena Earrings and Neutra Minis are made entirely of 304 stainless steel. Some attached parts like earring posts and chains, are made of 316L stainless steel and are indicated in the product descriptions.

    How these metals react to your surroundings

    What happens when sterling silver and stainless steel come in contact with oxygen and water?

    A chemical reaction occurs when both sterling silver and stainless steel come in contact with oxygen. In the case of sterling silver, oxidation occurs and a visible barrier of rust starts to form to protect the metal from further corrosion. Stainless steel on the other hand reacts with an invisible barrier that protects the metal from corrosion. This is because of the chromium and molybdenum present in the metal and is why sterling silver tarnishes easily and stainless steel does not.

    Moisture in the air can also speed up the rate of tarnish on sterling silver whereas it can have little to no effect on stainless steel.

    Sterling Silver Pros and Cons

    Pros of Sterling Silver

    Precious metal that is more affordable than gold or platinum
    Malleable and easy to work with
    Generally considered hypoallergenic

      Cons of Sterling Silver

      Tarnishes easily
      Darkens more quickly when it comes into contact with water
      Contains small amounts of copper which can cause an allergic reaction if you are hyper-sensitive
      Softer metal that scratches and bends more easily
      Tends to cost more

        Stainless Steel Pros and Cons

        Pros of Stainless Steel
        ○ Tarnish resistant
        ○ Does not react to water and moisture
        ○ Harder and more durable metal
        ○ High quality 304 and 316 stainless steel is considered hypoallergenic
        ○ Highly recycled metal 

          Cons of Stainless Steel

          Contains a small amount of nickel (304 has lower nickel content than 316) and can cause an allergic reaction if you are hyper-sensitive
          Harder and more difficult to work with


            Everyone has different skin and different needs, so you be the judge for your personal preference; but for long lasting, low maintenance, silver colored jewelry, stainless steel in my opinion, is the clear winner. No shade on sterling silver, as both metals are equally beautiful, but, as a low maintenance type of girl, I would much prefer opening my jewelry boxes to find fresh, clean jewelry every time and not have to worry about tarnish.




            For more benefits of stainless steel jewelry, read the 7 Surprising Facts About Stainless Steel Jewelry

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