Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel Jewelry

Sterling Silver vs. Stainless Steel Jewelry

Silver-toned jewelry! 2023 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 sterling silver 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 is the amounts of nickel and the presence of Molybdenum, which make it even more corrosion-resistant. Though these metals have nickel in their 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 Hoops 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.

    While both metals are safe to wear in plain water and in the shower, moisture in the air when storing your jewelry can speed up the rate of tarnish on sterling silver whereas it can have little to no effect on stainless steel. It's always best practice to thoroughly dry your pieces before putting them away. 

    Sterling Silver Pros and Cons

    Pros of Sterling Silver

    Precious metal that is more affordable than gold or platinum
    Generally considered hypoallergenic
     Easy to clean with soap and water or a jewelry cloth
    ○ Wearing your silver jewelry more often actually keeps it from tarnishing. Your body's natural oils create a barrier on the surface of the metal and the friction of wear keeps your jewelry shiny!
    ○ Sterling silver can be refined and retains its value over time

      Cons of Sterling Silver

       Tarnishing is a natural reaction for this metal
       Contains small amounts of copper which can cause an allergic reaction if you are hyper-sensitive
       It is a purer metal alloy which means that it is a 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 
        ○ Not a precious metal so prices can be lower

          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
          ● Fairly common metal so will not retain a high resale value

          Whether you lean towards the timeless elegance of sterling silver or the modern durability of stainless steel, remember, there's no wrong choice. It all comes down to your unique style, your skin's preferences, and what makes you feel your absolute best. At STUDIYO Jewelry, we offer both options because we believe that beauty is diverse and so are your preferences. Whichever metal you choose, rest assured that your jewelry will not only adorn you but also tell your story, standing the test of time as a cherished part of your journey. So go ahead, explore, and find that perfect piece that resonates with you – because when it comes to jewelry, there's no one-size-fits-all; there's only what makes you shine.




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

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