Biocompatible Resin Body Jewelry?!

When we think about biocompatible, body safe jewelry for body piercings, resin is not the first material that springs to mind. In fact, resin is one of the most argued and debated materials online right now. You have a sea of folks getting into resin crafting, making beautiful resin pyramids and ring trays and dice. But you also have many folks discussing how dangerous resin can be, the long term environmental risks, and it’s lack of biocompatibility. Depending on where you look, theres a different story every other week about someone not wearing proper PPE and getting very sick from working with resin, or someone else making a bowl for food out of resin and hurting clients.

This is because resin is a unique type of plastic. Its a two part system consisting of liquid monomer resin and a hardener- you combine the two and a chemical reaction occurs that hardens the resin into a solid plastic, or is UV cured to become solid. But these are some harsh chemicals- if the resin gets on your skin it can cause dermatitis and even burns. And the fumes produced in the process of mixing and/or curing different resins can be poisonous. Thanks to this, many companies have warning labels about using protective equipment when working with any resins- and likeways many companies say you shouldn’t risk using their resin for any food related items. Every year poison control centers deal with folks who have made themselves very sick working with or using resin.

The growing surge of popularity of resin has led to a lot of folks trying to create resin body jewelry, primarily plugs for stretched ears. This has led to a lot of folks experiencing reactions to resin. From mild redness and itching to full dermatitis and even loosing their stretched lobe- resin reactions can be severe. I’ve even written about the harm of resin plugs, and the harm of plastic polymers in general when it comes to body piercing.

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Resin Reaction

It’s a huge bummer- Resin can be beautiful and opens doorways for new potentials in color, shape, and design. My refrain for years has been that I would love to see truly biocompatible, body safe, resin jewelry in exist for my clients- but currently it doesn’t. That’s been true……until now.

This shouldn’t come as a huge shock because plastics and resins have been incorporated in medical technology for many years. But as we know thanks to the industry’s failed attempts at working with dental acrylic many years ago, just because it works for medical tech, doesn’t mean it will work, or be safe, for piercing needs. However, there are some exciting new developments happening with 3d printable resins that is beginning to open doors for us to potentially start to see safe resin for body jewelry in the next 3-6 years.

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When we talk about finding resin that’s safe for our purposes, that means it needs to be truly biocompatible, or compatible with our bodies. As mentioned earlier, resin is often made up of two parts- the liquid resin, and then a hardener. In any resin there are numerous different monomers, pigments, initiators, and more that make up these two parts. When we look at resin from a biocompatibility standpoint we need each of these different chemicals to be biocompatible, or body safe. Not only that, but as they combine to cause reactions and create new structures, we need those to be biocompatible as well.

Determining true biocompatibility comes through a process of doing rigorous testing on each of these different chemicals and on the resin through it’s various stages of combining and curing. This testing is very meticulous, down to a cellular level examining these materials and their interactions with the human body. The testing has to be, in order to determine if it’s safe to put these things in or on our bodies. This is similar testing to what implant grade titanium goes through in order to ensure it’s actually implant grade and meets these high standards. Companies often pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, to have these tests run to ensure they have a safe product. For medical testing this is essential. Unfortunately, most body piercing companies aren’t able to afford or access similar testing done on materials for body jewelry.

But, collaboration and communication are key efforts across many industries as they grow and expand and learn new uses for different products. That’s how the fine folks at Clear Mind Casting ended up with some interesting new resin from the company Mack4D. Mack4D creates splint, a resin used to create dental splints. A form fitting cover you can wear on your teeth to reduce the damage of grinding. Splint in combination with a high quality scanner and 3D printer can create a guard that perfectly fits your teeth. And it’s been extensively tested up to ISO 10993 standards for long term wear.

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In the instance of splint, designed to be worn in the mouth, long term wear is 2 years at most. This resin has tested and meets all FDA guidelines for wear in the mouth, presumably daily wear for most folks who grind, for 2 years. Because this resin is used with 3D printing, that means that Clear Mind was able to test print some of their weight designs in this resin.

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Now before you get too excited about all the potentials for amazing, colorful, 3d printed ear weights and plugs, there is another factor. And that’s the intended use. You see, when it comes to testing these materials for biocompatible and safety, there are strict and limited scopes of intended use for each material. Most of these materials are designed for hyper specific uses, for example Splint being used specifically for dental splints. The testing done on these materials is tailored to the exact intended use. The FDA actually suggests manufactures consider changing the composition of resin if needed as intended use of the end product changes, or requests they produce resin with a certain margin of error for the users part. Either way, testing changes accordingly and there is a lot of work to make products that are more universally applicable.

If you were to change or alter one of these resins outside of the intended use, such as adding extra pigment, it could go as far as making the resin no longer biocompatible. As these resins are usually created in the final aesthetic that fits the end use.

This means that while there are exciting new resins being made right now with a lot of potential for use in the piercing industry, they are all medical and dental resins with extremely limited intended use. While it’s likely that these rigorously tested medical resins would be safe for our stretched ears, it’s still not a guarantee. Especially when they are used in smaller studios without the proper PPE or funds to spend on designated resin areas. The reason the FDA suggests additional testing or changes as the end use changes is because sometimes it does end up causing a reaction or being harmful when used not as intended. This is also why a lot of manufacturers are currently required to keep records on each purchaser.

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Because of this, a company could potentially be liable if they sold these resins for wear in piercings and someone had a bad reaction. Likewise, most of these resins are sold strictly to dental and medical professionals, and someone using them outside of their intended use could void any warranties, or get in trouble themselves. Because of this liability, it’s unlikely that we’ll see these resins used in a mass production scale for body jewelry any time soon.

But, the first step to seeing something like that become possible is the experimental work Clear Mind is doing with 3d printed resin, and these initial experimental weights. These are currently being tested by Shannon and her partner, who are wearing them regularly and watching how their ears, skin, and bodies react to the pieces. With a tested lifespan of 2 years for the dental application, I’m so interested to see how these weights do over time.

I still wouldn’t suggest purchasing just any resin jewelry given the risks of the material. The resin jewelry you find on etsy and on tiktok is being produced with general resin that usually does not meet -any- biocompatibility standards. And if you see someone claiming their resin does, don’t be afraid to ask for information about what testing has been done, test results, and testing processes. And remember, every added pigment or glitter or insert they put in the resin has the potential to change the reactions that occur- and make it even less safe. Every additive when it comes to resin needs to be designed for biocompatibility in mind if we are wearing it inside our bodies. Despite this, I’m incredibly excited to see the journey of these experimental weights from Clear Mind, and excited to see what the future will hold for resin body jewelry. I hope in the next 5-10 years we see an accessible, biocompatible, tested resin hit the market that we can offer to clients. And this is the very first step.