When you want to wear jewelry, finding that you have a metal allergy can be truly frustrating. When my eight-year-old daughter, Katie, decided to get her ears pierced, she was so excited. Since I am allergic to nickel, we chose earrings labeled hypoallergenic “nickel free” to reduce the risk of allergic reaction.
She didn’t even flinch when the earrings went in, and she had a blast picking out fancy earrings. Much to our dismay, a few days later her ears were more irritated than they should have been, and after a few weeks it was apparent that her ears were not healing. When we removed the studs to let her ears heal, we found that the earring backs had actually eaten away layers of her skin. It was awful.
In researching, I was chagrined to find that when it comes to mass manufactured “hypoallergenic” earrings labeled “surgical steel” or “nickel free” in most cases only the post that goes through the ear is hypoallergenic. They can be labeled hypoallergenic earrings when in fact the backs and fronts that lay against the skin are base metal and not at all “nickel free”. As a jeweler, I am extremely conscientious about being sure that my earrings are safe to wear for the vast majority of people.
What is Metal Allergy?
Metal allergy is a common occurrence, especially in people who wear pierced earrings. Symptoms of metal allergy, if you are indeed allergic, such as redness, itchiness, and localized swelling usually appear within 6 to 24 hours after close contact with certain metals.
Allergies that occur when wearing jewelry are most often a contact dermatitis called “nickel allergy”. It can happen at any age and people react differently to nickel depending upon their nickel sensitivity. It is estimated that 10% to 20% of the population is allergic to some degree to nickel.
What Casues Nickel Allergy?
Jewelry nickel allergies are caused by trace amounts of the nickel in jewelry dissolving in moisture to form salts. Bathing, washing your hands, or sweating while wearing jewelry containing nickel, can transfer the nickel salts to your skin causing irritation if you do indeed have a have nickel allergy.
Another common problem for jewelry wearers, and one for which many people mistake metal allergies is red and itchy skin due to detergent or other chemical residue becoming trapped between jewelry and the skin. The problem might be solved with rinsing, but it is smart to remove your jewelry before using chemicals and cleaners.
What About Gold and Silver?
It is rare in the extreme to have an allergy to gold or silver. However, pure gold and silver metal are too soft to be useful on their own. Jewelers mix small amounts of zinc, copper, and or nickel into the pure gold and silver to form alloys such as 14 Karat gold and sterling silver in order to make metal hard enough to retain its shape and be durable.
Which metals make the best hypoallergenic earrings?
For people with a metal allergy, it is possible to wear jewelry, you just have to be aware of the severity of you allergy and what metals work for you.
The vast majority of people can safely wear:
- 24 karat gold
- 18 karat gold
- 14 karat gold
- 14 karat gold fill
- Sterling silver
- Fine silver
Some people are just extremely sensitive when it comes to metals. If you find that you are unable to wear sterling silver, which can contain a very small amount of nickel, try going to fine silver or 14 karat gold. If those still bother you, try gold only and up the karat amount to 18 karat gold. Pure gold is 24 karats and is very soft so it will be rare to find 24k gold jewelry, as well as pricey.
If you find you cannot wear gold or silver alloys and still want to wear jewelry, consider trying niobium, titanium, aluminum, platinum or palladium. Allergies with these metals are very rare, however a small percentage of people do have a titanium allergy, which is altogether different from nickel allergy.
If you want to know more about nickel allergies please check out the post below from webmd: