Learn about how metal allergies affect wearing jewelry
Have you ever had an allergic reaction with a piece of jewelry you are wearing? Has something you had on caused a rash or made your skin itch? If you answered “Yes,” you are not alone.
We often hear our clients explaining that they can only buy platinum jewelry because they are allergic to white gold or lower-grade gold and silver. In reality, the allergy is most likely not because of the gold or silver but because of the alloys mixed with the metals.
Metal allergies explained
Nickel, a naturally occurring element, is among the metals commonly alloyed with gold jewelry to make these pieces more durable. Nickel, however, accounts for the most common metal allergy. According to healthline.com, nickel allergies in the United States are on the rise, with about 16% of men and 36% of women affected by this metal allergy.
How can I tell if I’m allergic to nickel?
A nickel allergy would cause a rash or bumps, itching, or even blisters on the part of the skin that comes in contact with the jewelry, watch, or other item containing nickel.
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms or other problems while wearing jewelry, consult a dermatologist or other doctor. A dermatologist can diagnose a nickel allergy by applying a patch that contains nickel and other allergens to your skin. The patch is worn for 48 hours. If the skin is inflamed after the patch is removed, the dermatologist may diagnose a nickel allergy. Inflammation from a nickel allergy can be treated with corticosteroid cream or nonsteroidal cream.
But again, bear in mind that we’re jewelers, not doctors, so please consult with a medical professional about any issues you may have.
What jewelry to wear if you have metal allergies
Since nickel is used in gold, many people who are allergic to nickel have problems wearing gold jewelry. If you aren’t ready to give up your favorite metal, you can buy a higher-karat (purer) gold, such as a piece made with 22- or 24-karat gold. Our article, What karat gold is the best, describes the differences in the types and purity of gold available.
If gold isn’t your thing, you can get silver or white gold rhodium-plated jewelry. This is essentially a metal glaze that coats your jewelry, creating a buffer between your skin and the metal to which you have an allergic reaction.
For those who are highly allergic to nickel, purchasing 22-karat gold might not be enough. If that’s the case, look for hypoallergenic and nickel-free jewelry.
One problem, however: “Hypoallergenic” is an unregulated term. There is no firm definition on what “hypoallergenic” means, and since it’s unregulated, anyone can say it. Thus, there is no 100-percent guarantee that a “hypoallergenic” piece won’t cause an allergic reaction, so unfortunately, it’s buyer beware. However, chances are pretty good that a hypoallergenic piece is less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Hypoallergenic metals are often used in jewelry, specifically earrings, but you will also see hypoallergenic cosmetics, fragrances, and even clothing or fabrics.
Other jewelry options
You can also find stainless or surgical steel, as well as jewelry described as low-nickel jewelry. These are great options for anyone looking to stay away from nickel, or for anyone with mild nickel allergies. There are also many nickel-free options, such as jewelry made of platinum, tungsten, cobalt, titanium, or palladium.
Not all skin reactions are metal allergies
Many people incorrectly diagnose themselves when it comes to metal allergies, which is again why we urge people to consult a medical professional if they think they may have an allergy.
One of the more common things we hear customers saying is that they’re “allergic” to metal since it turned their skin green. Simply put, this is not an allergic reaction at all. In fact, that green tint will not harm you. It’s simply a chemical reaction known as oxidation between the metal and the natural acids in our skin and cosmetics. You can remove the green stain from your skin with soap and warm water, rubbing alcohol, or makeup remover.
Another “non-allergic” reaction is tarnish on silver rubbing off onto your skin and leaving a black mark. This will easily wipe or wash off after you remove your jewelry. The best way to prevent this from happening is by keeping your jewelry clean and by putting on any lotion or perfume before putting on your jewelry. If you aren’t familiar with some best practices for keeping your jewelry clean, I recommend you check out our article, Your guide to cleaning jewelry.
More information on metal allergies and jewelry
If you are prone to allergic reactions to metal and aren’t sure what options are available to you, head to your local jeweler and consult with an expert. To learn more about metal allergies, and your options for allergy friendly jewelry, feel free to visit either of our New Jersey jewelry store locations in Morristown or New Providence to talk to any of our expert jewelers.
If you’d like to talk to someone sooner about your options regarding metal and jewelry allergies, you can contact us online anytime by emailing us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply filling out our contact form and we’ll answer your questions quickly.