How to Buy Jewelry When You Have a Metal Allergy
For those who have metal allergies, finding jewelry that does not irritate the skin can be a challenge. To decrease costs of production, many jewelry manufacturers add metal alloys that cause reactions in sensitive skin. Knowing which materials to avoid and which metals are hypoallergenic can help allergy sufferers choose attractive jewelry and accessories that will not cause problems.
What Are Metal Allergies?
People who are allergic to certain metals experience contact dermatitis when their skin is exposed to those materials. The metal in jewelry is a big contributor to these conditions because it rests close to the body for prolonged periods. Some individuals have metal allergies from childhood, and others develop allergic reactions later in life. Piercings are often triggers that cause allergies due to the metal particles being exposed to open wounds. Metal allergies do not go away, and repeated exposure can worsen the condition.
Common Jewelry Metal Allergies
Nickel is the primary metal that people are allergic to. Jewelry pieces containing this metal are high irritants because nickel dissolves in water and forms salts. Through sweating or washing, the salts get into the skin and cause itchy, painful reactions. Perfumes, soaps, and lotions on the skin can have the same results if there is enough moisture. Copper and cobalt are also responsible for causing allergic reactions in some individuals.
Jewelry Metal Alloys
Some people think that they are allergic to gold and silver, but these metals only cause reactions in extremely rare circumstances. The more likely culprits in these situations are the alloys that are combined with the gold or silver to make the material harder and less expensive. Low-karat gold and silver are often mixed with nickel and copper, which are the sources for many allergic reactions. Copper is also used to make brass jewelry, which some people believe they are allergic to.
Symptoms of Metal Allergies
Contact dermatitis is the main symptom of metal allergies. Reactions typically occur within 24 hours of exposure and disappear if the cause is removed and avoided. Symptoms appear around the area of skin that was in contact with the jewelry and may spread to other parts of the body. Allergic reactions range from mild to severe and can increase vulnerabilities to infections. The skin becomes red, swollen, and itchy in mild conditions. In more severe cases, the skin becomes dry and cracked, and blisters may form.
Why Does Some Jewelry Cause Allergic Reactions?
There are trace amounts of nickel and other alloys in many pieces of jewelry, especially inexpensive types. Plated jewelry usually contains nickel underneath the top coating. Some people are surprised to find that leather jewelry can cause contact dermatitis. The process of tanning leather requires metal, and traces are often left behind. These small amounts of metal have been known to cause allergic reactions when worn as jewelry. Sometimes, it is difficult to determine the exact contents of jewelry, but consumers can perform tests at home before wearing new accessories. Using metal testing kits drop the solution onto a cotton ball, and rub it on the jewelry. If a particular type of metal is present, a chemical reaction will occur and change the color of the solution. These tests are completely safe for the jewelry and can help individuals determine whether or not an accessory is safe to wear.
Hypoallergenic Jewelry Materials
Thanks to modern technology and the creativity of designers, there are numerous hypoallergenic materials that still produce beautiful jewelry. Some materials offer the shiny look of precious metals while others feature bright colors and offer unique designs and attributes.
Hypoallergenic Fine Jewelry
Fine Jewelry is an ideal gift idea and fitting for formal occasions as well as personal collections. The following chart highlights some hypoallergenic materials that create elegant pieces and pair nicely with diamonds and gemstones.
When purchasing gold jewelry, look for pieces that are higher than 14 karats. Anything lower than that usually contains nickel and other alloys that are allergens. Individuals should avoid colored gold, such as rose gold, because these metals often contain copper.
When looking for white-gold jewelry, look for palladium pieces. This silvery-white metal looks like platinum but produces less expensive jewelry. Palladium alloys replace rhodium and nickel in white gold so that the accessory is less likely to cause contact dermatitis.
Platinum jewelry is a beautiful silvery-white color that shines, and this metal is naturally hypoallergenic. This type of jewelry is usually comprised of less than 10 percent alloys.
Argentium Sterling Silver
Sterling Silver Jewelry contains 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent alloy. Argentium is a hypoallergenic substitute to copper and still maintains the beautiful appearance of sterling silver. This material has the added benefit of tarnish resistance.
Hypoallergenic Men's Jewelry
While metal allergies are rarer in men, 6 percent of men suffer from contact dermatitis and need hypoallergenic alternatives. In addition to the materials listed above, men can choose from the metals in the following table.
Titanium is a highly durable metal that is also hypoallergenic. Many men's rings incorporate this metal for its desirable properties. Titanium jewelry resists corrosion even with exposure to sweat and chlorinated pool water. Some gold jewelry uses titanium alloys instead of nickel or other metals.
High-tech ceramic is a synthetic material primarily used in watches and rings. Since there is no metal, this material is hypoallergenic yet highly durable. Some men prefer ceramic jewelry over metal for its lightweight feel and solid colors that do not chip or fade over time.
Tungsten is a hypoallergenic metal often used as an alloy for gold jewelry. With a brushed finish, tungsten jewelry is highly resistant to scratches.
Some people who do not have metal allergies find it necessary to purchase hypoallergenic earrings for sensitive ears. Piercings are more susceptible to the chemical reactions in certain types of metal, so it is important to choose earrings carefully. Expert jewelers recommend surgical-grade stainless steel for the earring wires, posts, and findings. When shopping for earrings, look for the words "surgical" or "nickel-free" because regular steel contains nickel alloys that can cause skin reactions.
Metal allergies do not have to keep people from wearing beautiful and fashionable jewelry. There are a number of hypoallergenic alternatives that look great and offer other benefits to the wearer. Always check the materials of the jewelry before making new purchases, and use metal-testing kits when in doubt. Be sure to keep all jewelry clean to avoid the risk of infections when allergic reactions occur. Hypoallergenic jewelry also makes an ideal gift when it is unknown if the recipient has allergies to metal. Experiment with different hypoallergenic metals to find styles that meet individual preferences.