"I can only wear gold jewelry" – The Truth About Jewelry Allergies

I can only wear gold jewelry, everything else breaks me. “ How many times did I hear that exact phrase from my mother as a child? Every time he gave her jewelry, that was her response.

Why does everything except gold break my mother? Is that statement even true? When I started designing jewelry over ten years ago, I decided to find out. I wanted to design jewelry for my mother that she could wear without fear of a breakup. Now I am going to tell you what I have discovered.

My mother, like many people, develops contact dermatitis when her skin comes into contact with some types of jewelry. Her dermatitis is the result of an allergic reaction to nickel found in many types of jewelry. Nickel allergies are very common; in fact, one in seven people is likely to have a nickel allergy. More often than not, women tend to suffer from nickel allergies than men. Allergy treatment can help with nickel allergy symptoms. Unfortunately, once an allergy has developed, a person will remain sensitive to nickel for the rest of their life.

Nickel is found in many types of costume jewelery, especially those that are mass produced. It can also be found on other everyday items such as coins, zippers, eyeglass frames, and cell phones.

So why is my mother allergic to nickel? For some reason, which science doesn’t yet understand, your body has mistaken nickel (or similar metals like cobalt) as a threat. In response to that threat, your body triggers an immune response (also known as an allergic reaction) to rid itself of the threat. This reaction causes an itchy rash to develop. But others might have a more severe reaction to nickel.

Now that I knew what was causing my mother’s escape, I set out to find out what types of jewelry did not contain nickel.

First i looked gold jewelry. Generally speaking, yellow gold (above 14 karat) will not cause an allergic reaction. However, white gold can. White gold alloys contain nickel and other “white” metals to produce their silver coloration. One in nine people will react to nickel in white gold.

Another form of gold jewelry is full of gold or “GF” jewelry. Gold-filled jewelry metal is created when a base metal is coated with a layer of gold. Gold fill differs from gold plated by the amount of gold that is applied. The layer used on gold filled jewelry is typically 50 to 100 times thicker than the layer used to cover gold-plated products.

Then I looked at silver jewelry. For those who are sensitive to nickel, fine silver and sterling silver are excellent options for “white” metals.

Fine silver it is by definition 99.9% pure silver. Jewelry is not generally made of fine silver because the metal is extremely soft and does not withstand normal wear and tear.

Most silver jewelry is made with sterling silver. Sterling silver it is by definition 92.5% pure silver. In most cases, the remaining 7.5% of the metal is copper. Copper is infused to harden the silver and make it more durable. I use this type of sterling silver in my jewelry designs, it is a great metal for people allergic to nickel. You can sometimes distinguish sterling silver by a “925” mark found on the jewelry. This is common in manufactured pieces, but may not be present in artisan jewelry.

Some other metals that are considered safe for people with a nickel allergy include:

Copper – Copper jewelry is generally considered pure and is not mixed with nickel or nickel alloys.

Platinum – Platinum jewelry contains 95% platinum and 5% of a secondary metal, typically iridium.

Titanium – Titanium jewelry is hypoallergenic and durable. It is a highly recommended metal for those suffering from nickel allergies.

Niobium – This is a relatively new metal in the jewelry industry. It is a rare earth metal that can be anodized (naturally coated with beautiful colors). Like titanium, this metal is recommended for people allergic to nickel, especially those looking for a touch of color.

Since I have given you a list of safe metals, I thought I would also give you a list of metal terms to consider when shopping for jewelry.

Fashion or costume jewelry generally has base metals that include nickel. Sometimes these metals are plated; however, that coating will fade over time, exposing the skin to base metals. If you choose a silver metal, remember that it will need to be recoated regularly.

Some have suggested that brass may be a hypoallergenic option. However, my research has suggested that brass is sometimes alloyed with small amounts of nickel or even lead to strengthen the metal.

German silver or alpaca is a metal to stay away from jewelry. German silver does not contain silver. Silver refers to the silver coloring of the metal. The color is derived from a combination of nickel, zinc, lead, and tin found within the alloy.

Surgical or Stainless Steel: Surgical grade stainless steel is made to be on the human body. However, the steel alloy contains between eight and twelve percent nickel. I have heard various reports about how safe this metal is for people with a nickel allergy. Since alloy steel contains nickel, you would tend to avoid it, but some people trust it.

If you buy a piece of jewelry and are concerned that it may contain nickel, there are commercial test kits available online. These kits contain chemicals that react in the presence of nickel.

Doing a little research can prevent a nickel allergy attack and still allow you to wear beautiful jewelry.

Written by April Williams

September 5, 2020
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