Do your earlobes throb, turn red, and even form little crusts over your earring holes? Or does wearing a necklace leave you with an itchy rash? If you’re suffering from effects like these, you may have a nickel allergy. One of the best ways to avoid the reaction is to opt for jewelry made with hypoallergenic metals.
But which metals are hypoallergenic, and what should you avoid? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about hypoallergenic metals so you can choose the right jewelry for you.
What Is a Nickel Allergy?
A nickel allergy is just what it sounds like, a form of contact dermatitis where contact with nickel leads to an allergic reaction. You might end up with red, tender skin. You might also produce dry patches or even blisters on your skin.
These reactions tend to occur wherever the nickel comes into contact with your skin. Theoretically, this can happen anywhere but is most common in places where jewelry is worn. Since the skin is thin and soft near your earlobes, they are particularly prone to allergic reactions from jewelry. Meanwhile, wrists where bracelets are worn or the area of your neck where a necklace lays are also vulnerable. There are even places that people don’t really consider, as a reaction can come from keys, belt buckles, buttons on clothes, and even doorknobs.
Luckily, in most cases, you will notice that the area is turning red. You can then consider whether the area was exposed to any metal and if that metal is causing the reaction.
Women tend to be more prone to having a nickel allergy. About 15% of women have a nickel allergy, while only 2% of men do. You can also develop a nickel allergy at any time. Some people develop sensitive skin due to prolonged exposure and end up developing a nickel allergy later in their life.
Is Nickel-Free Important?
If you are sensitive to nickel, there are plenty of options out there that can help you eliminate nickel. The most obvious is to choose nickel-free alternatives, as these help attack the nickel problem right at the source. About 85% of people are okay with having a small percentage of nickel in their jewelry. However, if you have an allergy, it’s best to avoid wearing jewelry with high nickel content.
It’s also important to note that “nickel-free” generally means that the jewelry doesn’t have nickel in the plating. There may be nickel in the core part of the jewelry. In most cases, this is fine because the lack of nickel in the plating prevents the nickel in the core of the piece from ever coming into contact with your skin. However, if the plating wears away, the nickel will become exposed and is no longer nickel free. This is something to consider if you have a piece you plan to wear a lot, as it might start to wear down over time.
In addition, it is important to note that, unfortunately, some companies lie about the level of nickel in their products. This is why it is important to only buy jewelry from a company you trust.
Are There Other Metals to Watch Out For?
Nickel is the most common culprit when it comes to allergic reactions from jewelry. However, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to other metals. Allergies to copper are quite rare. Chromium and cobalt in jewelry can also cause a reaction, but these reactions are very rare. In fact, they are rare to the point where it is more likely that you’d develop a reaction from cement at a job site than from jewelry.
Because of this, most discussions about metal allergies are based around nickel.
What is Hypoallergenic Metal?
Hypoallergenic metals are those that are not likely to cause an allergic reaction. Because it’s the most common metal that causes contact dermatitis, hypoallergenic metals are meant to reduce these symptoms when they are caused by nickel.
There is no set definition of what is considered to be hypoallergenic jewelry. Generally, jewelry can be considered hypoallergenic if it doesn’t contain any nickel or if it doesn’t contain enough to cause an allergic reaction. However, retailers don’t have to follow this advice strictly because of the lack of monitoring surrounding it. They may simply use a little less nickel and call the jewelry hypoallergenic, even though it may still cause a reaction.
This is another reason why it is important to only buy hypoallergenic metals from a trustworthy brand. Otherwise, you are rolling the dice when it comes to whether the company has truly made an effort to reduce the chance of a reaction.
In addition, different people have different types of allergies and different severities. Someone may be allergic to a metal that is considered to be hypoallergenic, and thus, hypoallergenic metals won’t be a good option for them. This makes the loose definition difficult to understand. It also means you’ll have to figure out what the best option is for you.
In general, it’s best to understand the different types of metals that may or may not cause a reaction. This way, you can check the metal content of “hypoallergenic” jewelry and make sure it’s safe for your skin.
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Rhodium is a great option for hypoallergenic metals. Rhodium itself does not contain any nickel but is a high-quality lustrous metal. This allows it to look just as amazing as other pieces out there without the downsides.
Rhodium jewelry often features a sterling silver core plated with rhodium. While the core can be any metal, nickel-free sterling silver is a great option to look for if you have a nickel allergy.
Just note that over time, the rhodium plating will wear out. You will want to make sure that the core is nickel-free to prevent a reaction. On top of this, you can have the outer plating replated to keep the piece in pristine condition for longer.
Sterling silver is usually hypoallergenic. This alloy is mostly silver but contains other metals that help to make it stronger. This gives it the beauty of pure silver but allows it to stand up to everyday use.
Sometimes sterling silver is completely nickel-free, but other times it is not. But, since sterling silver is mostly silver anyway, it usually does not include enough nickel to cause a reaction.
Platinum is hypoallergenic. Even when it is combined with other metals to create an alloy, nickel is not used. Usually, iridium, ruthenium, and cobalt are used instead. Each of these is hypoallergenic as well.
The biggest downside is that platinum tends to be very expensive. In fact, platinum is one of the most expensive jewelry types out there.
Titanium is another hypoallergenic alloy. It’s not combined with nickel, but instead vanadium or aluminum. Titanium is incredibly durable, light, and corrosion-resistant. It can even be worn in the ocean or the pool.
However, it’s so durable that it’s difficult to resize. This makes it slightly less ideal for rings, which may need to be resized occasionally.
Copper is usually hypoallergenic as long as it is not reinforced with nickel. Brass, which is a combination of copper and zinc, is similarly hypoallergenic. Some people do have copper allergies, but this is quite rare.
Unfortunately, copper and brass are not very high-quality. Both will turn skin green due to oxidation caused by the copper reacting to chemicals or sweat. While harmless, it’s not a good look.
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Is Gold Hypoallergenic?
Gold can be hypoallergenic because, on its own, gold does not cause a reaction. Something that is 24k gold is pure gold and, because of this, does not lead to allergic reactions. Unfortunately, 24k gold is generally considered too soft to be used in jewelry. To combat this, other metals are added to strengthen it. This is where the problems can creep into an otherwise great metal.
14k and 18k gold are two common alloys, with 18k gold containing more pure gold than 14k. 18k gold does not bother most people’s skin because it is still mostly gold. 14k gold only contains a small amount of nickel but still contains some. This may or may not produce a reaction, with the ultimate decision coming from how sensitive your skin is.
You might want to try out different types of gold to see which works best for you. You may be lucky and find that 14k gold works just fine for you, or you may find out that you can only use 18k pieces. You can even choose rose gold which is made by combining pure gold and copper. Since neither causes allergic reactions, this is a great hypoallergenic option.
Is Stainless Steel Hypoallergenic?
Stainless steel is not hypoallergenic as it contains a small amount of nickel. However, if you don’t have a nickel allergy or have a very mild one, it is a good metal for jewelry. Stainless steel is corrosion and heat-resistant and holds a shine well.
Usually, you’ll find 316 stainless steel containing 20% chromium and 11% nickel. Surgical steel, or 316L stainless steel, is the best option if you have sensitive skin but don’t have a nickel allergy. Its nickel content is much lower as it’s replaced with chromium and molybdenum.
Is Vermeil Hypoallergenic?
Vermeil is not hypoallergenic but is a good option if you have sensitive skin. This metal is made by plating sterling silver with 18k gold. Sterling silver is hypoallergenic, and 18k gold has only a small level of nickel.
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What to Do if You Have Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin and suspect you have a nickel allergy, you can test to see if this is true. Start by scheduling a visit with your dermatologist. They can walk you through an allergy skin test where different metals are placed on different parts of your skin. Then, that skin is monitored to see if there is a reaction. This will help you figure out if you indeed have an allergy or if your irritation is being caused by something else.
If your doctor confirms that you have a nickel allergy, it’s time to start making some changes to your jewelry collection. The easiest way to do this is to avoid wearing cheap costume jewelry. These pieces are often made with high levels of nickel. This is a good time to purge your collection of nickel-containing jewelry.
Start investing in better pieces that won’t irritate your skin but will stand up over time. Aim for pieces that don’t contain nickel and are made with hypoallergenic materials. Your skin will thank you for the relief, and you’ll have the perfect excuse to shop for new necklaces, earrings, and rings.
How to Choose Hypoallergenic Metals for Your Jewelry
If you’re looking to purchase hypoallergenic jewelry, it’s important to be very careful during your search. Start by learning about each type of hypoallergenic metal and which ones might be best for you. When you start shopping, you can look for these options.
In addition, keep your specific condition in mind. If you are allergic to nickel, you will have to watch out for the wide variety of products that are often made with nickel. If you are allergic to something else, you will have to do additional research to find out what metals that metal is usually paired with.
As we mentioned before, the term “hypoallergenic” is not regulated. There is nothing saying a retailer has to be accurate about their labeling. Because of this, it’s important to choose jewelry from high-quality, reputable retailers. You want to be sure what you are purchasing is what you think it is. This can prevent you from being disappointed by your new piece.
Find the Right Jewelry for You
If you have sensitive skin or a nickel allergy, aiming for hypoallergenic or nickel-free jewelry can help prevent painful reactions. Make sure you understand the types of hypoallergenic metals that are available and purchase pieces from reputable sellers. This way, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying your beautiful new accessories.