October 27, 2006

"I Can Only Wear Gold Jewelry" - The Truth About Jewelry Allergies

By April Williams

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

Why does everything but gold break my mother out? Is that statement even true? When I started designing jewelry over a year ago I decided to find out. I wanted to design jewelry for my mom that she could wear without fear of a breakout. Now I am going to let you in on what I have discovered.

My mother, like many people, develops contact dermatitis when her skin comes in contact with some types of jewelry. The dermatitis is a result of an allergic reaction to the nickel found in many types of jewelry. Nickel allergies are very common. One out of every seven people is likely to suffer from a nickel allergy. More women tend to suffer from nickel allergies than men. However this may be attributed to the fact that women tend to wear more jewelry than men and are therefore more likely to be exposed to skin contact with nickel.

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

First I looked at gold jewelry. Generally speaking, yellow gold (above 14 karat) will not cause an allergic reaction. However white gold may. White gold alloys contain nickel and other “white” metals to produce its silver coloring. One out of every nine people will react to the nickel in white gold.

Another form of gold jewelry is gold filled or “GF” jewelry. Gold filled jewelry metal is created when a base metal is coated with a layer of gold. Gold filled differs from gold plated by the amount of gold applied. The layer used in gold filled jewelry is typically 50 to 100 time thicker that the layer used to coat gold plated products.

Next I looked at silver jewelry. For those who are nickel sensitive, fine silver and sterling silver are great choices for “white” metals.

Fine silver is by definition 99.9% pure silver. Jewelry is generally not made of fine silver because the metal is extremely soft and does not withstand normal wear and tear well.
Typically silver jewelry is made of sterling silver. Sterling silver is by definition 92.5% pure silver. Typically the remaining 7.5% metal is made up of copper. Copper is infused to harden the silver and make it more durable. Since copper is the normal metal used, sterling silver is a great metal for nickel allergic people. You can typically distinguish sterling silver by a “925” mark found on the jewelry. This is common on manufactured pieces, but may not be present on artisan jewelry.

Some other metals that are considered safe for people with nickel allergies are:

Copper – Copper jewelry is generally considered pure and 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 both hypoallergenic and durable. It is a highly recommended metal for those who suffer from nickel allergies.

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

Fashion or costume jewelry typically contains base metals that include nickel.

German silver or nickel silver is a metal to stay away from where jewelry is concerned. German silver does not contain any silver. The silver refers to the silver coloration 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 in the human body.

However, the steel alloy contains between eight and twelve percent nickel. I have heard varying reports as to how safe this metal is for people with nickel allergies. Since the steel alloy does contain nickel, I would tend to avoid it, but some people swear by it.

If you do buy a piece of jewelry and are concerned that it may contain nickel, commercial test kits are 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 any fashion.

April Williams is the owner of Eluna Jewelry Designs, widely known for an exquisite selection of gemstone pendants, sterling silver earrings, and reproduction sea glass jewelry. Using beading techniques, wire wrapping, and metalworking, as well as lapidary gemstone cutting, her jewelry designs are uniquely breathtaking.

See also: Care of your jewelry/ Diamonds/ Pearls

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  1. Anonymous8:22 PM

    I've noticed that my skin reacts to certain types of jewelry, usually something cheap, like earrings or one cheap belly button ring I got.

    I have a question... My original wedding band was silver (I'm almost certain that it was sterling silver). I could wear it fine for the first few months... Then I cleaned it in some laundry detergent, and after that it started making my skin break out when I wore it. Is this related to the nickle thing? Did the detergent create some reaction with the metal to make my skin more sensitive to it?

  2. Hi Aparna

    Came across your blog a couple of days ago. Very helpful tips. !! Great work

  3. Hi Revathi, thanks for dropping by. Your food blog looks great too!

  4. Anonymous5:56 PM

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    It’s a good source of information about shopping. Thus, I’m looking for a blog site where my Closeouts and Liquidations website is related to.I’m lucky that I found this site. This way we can share our great ideas in web marketing. It’s a great blog. I really appreciate it. Keep it up!

  5. Allergy to artificial ornaments?

  6. I have very sensitive ears also,,i can only wear REAL gold for extended periods, and sterling silver for a few hours. save some money find a good sale and invest in a good pair of gold earrings, it is worth the money and comfort of your ears


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