FAQ: Metal Allergies and How to Choose Jewelry to Avoid Them

Even though I am a jewelry designer, I don’t actually have pierced ears (I know, weird, right?). So I’ve asked my friend Amber Ricchetti (Twitter: @Gldnamby) to write about her experiences with metal allergies and to dig a little deeper into what the main causes and best tips are to selecting the right jewelry for you if you are allergic. Here she is:

Thanks, Peggy! In stark contrast to your experience, my ear piercing journey started when I was about 6 months old. My mom took me to a professional to get my ears pierced, and my first earrings were delicate 14K gold studs with tiny pearls. Here’s a picture of an earring from the set – it’s a wonder I still have it! (Note: As a safety measure, hypoallergenic metals, sterling silver or 14K gold is pretty standard when it comes to starter earrings for first time piercings.) 
It wasn’t until much later – during elementary school – that I started wearing costume jewelry and noticed a subtle, red irritation and itchiness on my earlobes. As most kids do, I asked my mom about it. She guessed this was the telltale sign of a slight metal allergy. 

So, what are metal allergies, exactly? Metal allergies fall under the category of allergic contact dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin when exposed to certain substances. Symptoms of metal allergies usually occur within a few days of contact, and include itchiness, rashes, flaky skin, irritation, redness, pain and even blisters. 

According to Web MD, metal allergies are among the most common types of skin allergies (second only to poison ivy). 

There are varying degrees of sensitivity to metal. My case is pretty minor. I can wear costume jewelry for a day and be OK as long as I remove the earrings at night. There’s a little redness and itching at the end of the day, but it’s gone by the morning. Admittedly, a few times I forgot to remove my earrings and couldn’t wear any for a few days until the inflammation went away. But it always did.

Of course, some people are more sensitive and need to avoid costume jewelry completely. They benefit from selecting hypoallergenic metals which are less likely to cause irritation (don’t worry – I’ll give you some examples in a little bit).

There are actually over 80 different types of metals on this planet, but obviously not all 80+ metals are used to make jewelry or cause irritation to the skin. Here’s some information you might find helpful if you’re trying to assess or handle a metal allergy. 

Nickel Allergies
Nickel is the most common metal allergen in the world. An estimated 10-15% of the U.S. population has nickel allergies, and it’s on the rise due to the increase in body piercing and use of costume jewelry. Some folks don’t have an immediate reaction to nickel, but can get more sensitive with exposure over time.

Nickel is mixed with other metals to form an alloy – a combination of two or more metals – and is frequently used in costume jewelry, zippers, batteries, coins, magnets, electric guitar strings and more (so exposure can be high). 

Copper, Silver and Gold Allergies
If you think you’re having a reaction to copper, silver or gold jewelry, you’re most likely reacting to the nickel mixed in with the other metal (unless you’re a vampire, of course, in which case you should avoid silver at all costs). Copper, silver and gold allergies themselves are extremely rare – but they do occur from time to time.

Selecting the Right Jewelry 
If you have a mild to moderate metal allergy like I do, there are many easy alternatives. Sterling silver and 14K gold-filled jewelry should quickly ease the irritation and do the trick. 

For more sensitive folk, wearing 24K gold, palladium, platinum, aluminum, titanium, and niobium are the best alternatives…although they can also be a bit pricier. When it comes to gold, remember this: The higher the karat, the less the amount of alloys.

Also, if you have a prolonged or severe reaction to a piece of jewelry, please consult your doctor immediately. Most should go away quickly once the piece of jewelry has been removed.

Contributed by Amber Ricchetti, guest blogger and Copywriter at Amber Ricchetti Copywriting (http://amberricchetticopywriting.wordpress.com/about/). Connect with her on Twitter: @Gldnamby

Thank you, Amber, for the tips! At Peggy Li Creations, all the pieces are sterling silver or 14k gold-filled, unless otherwise noted (there is also a lot of vermeil-style pieces, which are gold plate over silver). You can read about the types of metal I use in this blog post: FAQ: What is the difference between Gold-filled and Vermeil?

I also offer alternate choices for the most sensitive:

  • 14k gold earrings (and I can substitute just the earwires for 14k gold to ease costs).
  • Niobium earwires (I can substitute niobium when possible)
  • Clip on Earrings (when the design allows, I can create earrings as clips using sterling silver or 14k gold-filled clip-on styles).
Another trick I’ve heard is to take clear nail polish and put a few good coats on the pieces that irritate you. You may have to reapply over time, but I’ve heard from people that it works! You can also purchase a similar product, called Jewelry Shield, that works in a similar way, you put a few coats on and reapply as necessary. You can purchase Jewelry Shield 1/2 oz Bottle on Amazon!

Post a comment here if you have a great tip for handling metal allergies. We’d love to hear them.



Glaudius said...

Very interesting post!
What about Brass and Bronze ? They contain Tin and Zinc. Do you know how prevalent allergies are to these alloys ? That always worries me in my work. But since I mostly make pendants, maybe it is less of a problem. Do you know?
I may have to move to Gold and Silver.

plcpeggy said...

I have not heard of reactions to Tin and Zinc, I would ask your customers if they have seen any reactions or google for information on those metals. You can also use products like Jewelry Shield to coat your pendants for your customers for extra safety.