I can only wear gold jewelry, everything else bursts. “ How many times have I heard that exact phrase from my mother when I was a child? Whenever I gave her jewelry, this was her answer.
Why does everything except gold break my mother? Is this 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 break. Now I will let you know what I have discovered.
My mother, like many people, develops contact dermatitis when her skin comes in contact with certain 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 may suffer from a nickel allergy. More often than not, women tend to suffer from nickel allergies than men. Allergic treatment can help with the symptoms of a nickel allergy. Unfortunately once the allergy has developed, a person will remain sensitive to nickel for the rest of his life.
Nickel is found in many types of costume jewelery, especially mass-produced ones. It can also be found in other everyday objects such as coins, zippers, eyeglass frames and cell phones.
So why is my mother allergic to nickel, you may ask. For some reason, which science still doesn’t understand, his body has confused nickel (or similar metals like cobalt) as a threat. In response to that threat, her body causes an immune response (also known as an allergic reaction) to get rid of the threat. This reaction causes it to burst into an itchy rash. But others may have a more serious reaction to nickel.
Now that I knew what was causing my mother’s breakout, I started to find out which types of jewelry did not contain nickel.
I looked first gold jewelry. In general, yellow gold (above 14 carats) does not cause an allergic reaction. However, white gold could. White gold alloys contain nickel and other “white” metals to produce its silver coloring. One in nine people will react to nickel in white gold.
Another form of gold jewelry is gold filled or “GF” jewels. Gold filled jewel metal is created when a base metal is coated with a layer of gold. Filled gold differs from gold plated in the amount of gold applied. The layer used in gold-filled jewelry is typically 50 to 100 times thicker than the layer used to coat gold-plated products.
Later I looked at silver jewelry. For those who are sensitive to nickel, fine silver and sterling silver are an excellent choice for “white” metals.
Fine silver it is by definition 99.9% pure silver. The jewels are not generally made of fine silver because the metal is extremely soft and does not resist normal wear and tear.
Most of the 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 metal is copper. Copper is infused to harden the silver and make it more resistant. I use this type of sterling silver in my jewelry designs, it is an excellent metal for people allergic to nickel. Sometimes you can distinguish sterling silver from a “925” mark found on the jewelry. This is common on manufactured pieces, but may not be present on handcrafted jewelry.
Some other metals 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 jewelery contains 95% platinum and 5% of a typically iridium secondary metal.
Titanium – Titanium jewels are both hypoallergenic and resistant. It is a highly recommended metal for those who suffer 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 those with nickel allergies, especially for those looking for a touch of color.
Ever since I gave you a list of safe metals, I thought I’d also give you a list of metal terms to watch out for when buying jewelry.
Fashion or costume jewelry typically has base metals that include nickel. Sometimes these metals are plated; however that plating will wear out over time by exposing the skin to base metals. If you choose a plated metal, remember that it will need to be plated again regularly.
Some have suggested that brass may be a hypoallergenic option. However, my research has suggested that brass is sometimes tied with small amounts of nickel or even reinforces metal.
German silver or nickel silver 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 comes from a combination of nickel, zinc, lead and tin present in the alloy.
Surgical or stainless steel – Surgical stainless steel is made to be in the human body. However, the steel alloy contains between 8 and 12 percent nickel. I have heard several reports on how safe this metal is for people with nickel allergies. Since steel alloy contains nickel, I would tend to avoid it, but some people swear by it.
If you buy a piece of jewelry and you are concerned that it may contain nickel, the 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 beautiful jewelry.