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

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

Why does anything but gold break my mother out? Is that the 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 breakout. Now I'll let in what I've 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 the nickel found in many types of jewelry. Nickel allergies are very common, in fact, one in seven people is probably suffering from a nickel allergy. Often women tend to suffer from nickel allergies than men. Allergy treatment can help with the symptoms of a nickel allergy. Unfortunately, when allergy has developed, a person will remain sensitive to nickel for the rest of his life.

Nickel is found in many types of costume jewelry, especially those that are mass-produced. It can also be found in other daily things like coins, zippers, glasses and mobile phones.

So why is my mother allergic to nickel, maybe you ask. For some reason, whatever science still doesn't understand, her body has the wrong nickel (or similar metals as cobalt) as a threat. In response to this threat, her body causes an immune response (aka allergic reaction) to get rid of the threat. This reaction causes her to break out in itchy rash. But others may have a more serious reaction to nickel.

Now that I knew what caused my mother's outbreak, I decided to find out which types of jewelry did not contain nickel.

At first I looked at it gold collected. Generally, yellow gold (over 14 carats) will not cause allergic reaction. But white gold can. White gold alloys contain nickel and other "white" metals to produce silver staining. One in nine people will react to 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 with the amount of gold applied. The layer used in gold-filled jewelry is usually 50 to 100 times thicker than the layer used to coat gold-plated products.

Then I looked at silver jewelry. For those who are nickel sensitive, fine silver and sterling silver are good 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.

Most silver jewelry is made with sterling silver. Sterling silver is by definition 92.5% pure silver. In most cases, the remaining 7.5% is metal copper. Copper is infused to harden silver and make it more durable. I use this type of sterling silver in my jewelry design it is a great metal for nickel allergic people. Sometimes you can separate sterling silver with a "925" mark that is on jewelry. This is common on manufactured pieces, but cannot be present on craftsmen.

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

Copper – Copper jewelry is generally considered clean 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.

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 nickel allergy, especially those looking for a pop color.

Because 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 shopping for jewelry.

Fashion or costume jewelry usually has metals that contain nickel. Sometimes these metals are plated; however, plating will wear off over time exposing the skin to the base metals. If you choose plated metal, remember that it will need to be replaced regularly.

Some have suggested that brass can be an allergy-friendly alternative. But my research has suggested that brass is sometimes alloyed with small amounts of nickel or even lead to strengthening the metal.

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 staining of the metal. The color is derived from a combination of nickel, zinc, lead and tin found in 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 various reports on how safe this metal is for people with nickel allergies. Since the steel alloy contains nickel, I would tend to avoid it, but some people swear by it.

If you buy jewelry and are concerned that it may contain nickel, commercial test packages 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 allow you to wear beautiful jewelry.