Up Close & Personal with Metal Sensitivities.

What to do with metal allergies — because we know quitting jewelry isn’t a viable solution!

The two most common metal allergies are to nickel (which is found in base metals, gold and stainless steel) and copper. Metal allergy symptoms include redness, itching, to full out rash & skin flaking. This reaction generally occurs only where the metal contacts the skin, and fades once the irritation is removed. We’re going to learn about the different metals commonly used in jewelry, and which to avoid if you’re suffering from a metal sensivitity.

Nickel

Nickel is silvery in appearance & is often added to other metals to change their characteristics. It’s the most common metal allergy, and occurs in approximately 10% of the population. Women are more likely to be allergic than men; most likely since most women wear more jewelry. You can find nickel in: coins, keys, clothing parts (zippers, buttons, snaps), eyeglass arms, watches & costume jewelry. If you’ve had reactions to any objects from that list, chances are you’ll allergic to nickel. Base metal, iron, goldplated, gold & surgical steel contain nickel.

Copper

Copper is a pure metal — it does not contain any other metals. Because of this, it’s a great choice for those with allergies to nickel.  However, some people have a reaction to copper jewelry as well. Copper oxidizes & develops a patina (changes color) quite nicely, but because of this, it can turn your skin green if worn for long periods of time, or when wet. To avoid this, consider copper jewelry as short-term wear only. Fun fact: Copper is antimicrobial & 100% recyclable.

Brass

Is an alloy of copper & zinc. It’s famous for it’s gold-like appearance, and is a popular metal for costume jewelry design. Due to it’s high copper content, it also can turn your skin colors if worn for long periods, when wet, or perspiring. To avoid this, consider brass jewelry for short-term wear only.

Sterling Silver & Fine Silver

Sterling silver is an alloy containing 92.5% sterling silver and 7.5% copper. Fine silver (99.9% pure) is extremely soft, and therefore cannot be used for larger jewelry pieces. Sterling silver contains copper for strength, and is a plausable solution for those with nickel allergies. Sterling silver can leave black marks on your skin — this is due to a reaction with the copper content & the tarnishing of the jewelry. To avoid this, remove jewelry when showering &/or dry completely before wearing.

Silver-plated or Gold-plated

These metals are made up of a base metal (usually copper, but sometimes iron, nickel or zinc), which then undergoes a process called “electroplating” to coat the surface of the metal with a thin plating of metal (either sterling silver or 14kt gold). Jewelry finished in this way is generally not ideal for long-term wear, as the plating is relatively thin and can wear off over time. For those with metal sensitivities, this means that once the plating begins to wear, the underlying metal will be exposed and can cause irritation. These metals are most often used in costume jewelry, as they are cheaper to purchase.

Gold-filled (Brilliance Found uses 12kt Gold-fill)

Gold-filled (GF) jewelry is quite different from gold-plated pieces. In this case, the gold is permanently bonded to the base metal, and has a much stronger wearability. Gold-fill jewelry contains an approximately 50-100x thicker coating of gold than gold-plated jewelry, so it is able to be worn longer. While it is definitely pricer than gold-plated jewelry, it provides a nice balance of affordability with the luxury of gold. For those with metal sensitivities to nickel, it’s important to know that gold-fill pieces do contain trace amounts of nickel, and may need to be avoided for those with extreme sensitivity.

Gold (24kt, 22kt, 18kt, 16kt, 12kt, 10kt)

Gold varies in purity for various budget. 24kt gold is the purest form available, and is also a very soft metal. For this reason, it is not recommended for jewelry pieces that are often worn. Lower purities, 22kt, 18kt, 14kt, 12kt, 10kt, contain larger quantites of base metal (usually copper, palladium, or nickel) and therefore have a greater chance of creating sensitivity. Generally, gold with higher karats (over 14kt), does not contain enough nickel to cause sensitivities.

Gold variations: Rose gold contains a higher percentage of copper, which produces the rosy tone. White gold has the highest concentration of nickel (as it’s used for the white coloring), and should be avoided by those with nickel allergies.

Tips for Reducing metal sensitivities

  • Avoid wearing the offending metals for extended periods of time
  • Do not get jewelry wet: Moisture trapped between the metal and your skin can increase your chances of sensitivity
  • Avoid base metals when you’re perspiring: nickel breaks down quickly in the presence of sweat (salt), and can cause your skin to flare up — this is why many people find metal allergies “worsen” in the summer months.
  • Nickel is the most common metal allergen — avoid metals with high nickel content.
  • Some allergies are caused by the coating on the metal: if you’re finding a piece difficult, try washing it and drying it fully before wearing again.
  • Metal allergies are more likely in fresh piercings: please only wear high quality inert metals if you are still healing.
  • For a short-term solution, 3 coats of clear nailpolish to the offending surface can create a barrier between the metal and your skin. This process will need repeating once the nailpolish wears off. (Note: this tip can help copper & brass jewelry from discoloring the skin as well).

Solving Metal Allergies:

You might not be able to cure them, but the following materials are recommended for those with metal sensivities.

Stainless Steel & 316LVM Stainless Steel

316LVM stainless steel is commonly used for fresh piercings and metal allergies as it does not cause a reaction in most people. It contains a low amount of nickel (8-12%) that is bonded within the stainless steel in such a way that it does not produce the same sensitivity in many people. This material is recommended for those with allergies to copper. If stainless steel jewelry bothers your skin, you can be certain you have an extreme nickel sensivity, and should probably stick to either niobium or titanium jewelry.

Niobium

Niobium is an inert element, which means it is 100% pure. Because of this, most people don’t have any reaction to it. It also does not break down when worn in contact with the body, so it is the perfect solution for those with metal allergies. Niobium is also available in a rainbow of fun metallic colors. The process of coloring niobium is called anodizing, and involves using electricity to chemically alter the structure of the element. Anodized niobium is permenantly colored — there is no plating to chip or wear off! At Brilliance Found, we offer a 100% money-back guarantee on all niobium earring upgrades: if you’re not able to wear it, I’ll refund your cost! It’s a risk-free way to try out new jewelry for those with the strictest of metal allergies.

Custom Niobium Jewelry: Brilliance Found is able to work with you to create the jewelry of your dreams. I can create rings & earrings out of niobium for those who are highly sensitive. Simply write me, and we’ll work on your custom order!

Other materials

Brilliance Found offers non-metal jewelry solutions for those with metal sensitivities. Hand-dyed silk, felt, polymer clay, cotton, ribbon, wood & hemp are just a few of the non-metal materials I work with. Click here to view current selections. **Please note: some of these selections include metal components — most commonly metal pendants. They are included as the “necklace/skin contacting” portion of the jewelry is non-metal, and safer for metal allergy-prone types. Please use your discretion.

Polymer Clay

Although polymer clay is not a metal (but rather a plasticized modelling material), I’ve included it in this tutorial because it can also cause reactions in sensitive wearers. Polymer clay is porous (has microscopic tiny holes in it), which means it can never be fully sterlized or cleaned. As a result, any chemicals used near/on it can absorb in minute amounts in the clay, and later excrete themselves when in contact with your skin. This is why it’s important to never use harsh chemicals on your clay jewelry to clean it. To ensure healthy wear, I’d recommend polymer clay jewelry (especially earrings) to be worn on a part-time costume jewelry basis only.

And that’s it! Although I’m not an expert (yet), feel free to contact me with any questions you have about metal sensitivities or metal contents of my Brilliance Found jewelry. Hope this lesson has been helpful in solving your metal-allergy-induced woes!

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One response to “Up Close & Personal with Metal Sensitivities.

  1. Pingback: Brilliance Found: Jewelry Solutions! « the life of Brilliance Found Jewelry

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