November 17, 2021 6 min read
Sometimes, sensitive skin takes the fun out of wearing jewelry, but hypoallergenic metals may solve the problem. If earrings turn your earlobes red, splotchy, and painful, your skin may be allergic to the metal in your jewelry. Jewelry is crafted out of many different metals, and some are better for sensitive skin than others. We’ll explain which types of metals are hypoallergenic and share our hand-picked and hand-crafted list of the best earrings for sensitive ears.
Hypoallergenic jewelry is made of metals not likely to cause an allergic reaction. Different metal allergies exist, but a nickel allergy is the most common. Many metals used in jewelry are alloys--a mixture of metals combined for additional strength. Nickel is a common additive used to reinforce softer metals like silver or gold. But nickel causes an allergic skin reaction in 15% of the population. Jewelry is usually considered hypoallergenic if it contains no nickel or not enough nickel to cause a skin reaction.
There are no set criteria to define what makes jewelry hypoallergenic since it depends on a person’s type of allergy and how severe the allergy is, and the label is often used too loosely. Understanding which types of metals may cause a reaction and may help you know which type of metal is safest for your skin. Then, whenever you see jewelry described as “hypoallergenic,” you can check the metal content to make sure the combination won’t irritate your skin.
Hypoallergenic jewelry is not necessarily more expensive, but most high-quality metals are lower in nickel content and less likely to cause a reaction. For example, you may find that your skin only reacts to heavy nickel content in costume jewelry and not the small percentage of nickel used in 14k gold jewelry. Jewelry with a slight nickel percentage is not harmful to most people.
If you have a nickel allergy, your skin might turn red and tender and develop dry patches or possibly blisters where it comes in contact with nickel. Earlobes are a common place to experience contact dermatitis from nickel in jewelry because the skin is thin and soft. Around 15% of females have a nickel allergy and only 2% of males. But nickel is found in more than just jewelry. Sensitive skin can react to nickel in keys, door knobs, buttons on clothes, or a belt buckle. You may become more sensitive to nickel with prolonged exposure and develop a nickel allergy later in life.
Shopping for nickel-free jewelry is important if your skin is sensitive to the metal. For most people (around 85%), a small percentage of nickel in jewelry is safe, but those with a nickel allergy should avoid wearing jewelry with heavy nickel content. If your jewelry is causing a skin reaction, it’s important to see a dermatologist to determine if you have a nickel allergy or some other type of metal allergy.
If you are highly sensitive to nickel, keep in mind that some jewelry described as “nickel-free” refers to no nickel in the plating of the metal, but not the metal itself. So if the plating wears off, the jewelry will no longer be nickel-free.
Reactions to other types of metals are possible but not as common as nickel. Copper allergies are very rare. Chromium and cobalt are also metals used in jewelry that may cause a rare allergy, but someone is more likely to come in contact with them at a job site from a material like cement rather than jewelry. So when describing a necklace or earrings as hypoallergenic, we’re specifically referring to low or no nickel.
We selected the top three metals we consider the best hypoallergenic jewelry based on what is beautiful, most widely available, and high-quality.
Yes, rhodium is one of our favorite hypoallergenic metals. Rhodium jewelry is usually sterling silver plated in rhodium. Rhodium is a lustrous, high-quality metal that contains no nickel. Any metal can be rhodium-plated, but nickel-free sterling silver is the best hypoallergenic option. No matter the base metal, rhodium-plating will protect against a reaction to nickel. But over time, the plating will wear out and need to be replaced, so it’s important to make sure that the metal underneath the rhodium is also hypoallergenic.
Learn more about what makes rhodium jewelry a great choice.
Sterling silver jewelry is often hypoallergenic. Sterling silver is an alloy containing mostly silver in addition to other metals that add strength to pure silver. Some sterling silver is nickel-free and some is not. Nickel may be used in sterling silver, but for most people, the small percentage is not a cause for concern. Genuine sterling silver will tarnish because of its copper content, but that can be solved with regular cleaning and wear.
925 is a mark of authentication in genuine American Sterling Silver, describing the percentage of silver content. You may also see markings like STER, SS, or ST. Lower quality silver jewelry with a smaller percentage likely has higher nickel content. Genuine sterling silver contains 92.5% silver, 7.5% copper, and possibly other metals like zinc or nickel. Nickel-free sterling silver jewelry is a good hypoallergenic option.
Platinum is hypoallergenic but also the most pricey metal option for jewelry. When platinum is combined with other metals for jewelry, nickel does not make the cut. Ruthenium, iridium, and cobalt are commonly used to create a platinum alloy, and all three metals are hypoallergenic.
No, but it’s a good metal to wear if you don’t have a nickel allergy or a very mild nickel sensitivity. Stainless steel retains its shine and is resistant to corrosion and heat. Most sterling silver jewelry is 316 stainless steel, which is an alloy containing 20% chromium and 11% nickel. 316L stainless steel, also called surgical steel, is best for sensitive skin. It has low nickel content and higher chromium and molybdenum instead. It’s durable, chemical resistant, and affordable, but it is not hypoallergenic because it’s made up of nickel, even though only a small amount.
24k gold is hypoallergenic but too soft for jewelry. Other metals are added to gold to increase its durability. Both 14k and 18k gold are alloys, and 18k has a greater percentage of pure gold than 14k does. Depending on how sensitive your skin is to nickel, you may be able to wear 14k gold without experiencing a reaction since it contains only a small amount of nickel. If it does irritate your skin, try 18k, and if you still experience irritation, try either 24k or another type of hypoallergenic metal. Rose gold is one hypoallergenic gold option. It’s a combination of pure gold and copper, and neither metal is prone to cause an allergic reaction.
Vermeil is sterling silver plated in 18k gold. It’s not hypoallergenic because the gold still contains some nickel, but it is a great option for sensitive skin. The sterling silver is hypoallergenic, and 18k gold has only a slight percentage of nickel.
Yes, titanium is hypoallergenic--its alloys are aluminum and vanadium, not nickel. Titanium is also corrosion resistant and can be worn in an ocean or pool. It’s light and durable, so durable that it can be difficult to resize.
Yes, copper is generally hypoallergenic unless reinforced with nickel. Copper allergies do exist but are rare. Brass--a combination of copper and zinc--is also hypoallergenic. However, neither copper nor brass are high-quality, and their lower cost sacrifices longevity. Copper and brass both turn skin green. This characteristic is not an allergic reaction. The green is the result of oxidation, copper’s reaction to sweat or chemicals. It’s not pretty, but it is harmless to your skin.
All of our handcrafted earrings are high-quality, and many of them are hypoallergenic. We love using rhodium for jewelry because it’s safe for sensitive skin, corrosion resistant, and a stunning bright white. We’ve also included vermeil jewelry in our list since the 18k gold has very little nickel and is one of the best gold options for sensitive skin.
When it comes to metals, we work magic. We create metal jewelry inspired by the architecture and craft of different cultures observed on Q’s travels. We offer an entire collection devoted to the metal elements we admire and hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
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