The Skinny On Metal Allergies And The Art Of Choosing The Right Jewelry
Today's post is for you, silent sufferers, who look longingly at all the pretty jewelry you can't have because of a reason as mundane as an allergy to metal. You have been told to try sterling silver, but you broke out in a nasty rash. You have been told to wear only 24k gold, but that's a bit out of your budget. You have tried to stay away from metals altogether, but where do you find a decent looking necklace without a clasp of some sort? Metals seem to be everywhere and in everything!
The most common culprit in metal allergies is nickel. Part of the reason is that nickel is used in a variety of items we come in contact with on a daily basis: jewelry, cell phones, coins, zippers, eyeglass frames... you name it. You will usually notice an allergic reaction to nickel within 6 to 24 hours from coming into contact with it. Symptoms can range from itching, redness and rash to dry patches, skin swelling, and even blisters which could burst leaving crusts and scales. Not a pretty sight for sure, and not to even mention the physical discomfort! Once a nickel allergy develops, it usually lasts your whole life, and your best bet is to protect your skin from coming into contact with nickel, i.e. avoid nickel as much as possible.
So, how do you know if a piece of jewelry contains nickel? The best course of action would be to ask what metals were used to make the piece. If you hear the likes of the generic "base metal," or "German silver," "nickel silver" (doh!), "sterling silver," or "mixed metals" (without appropriate explanation of what was used in the mix), stay away! You might also want to avoid surgical steel as this metal contains about 8-12% of nickel. To be on the safe side, any alloy (such as sterling silver, stainless steel, 14k gold) should be avoided.
A good option would be to search for items that state they meet the EU Nickel Directive (US doesn't have any such nickel standards). If that is not possible, look for jewelry made of niobium, titanium, pure copper, pure brass, fine silver (99.9% pure silver with no nickel added), and of course 24k yellow gold. Stay away from white gold though, as the alloy may contain small amounts of nickel. Another nickel-free metal used in jewelry making, albeit on a pricey side, is platinum. If a good piece of jewelry that you are wearing daily - such as a wedding ring - is causing an allergic reaction, ask your jeweler to plate it in one of the less allergy-inducing metals.
Some people have such a strong allergic reaction to nickel that even the smallest amounts of this metal they come in contact with can wreak havoc on their health. Apart from staying away from obvious sources of nickel, these people should also limit their intake of foods that have a potential of containing this metal. So, nickel allergy sufferers, make sure to avoid foods such as fish and chocolate! (Oh no, what a predicament!)
Although nickel is the most common culprit in metal allergies, a smaller number of people experience allergic reactions to other metals. If you fall into this category, the most important thing is to see your doctor and ask to be sent to an allergy specialist who will determine which metals you are allergic to. Armed with this knowledge, you can now go out and choose among jewelry made of metals that do not contain the one that bothers you.
Alternatively, you might opt to stay away from metals altogether. That doesn't limit you to wearing ugly plastic jewelry though. You can still look elegant by wearing genuine pearl necklaces strung on silk. Silk is the most common thread used for higher end pearl necklaces, so you will have plenty of choices. Just make sure that the necklace does not contain a metal clasp. What you should be looking for when shopping online for your pearl necklace are the terms such as "infinity style" (meaning, no clasp), "opera length necklace" (long necklace which may or may not contain a metal clasp), "knotted" pearl necklace (hand knotting is most commonly done on silk), and "genuine freshwater" or "genuine saltwater pearls." If you do end up falling in love with a long pearl necklace that does have a metal clasp, make sure to turn it around so that pearls touch your skin, and the metal clasp rests on top of your clothing. That way, you can still wear the antique pearl necklace your grandmother gave you and avoid all the metal allergy related suffering.
Share with us any other tips you may have for dealing with metal allergies in the comments below.
the mind and hands behind hART Sense Design. I am a designer and hand-maker of one-of-a-kind and limited edition jewelry and accessories for artistic, chic cowgirls, boho babes, and lovers of all things western.
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