After a customer of mine recently disclosed her newfound allergy to any jewelry with the metal nickel in it, I set off to do some research to find out what she could wear. She really did not want to give up wearing jewelry, but the nickel allergy would cause her to skin to break out in an ugly rash.
What I found out was that once you develop an allergy to nickel, your skin will always be sensitive to it and you will develop inflamed, itchy, bumpy or blistered skin at the point of contact. There is no cure for nickel allergy. The best approach to dealing with a nickel allergy is to simply avoid contact with nickel.
Silver and gold plated fashion jewelry may be the most likely type of jewelry to cause an allergic reaction. Often, plated metal jewelry is made of a brass base which does not contain nickel. The problem is that a nickel flash is used in the plating process to provide a surface for the silver/gold plating to adhere to. Unless manufacturers use a cobalt flash (nickel free) the plating can wear and nickel ions can be released.
The incidence of nickel allergies is on the rise, partly due to the increase of body jewelry in piercings. Nickel is often a metal used in piercing jewelry, which then comes into contact with the broken skin making it easier for the body to absorb the metal. The Nickel Directive, which was enacted in Europe, prohibits the use of nickel in items that are intended to come in contact with broken skin.
But what if the jewelry you have been wearing for years causes a rash all of a sudden? An explanation for a sudden onset of a nickel allergy could be that new medicines or hormone changes can alter your body’s chemistry, which would change the chemistry of your skin oils or perspiration. When that comes in contact with the nickel ions, it can cause a new sensitivity to the metal.
If you suffer from nickel allergies, be very selective about the metals used in the jewelry that you choose to wear and keep these facts in mind:
-Solid yellow gold (12 carat or more) should be safe. Lower carat gold and white gold both contain nickel, so it is best to avoid them.
-Sterling Silver contains at least 92.5% silver. The most common sterling alloy is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, though it is possible for the silver to be alloyed with another metal. Tarnish resistant Argentium silver is 1.2% germanium, 6.3% copper and 92.5% silver. Fine silver, sometimes stamped .999, is 99.9% pure silver.
-Platinum is a physiologically inert metal and thus hypoallergenic. Common platinum alloys are palladium, iridium and ruthenium with either copper or cobalt.
-Stainless steel contains nickel, though it is so tightly bound that it cannot leach out.
-Base metals are alloys which contain more than one metal. Brass for instance, contains up to 35% zinc, the rest is copper. While copper can cause allergies, this is rare. Bronze is an alloy of different metals but the most common blend is 90% copper and 10% tin.
- Niobium is another inert metal, belonging to the precious metals family. Studies have shown that several people who are sensitive to other metals can comfortably tolerate niobium.
If you really can’t stand the thought of parting with a sentimental favorite piece that causes you to break out in a rash, you can try creating a buffer between the metal and your skin by painting the piece with clear nail polish. You will need to replace the nail polish often.
A longer lasting solution is to have your piece of jewelry plated by a reputable jeweler with rhodium, a hard and durable white metal. Make sure to explain the reason for the plating so that no nickel is used in the process. As the plating wears off, you will have to have it replaced, but it will last much longer than the nail polish.
If you do develop an allergy to nickel, you may even need to be cautious about what gems you wear. The green gemstone Chrysoprase may owe its color in part to the presence of nickel. It occurs as more or less complex inorganic compounds or impurities in the gemstone. I’m not sure if this gemstone would cause an allergic reaction, so it is probably safest to avoid it.
I hope this information is of help to those of you with allergies. I was able to find this information during my research, but I am not an expert on the subject. If your doctor advises you otherwise…please follow your doctor’s advice.