What to do About Metal Allergies

In my previous post, I mentioned a client who informed me of her metal allergy and said she doesn’t wear plated metal jewelry because of it. I’m not sure if ladies are more willing to share about their metal allergies now than when I started this business or if the problem is getting worse, but I think more people at my first show this year mentioned they have metal allergies than in my past four years of business combined.

The most common metal allergy is a reaction (usually redness or a rash) to nickel. People with minor nickel allergies can sometimes wear surgical steel (stainless steel) jewelry for a few hours. However, other people are so sensitive to nickel that they cannot wear watches nor have metal buttons on their clothing touching their skin. If you fall into this category, sterling silver, karat gold, niobium, nickel-free, and plastic findings should serve you well.

There is a catch to this…sterling silver and karat gold are not pure silver and pure gold (even though they are commonly thought to be pure). Pure gold and pure silver are generally too soft for jewelry. The exception is 24 karat gold. This is pure gold, but it is not often used because it is softer (and expensive). In order to make precious metals more durable, other metals (called “base metals”) are added such as copper, nickel, zinc, tin, palladium and/or manganese.

Keep in mind, the term “nickel free” is not a true term. It is allowed to be placed on items which contain a very small amount of nickel. There is not a standard for this in the U.S. yet. Hypoallergenic is also simply a marketing term with no legal definition. If you are looking for “hypoallergenic” jewelry, check out sterling silver, karat gold, and items marked “nickel-free.”

It seems most people with metal allergies respond primarily to the metal in earrings, but I have had some clients mention they have trouble with the metals in any jewelry as long as it is touching their skin. Your best bet for this is trial and error or avoidance. Wearing turtlenecks with longer necklaces would definitely be one way to get around this. Perhaps a silk scarf with a necklace over it?

Because there are different levels of sensitivity when it comes to metal allergies, I cannot honestly tell you what will or won’t work for you. But depending on your sensitivity, I can provide direction. Please note, all of my sterling silver jewelry is marked as such when it is on display. If it is not marked “sterling silver,” it is something else. Please don’t hesitate to ask about anything you see on display.

If you have any questions on this, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!

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