How to Buy the Right Jewelry When You Have a Metal Allergy

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How to Buy the Right Jewelry When You Have a Metal Allergy

For those who have metal allergies, finding jewelry that does not irritate the skin can be a challenge. To decrease costs of production, many jewelry manufacturers add metal alloys that cause reactions in sensitive skin. Knowing which materials to avoid and which metals are hypoallergenic can help allergy sufferers choose attractive jewelry and accessories that will not cause problems.

What Are Metal Allergies?

People who are allergic to certain metals experience contact dermatitis when their skin is exposed to those materials. The metal in jewelry is a big contributor to these conditions because it rests close to the body for prolonged periods. Some individuals have metal allergies from childhood, and others develop allergic reactions later in life. Piercings are often triggers that cause allergies due to the metal particles being exposed to open wounds. Metal allergies do not go away, and repeated exposure can worsen the condition.

Common Jewelry Metal Allergies

Nickel is the primary metal that people are allergic to. Jewelry pieces containing this metal are high irritants because nickel dissolves in water and forms salts. Through sweating or washing, the salts get into the skin and cause itchy, painful reactions. Perfumes, soaps, and lotions on the skin can have the same results if there is enough moisture. Copper and cobalt are also responsible for causing allergic reactions in some individuals.

Jewelry Metal Alloys

Some people think that they are allergic to gold and silver, but these metals only cause reactions in extremely rare circumstances. The more likely culprits in these situations are the alloys that are combined with the gold or silver to make the material harder and less expensive. Low-karat gold and silver are often mixed with nickel and copper, which are the sources for many allergic reactions. Copper is also used to make brass jewelry, which some people believe they are allergic to.

Symptoms of Metal Allergies

Contact dermatitis is the main symptom of metal allergies. Reactions typically occur within 24 hours of exposure and disappear if the cause is removed and avoided. Symptoms appear around the area of skin that was in contact with the jewelry and may spread to other parts of the body. Allergic reactions range from mild to severe and can increase vulnerabilities to infections. The skin becomes red, swollen, and itchy in mild conditions. In more severe cases, the skin becomes dry and cracked, and blisters may form.

Why Does Some Jewelry Cause Allergic Reactions?

There are trace amounts of nickel and other alloys in many pieces of jewelry, especially inexpensive types. Plated jewelry usually contains nickel underneath the top coating. Some people are surprised to find that leather jewelry can cause contact dermatitis. The process of tanning leather requires metal, and traces are often left behind. These small amounts of metal have been known to cause allergic reactions when worn as jewelry. Sometimes, it is difficult to determine the exact contents of jewelry, but consumers can perform tests at home before wearing new accessories. Using metal-testing kits, drop the solution onto a cotton ball, and rub it on the jewelry. If a particular type of metal is present, a chemical reaction will occur and change the color of the solution. These tests are completely safe for the jewelry and can help individuals determine whether or not an accessory is safe to wear.

Hypoallergenic Jewelry Materials

Thanks to modern technology and the creativity of designers, there are numerous hypoallergenic materials that still produce beautiful jewelry. Some materials offer the shiny look of precious metals while others feature bright colors and offer unique designs and attributes.

Hypoallergenic Fine Jewelry

Fine jewelry is an ideal gift idea and fitting for formal occasions as well as personal collections. The following chart highlights some hypoallergenic materials that create elegant pieces and pair nicely with diamonds and gemstones.

14-Karat Gold

When purchasing gold jewelry, look for pieces that are higher than 14 karats. Anything lower than that usually contains nickel and other alloys that are allergens. Individuals should avoid colored gold, such as rose gold, because these metals often contain copper.


When looking for white-gold jewelry, look for palladium pieces. This silvery-white metal looks like platinum but produces less expensive jewelry. Palladium alloys replace rhodium and nickel in white gold so that the accessory is less likely to cause contact dermatitis.


Platinum jewelry is a beautiful silvery-white color that shines, and this metal is naturally hypoallergenic. This type of jewelry is usually comprised of less than 10 percent alloys.

Argentium Sterling Silver

Sterling silver jewelry contains 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent alloy. Argentium is a hypoallergenic substitute to copper and still maintains the beautiful appearance of sterling silver. This material has the added benefit of tarnish resistance.

Hypoallergenic Men's Jewelry

While metal allergies are rarer in men, 6 percent of men suffer from contact dermatitis and need hypoallergenic alternatives. In addition to the materials listed above, men can choose from the metals in the following table.


Titanium is a highly durable metal that is also hypoallergenic. Many men's rings incorporate this metal for its desirable properties. Titanium jewelry resists corrosion even with exposure to sweat and chlorinated pool water. Some gold jewelry uses titanium alloys instead of nickel or other metals.


High-tech ceramic is a synthetic material primarily used in watches and rings. Since there is no metal, this material is hypoallergenic yet highly durable. Some men prefer ceramic jewelry over metal for its lightweight feel and solid colors that do not chip or fade over time.


Tungsten is a hypoallergenic metal often used as an alloy for gold jewelry. With a brushed finish, tungsten jewelry is highly resistant to scratches.

Hypoallergenic Earrings

Some people who do not have metal allergies find it necessary to purchase hypoallergenic earrings for sensitive ears. Piercings are more susceptible to the chemical reactions in certain types of metal, so it is important to choose earrings carefully. Expert jewelers recommend surgical-grade stainless steel for the earring wires, posts, and findings. When shopping for earrings, look for the words "surgical" or "nickel-free" because regular steel contains nickel alloys that can cause skin reactions.

Hypoallergenic Fashion Jewelry

Consumers sometimes believe that the cheap materials in fashion jewelry are the causes of their allergies, but there are several trendy designs and styles that are completely hypoallergenic. Plastic and rubber bracelets make cute accessories for casual wear, and pleather necklace chains do not cause the same allergic reactions as natural leather. Niobium is a hypoallergenic metal that comes in a variety of vibrant colors after undergoing electrical processes. Artists and designers create beautiful swirled patterns with this metal for fashion jewelry.

Hypoallergenic Handmade Jewelry

Crafters who make jewelry sometimes find it difficult to find materials for their allergy-prone customers. Earring hooks and metal beads often contain large amounts of nickel and copper, but there are several substitutes that can be used to make beautiful jewelry. Look for loose beads that are made of plastic, glass, clay, or crystal. Niobium or surgical steel earring hooks are ideal for allergy sufferers. The art of macramé produces attractive accessories, and some consumers like knitted and crocheted jewelry. For mild allergies, lacquer coatings sometimes prevent the skin from contacting the metal components. Special lacquers are simple to apply to jewelry and also add an attractive shine to the piece.

Finding Hypoallergenic Jewelry on eBay

Shoppers can find an assortment of jewelry containing hypoallergenic metals and materials on eBay. From the home page, view all categories to select Fashion. Click on the link for Jewelry & Watches, and choose from several subcategories on the left side of the page. Within any category, scroll down to the option for either Metal or Material. Click on the See All link to open a small window of options. Check the boxes next to the desired hypoallergenic materials, and click the Go button to see the refined results.


Metal allergies do not have to keep people from wearing beautiful and fashionable jewelry. There are a number of hypoallergenic alternatives that look great and offer other benefits to the wearer. Always check the materials of the jewelry before making new purchases, and use metal-testing kits when in doubt. Be sure to keep all jewelry clean to avoid the risk of infections when allergic reactions occur. Hypoallergenic jewelry also makes an ideal gift when it is unknown if the recipient has allergies to metal. Experiment with different hypoallergenic metals to find styles that meet individual preferences.

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