I can only wear gold jewelry, everything else breaks me out.” How many times did I hear that exact phrase from my mother when I was a child? Every time I would give her jewelry that was her response.
Why does everything but gold break my mother out? Is that statement even true? When I started designing jewelry over ten years ago I decided to find out. I wanted to design jewelry for my mom that she could wear without fear of a breakout. Now I am going to let you in on what I have discovered.
My mother, like many people, develops contact dermatitis when her skin comes in contact with some types of jewelry. Her dermatitis is a result of an allergic reaction to the nickel found in many types of jewelry. Nickel allergies are very common, in fact one out of every seven people are likely to suffer from a nickel allergy. More often, women tend to suffer from nickel allergies than men. Allergy treatment can help with the symptoms of a nickel allergy. Unfortunately once the allergy has developed, a person will remain sensitive to nickel for the rest of their life.
Nickel is found in many types of costume jewelry, especially those that are mass-produced. It may also be found in other everyday items like coins, zippers, eyeglass frames, and cellphones.
So why is my mom allergic to nickel, you may ask. For some reason, which science still does not understand, her body has mistaken nickel (or similar metals like cobalt) as a threat. In response to that threat, her body causes an immune response (aka allergic reaction) to get rid of the threat. This reaction causes her to breakout in an itchy rash. But others could have a more severe reaction to nickel.
Now that I knew what was causing my mother’s breakout, I set out to find out which types of jewelry did not contain nickel.
First I looked at gold jewelry. Generally speaking, yellow gold (above 14 karat) will not cause an allergic reaction. However white gold may. White gold alloys contain nickel and other “white” metals to produce its silver coloring. One out of every nine people will react to the nickel in white gold.
Another form of gold jewelry is gold filled or “GF” jewelry. Gold filled jewelry metal is created when a base metal is coated with a layer of gold. Gold filled differs from gold-plated by the amount of gold applied. The layer used in gold filled jewelry is typically 50 to 100 time thicker that the layer used to coat gold-plated products.
Next I looked at silver jewelry. For those who are nickel sensitive, fine silver and sterling silver are great choices for “white” metals.
Fine silver is by definition 99.9% pure silver. Jewelry is generally not made of fine silver because the metal is extremely soft and does not withstand normal wear and tear well.
Most silver jewelry is made using sterling silver. Sterling silver…