Despite their small size and the fact that they are worn externally, earrings can still cause major allergic reactions in people with allergies to certain metals. Special earrings that avoid using nickel are recommended for anyone who has a sensitivity to metals. Hypoallergenic earrings are not only safer, they also tend to be a higher quality piece of jewelry due to the purity of their precious metals.

Jewelry Allergies

Allergies to jewelry are actually fairly common, affecting as many as a third of the American jewelry wearing population. Someone with a jewelry allergy experiences extreme itchiness at the site of the jewelry, and serious allergies can lead to rashes or even blistering. An allergy to jewelry is most common an allergy to nickel, a common metal that is usually mixed with precious metals in jewelry to create a corrosion resistant alloy. Aside from jewelry, nickel is also found in various clothing items and in all kinds of commercial and industrial tools and products.

What Causes a Nickel Allergy?

Nickel allergies tend to occur spontaneously, and it is almost impossible to predict whether or not an individual will develop one later in life. Usually, it takes a relatively long exposure to nickel in order to trigger a reaction, such as wearing a pair of nickel alloy earrings for a day. While the Center for Disease Control has noticed an uptick in the number of nickel allergies each year, this is likely due to the increase in the number of people getting body piercings, and thus the increased number of people with pre-existing nickel allergies that are being exposed to long-term nickel contact.

Hypoallergenic Earrings

There are very few treatments that can be used to build up a resistance to nickel allergies, so the most effective method of dealing with symptoms is an avoidance of all contact with nickel. When experiencing the symptoms of an allergic reaction at the site of jewelry (blisters, itching, or redness) an individual should immediately remove the jewelry and should take it to a dermatologist. The dermatologist will do a series of tests to determine whether or not the afflicted person is allergic to nickel, and they will make the diagnosis after a 48 hour waiting period.

A nickel allergy diagnosis does not mean the end of all jewelry wearing, it just means that one must be slightly more careful when selecting pieces of jewelry to wear. Hypoallergenic jewelry does not contain nickel, it is usually either pure gold or silver. Hypoallergenic jewelry can be more expensive and harder to maintain, but it is a necessary trade off to make for continued skin health. Most jewelry that is labeled as hypoallergenic is either titanium, 24K gold, or platinum. Jewelry that is labeled as nickel-free can actually contain small amounts of nickel as part of another metal alloy, so it is recommended that people with metal sensitivities stick with jewelry that is specifically labeled as hypoallergenic, at least until the FDA provides guidance as to the meaning of nickel-free in the jewelry industry.

Alternatively; people with minor nickel allergies can coat the inside of their earrings and rings with clear nail polish in order to prevent direct skin contact. They can also plate more expensive jewelry with rhodium or use plastic covers to keep old jewelry wearable after a positive diagnosis.