According to the National Library of Medicine, up to 17% of women and 3% of men have allergic reactions to metal. The sad part is earrings are a common cause of these!
We understand that jewelry is necessary as a fashion statement. However, if it makes you itch, you need to pick a hypoallergenic metal more suitable for your skin.
Which alloys make your earlobes swell? Are sterling silver earrings hypoallergenic?
Today, we discuss everything you need to know about hypoallergenic earrings and metal allergies!
Our earlobes are full of nerve endings. Plenty of blood travels there since there’s an absence of cartilage. The fleshy part of our ear is sensitive because of this!
It’s common for earlobes to get inflamed because of certain types of metals.
Nickel is the main offender that causes allergic reactions to earrings and skin irritation. Nickel allergy is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis. Cobalt and chromium also have adverse effects on some people. Copper allergy is only infrequently reported but is possible. You should avoid them to avoid the risk of an allergic reaction.
How to Tell Identify a Nickel Allergy
The symptoms of nickel allergies often appear 12 to 24 hours after coming into contact with the metal.
Typical symptoms are redness, rash, itching, and swelling. In some cases, dry skin and blisters may appear.
It’s vital to avoid earrings with nickel because it could make your skin leathery and dark. The rashes may spread and get infected!
Doctors can treat your allergy by giving you antihistamines or cortisone cream. However, it’s still best to avoid jewelry with nickel altogether.
What is hypoallergenic jewelry? Is there such a thing? Well, yes!
Being hypoallergenic means the product contains fewer allergens.
Hypoallergenic jewelry is any product that doesn't contain nickel, cobalt, or chromium. These include pure sterling silver, surgical stainless steel, platinum, titanium, niobium, and 24-carat gold.
Hypoallergenic Jewelry Issues
The problem with the hypoallergenic label is there are no strict rules set by the FDA. It's a common term that companies can use in any way they wish.
A 2018 study showed that 93% of products labeled as hypoallergenic still contained at least one allergen.
It’s also common in the jewelry market to mix metals to make a product cheaper! They can use nickel as a base and then plate it with gold or silver. These types of jewelry still cause reactions.
The sad part is it’s hard to tell if what you’re buying is pure sterling silver or pure metals. That’s why getting your earrings from a reputable source is necessary! A good way to find them is to read all product descriptions. Reviews can help you to see if the customers are happy and confirm that the shop uses hypoallergenic material and jewelry components.
Sterling Silver as Hypoallergenic Earrings
According to the USGS, sterling silver is a metal alloy that contains at least 92.5% silver. Copper and other alloys make up the remaining 7.5%.
In general, sterling silver is hypoallergenic because it uses copper as the secondary metal. Although, some vendors will use platinum, zinc, germanium, and yes, even traces of nickel!
Even though the nickel content of these earrings is less than the usual amount, people with sensitive skin may still react to it.
In short, most sterling silver earrings are hypoallergenic, but a few may still cause allergies.
How to Tell if Your Earrings Are True Sterling Silver
The market is rampant with fake jewelry. How do you avoid an allergic reaction if you can’t tell if your earrings are genuine sterling silver?
There are several ways to identify real sterling silver. Here are some tests you can do!
1. Check for Authentication Hallmarks
Legitimate sterling silver will have a 925 stamp to show its purity. This means it contains 92.5% pure silver.
Remember, anything below this number isn’t sterling silver!
2. Polish the Silver
Sterling silver tarnishes because of its copper content. Your piece of jewelry may be dull if you wear them as you shower. Sweat and chemicals, like your perfume, may also affect it.
The good news is if you rub sterling silver with a clean cloth, its shine will return. You can’t do this with fake silver.
3. Use a Magnet
Silver, like most precious metals, is non-magnetic.
If you place your earrings on a strong magnet and it doesn’t stick, chances are, it’s real sterling silver.
Of course, it could also mean that your earrings may have a core that’s not metallic. In this case, you should use other testing methods as well.
4. Check for Flakes
This is a test you can do to check if your jewelry is plated.
Flakes coming off the metal when you scratch the surface indicate it’s not pure sterling silver! When this happens, there’s a different alloy underneath the silver layer.
The test will damage your jewelry, so you may want to think twice before doing it.
5. Ask Your Supplier
Finally, only your vendor can tell you which metals they used to make your earrings. It’s best if you have a knowledgeable supplier you can trust!
A Better Alternative to Sterling Silver
Because silver is a soft metal, jewelers combine it with copper or other alloys to make it sturdy.
Pure gold jewelry is hypoallergenic, but it's also malleable like silver. It gets mixed with other minerals to make it stronger as well!
As you know, this secondary metal is the root cause of your allergy. It’s best to avoid jewelry made from silver or gold if you don’t have a trusted source.
Instead, you may want to buy earrings made from a precious material like titanium!
The Advantages of Titanium Earrings
There are important reasons why the Association of Professional Piercers recommends titanium for piercings.
According to their website, metals for earrings should be inert, meaning it’s chemically inactive. To add, it shouldn't irritate or infect the wearer.
Titanium does these, while also being lightweight!
Here are more advantages to titanium as a good choice for jewelry.
1. It Comes in Many Colors
Manufacturers can anodize titanium, meaning they can turn it into different colors.
They use a protective oxide layer to coat the metal, and they can turn blue, pink, purple, silver, or gold!
This process doesn’t affect the jewelry’s safety on our skin.
2. It’s a Tough Material
Titanium has a high strength-to-density ratio, meaning it's less dense than stainless steel. Yet, it's just as durable.
The metal doesn’t bend or splinter. If you didn’t know, splinters can injure and infect our earlobes. This makes titanium safer as a material for earrings.
Fun fact, titanium is so sturdy that it’s a top choice as the metal for making spaceships!
3. Titanium is Biocompatible
Being biocompatible means your body doesn’t see it as a foreign material. You won’t have allergic reactions to this metal.
Fun fact, titanium is commonly used as a surgical implant! It's an excellent choice to avoid any skin reaction.
4. It’s a Precious Metal
We love jewelry because they’re made from metals that have great value.
Titanium makes up only 0.44% of the Earth’s crust. Extracting pure titanium is also difficult because of its reactivity.
These factors make titanium a valuable material for making earrings.
5. It will not tarnish
Titanium doesn’t discolor or tarnish even when worn by people with high acid levels in their skin. It is extremely corrosion resistant, making maintenance of titanium jewelry almost non-existent.
Titanium is also waterproof. Jewellery made of titanium can therefore be worn in the shower without hesitation.
Are sterling silver earrings hypoallergenic? The short answer is not all are.
While most sterling silver doesn’t cause allergies, an encounter with a substandard supplier can have drastic effects.
To prevent this, you can do several tests to identify if what you have is real sterling silver.
Moreover, you can opt for alternatives sturdy enough that they won’t contain harmful metals. Titanium is a great option to substitute sterling silver because of this!