If you have sensitive skin, wearing metal jewelry can be a bit of a struggle. Different metals are known to cause allergic reactions on your skin, resulting in redness and painful blisters. This is why people with sensitive skin often opt for hypoallergenic metal jewelry to avoid allergies.
What are the best hypoallergenic metals for jewelry? Hypoallergenic metals are high-quality metals that have a lower nickel content, the main cause of metal allergies. Most pure metals, like sterling silver, gold, stainless steel, and titanium, are considered hypoallergenic.
If you want to know more about which metals are considered hypoallergenic, this article will tell you all about them, so you can choose a piece of jewelry that is not just beautiful but also kind to your skin.
What Does ‘Hypoallergenic’ Mean?
‘Hypoallergenic’ is a generic term that tells you that the metal will likely not cause you to have an allergic reaction.
There are actually no specific criteria to determine what makes a metal hypoallergenic, but there are some good indicators to tell whether you can safely wear a piece of metal jewelry.
Although there are various metal allergies, nickel is the most common one, causing a skin reaction in about 15% of the population.
Nickel is commonly used in jewelry; it can also be found in various objects such as doorknobs, buttons, and belts. If you have a nickel allergy, then prolonged exposure to the metal could make it worse.
Those with nickel allergies will see that jewelry that contains nickel can cause your skin to become tender and red. The skin around your earlobes is thin and sensitive, which is why it is a common area to experience contact dermatitis if you have a nickel allergy.
Other metals such as copper and cobalt are also known to cause reactions in people. However, these reactions are very rare. If you want to know if you have a specific metal allergy, you can get a test done at the doctor’s to find out.
Many of the metals used in jewelry are alloyed, which means a strong metal is added to it to strengthen the metal. Unfortunately, nickel is a common component used to reinforce metals such as gold and silver.
If the nickel content is too high, you may see an allergic reaction when your skin touches the metal. Hypoallergenic metal usually means that the metal doesn’t have any nickel content or has a very low percentage of nickel that won’t cause an allergic reaction.
If you have a specific metal allergy, you can also see if a piece of jewelry you are buying contains the metal that you are allergic to. In this article, when describing a pair of jewelry as hypoallergenic, we usually refer to it as low or no nickel.
This means that most pure metals like 925 sterling silver, gold, platinum, and titanium are hypoallergenic. However, not just the expensive metals are hypoallergenic. You’ll find that plenty of affordable metals, like stainless steel, can also be hypoallergenic as well.
The Best Hypoallergenic Metals For Jewelry
We’ve mentioned some great candidates that are known for their hypoallergenic qualities. In this section, let’s take a look at each of them to find the most suitable option for you.
Although 24K gold is the purest form of gold, it is not the most suitable for making jewelry because it can be too soft. Instead, gold is usually alloyed, which means that it is mixed with copper, palladium, or nickel to increase its strength, which makes it suitable for jewelry.
Rose gold is usually gold alloyed with copper, while the white color is produced when you alloy gold with palladium.
You can find gold in 14K, which means that 14 parts are gold, and ten parts are another metal, which can produce a different color of gold, depending on the metal.
If you are highly sensitive to metals, you can find 18K gold, which is 18 parts gold and six parts other metal. A higher gold content means that you can expect to use this piece of jewelry without seeing any reactions.
Depending on how sensitive you are to nickel, you can test whether 14K gold or 18K gold is the most suitable option. If you want to be very sure, you can check the metal content of the gold to make sure that it was not alloyed with nickel.
Gold jewelry is highly versatile because there are so many options for colors and designs. However, as we’ve mentioned, pure gold is very soft and can easily be scratched, and the purer the gold (like 18K or 24K gold), the more easily scratched they are.
If possible, you should opt for 14K gold or 18K gold that is alloyed with another scratch-resistant metal to avoid your gold jewelry looking scruffed up after just a few wears. If possible, frequently polishing your gold jewelry is best to keep them looking sharp.
2. Sterling Silver
Sterling silver is often considered a hypoallergenic choice for people with a nickel allergy. Like gold, pure silver is quite soft and is usually not a very durable option for jewelry. As a result, it is usually alloyed with copper, zinc, platinum, silicon, germanium, and, yes, nickel too.
If you know for certain that you are allergic to a metal such as nickel, you can opt for a sterling silver that is alloyed with another metal, such as platinum. The percentage of metal does not matter in this case because you will be avoiding the metal you are allergic to altogether.
However, if you are not sure, you can opt for 925 sterling silver, which means that 92.5% of the content is pure silver, and the rest is another metal. Sterling silver is usually coated with Rhodium to enhance its shine.
Because the other metal content in 925 sterling silver is very low (only 7.5%), sterling silver is often considered hypoallergenic, even if nickel is used.
However, if you are super sensitive to nickel, you can also find 925 sterling silver with other metal alloys as well. Pure silver is soft and will scratch and bend easily, so 925 sterling silver may not be suitable for daily wear – a trip to the gym can easily scratch a silver ring.
Silver alloyed with another durable metal, such as copper or platinum, can enhance the silver’s durability. If you’re looking for a hypoallergenic jewelry kit to make your own jewelry or replace metal pieces on your favorite accessories, take a look at this one on Amazon.
3. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a highly affordable and popular metal for jewelry because it is formulated to become scratch-resistant, rust-resistant, and corrosion-resistant. These characteristics, coupled with its highly polished and shiny appearance, make stainless steel a great choice for jewelry.
Some stainless steel is often labeled as being hypoallergenic; it is important to note that different types of stainless steel are created differently.
The ‘stainless’ effect is created by the alloying element chromium, while nickel is often added to stainless steel to strengthen it, making it non-hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, some types of stainless steel are too high in nickel for people with a nickel allergy to wear consistently.
If you want a truly hypoallergenic stainless steel, you should look for those that are XC45 steel, 430 stainless steel, or 316L stainless steel.
These indicators tell you that these types of stainless steel contain less than 1% nickel, which makes them safe to use even if you have a nickel allergy.
You should avoid stainless steel labeled 304 stainless steel or 316 stainless steel because these types usually contain more than 10% of nickel, which can cause an allergic reaction. Here’s a great stainless steel jewelry kit you may be interested on checking out on Amazon.
Platinum is a rare metal and is often more expensive than gold. Because it is a pure metal (in the sense that it is usually alloyed with 95% pure platinum), it is still a great choice for people with a nickel allergy, especially if you are looking for a piece of fine jewelry.
When platinum is alloyed with other metals, nickel is usually not one of the common options. Instead, it is usually alloyed with iridium, cobalt, and ruthenium, all of which are safe for highly sensitive skin.
Although platinum is an excellent hypoallergenic choice for people with sensitive skin, it is also known to be very dense and heavy, which means that it can be uncomfortable to wear for a long period of time.
However, for special-occasion fine jewelry, this rare metal is a lovely option. Because it is a highly durable metal, it will preserve its looks for a long time, which is quite worthy of the higher price point.
Titanium is a great hypoallergenic option because it is often alloyed with aluminum and vanadium, which are both hypoallergenic. Although nickel can be found in titanium, the metals’ structure forms a strong bond that prevents it from triggering an allergic reaction.
Titanium is a rare metal that can be expensive to purchase. Because this metal is so dense and durable, jewelry made from titanium can be hard to repair or resize.
However, there are many benefits to using this metal for your jewelry. Titanium is not only hypoallergenic; it’s also scratch-resistant and corrosion-resistant, which means it can retain its appearance even after long wear.
In 1801, English scientist Charles Hatchett discovered niobium, which is a white and ductile metal covered by a slightly colored oxide layer. This oxide layer can have a lot of beautiful colors, but it also acts as a protective layer to prevent scratches and corrosion.
Niobium is a newer option for jewelry making, thanks to its hypoallergenic properties. Unlike other metals, niobium does not contain additives, making it great for those with sensitive skin.
Since niobium is a rare metal similar to platinum or titanium, you’ll find that it can be expensive. However, there are quite a few color options for this metal, so it can be a versatile addition to any design.
Rhodium is a beautiful, shiny metal that is hypoallergenic. It is also highly durable and scratch-resistant.
Thanks to its characteristics, rhodium is usually employed as the plating material for a lot of metal jewelry. You can find Rhodium-plated sterling silver, for example, which is very durable and hypoallergenic.
Keep in mind that the plating is not a permanent layer. It can still wear out after some use, so if the metal beneath has some nickel content, you will see an allergic reaction after the plating layer wears out. It’s best to use nickel-free metal jewelry, even if they are rhodium-plated.
Vermeil is not a new metal; it is sterling silver with an 18K gold plating.
As you can see above, both sterling silver and 18k gold can be hypoallergenic as long as they are not alloyed with nickel or have very low nickel content. So, vermeil is likely to be hypoallergenic as long as the nickel content is low.
Both sterling silver and 18k gold have their weaknesses when it comes to durability unless they are alloyed with another durable metal like platinum or copper.
If durability is what you need, you can take a look at the metal content to see if the alloy metal allows vermeil to be scratch and corrosion-resistant.
Argentium is a type of silver that uses germanium as a hardener. Germanium is not only very hard and durable, but it also has a lustrous grayish-white color that makes Argentium much brighter than traditional silver.
Because there’s no nickel content, Argentium is considered hypoallergenic.
Thanks to its production process, Argentium sterling silver is 100% recycled since it doesn’t require virgin silver ore. Those who are seeking an eco-friendly option can opt for Argentium.
10. Cobalt Chrome
Cobalt is a natural metal that is a great alloy material because it is hypoallergenic and has a beautifully lustrous appearance.
Cobalt is usually combined with chromium to enhance the metal’s strength and appearance, creating a silvery-white shiny metal that is very durable and scratch-resistant. It also doesn’t oxidize, so your jewelry can maintain its appearance for years and years.
Cobalt chrome is commonly used for making wedding bands because it is easy to resize and is very affordable compared to other hypoallergenic metals.
However, you should know that it is possible to have a cobalt allergy, although it is rarer than a nickel allergy. If you have a cobalt allergy, this is not a great option for you.
11. Tungsten Carbide
Another hypoallergenic metal used in the making of jewelry is tungsten carbide. It’s a combination of carbon and tungsten that have been bonded together using very high heat.
This combination creates a stronger-than-diamond, scratch-resistant metal that works well for jewelry. In addition, this metal has a lovely lustrous appearance that can be quite attractive on a piece of jewelry.
However, depending on the production process, tungsten carbide may contain some traces of nickel and lead, although the amount is usually not harmful and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
If You Have An Allergic Reaction To Metal Jewelry
Although hypoallergenic metals aren’t necessarily expensive, you will find that a lot of cheap jewelry that you find in costume shops contains a high percentage of nickel. You should avoid getting your jewelry from these shops, if possible.
If you know the specific type of metal that you are allergic to, such as nickel and cobalt, it would be helpful to refer to the metal content of the jewelry you are buying to see if it is suitable for you. You can find out your specific allergies by getting a test done at the doctor’s office.
If you have contact dermatitis from a piece of jewelry, it’s recommended that you visit the dermatologist, especially if the spot is painful or blistering, so that the issue can be treated properly.
Check out the video below from The Piercing Outlet on YouTube for more solutions to metal allergies.
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