What is a Metal Allergy?
What is a Metal Allergy?
Does wearing certain types of jewelry make you uncomfortable?
You’re probably wondering if you’re have a metal allergy?
Today, I will be discussing metal allergies and a few pointers people with sensitive ears should know.
In order to wear your jewelry with a peace of mind, let’s get to know the basics of metal allergies.
i. What Happens to Sensitive Ears?
For people with sensitive ears or skin, it’s common for contact dermatitis to occur in the same area the metal was touching.
Specifically, redness, bumps and blisters may appear where the metal was.
It’s usually accompanied by varying degrees of itching.
Some of the products that contain metals that you wear close to your body include:
- Belt buckles
- Jeans buttons
ii. How Do You Know You Have an Allergy?
Some women may experience a reaction to their earrings like itchiness, redness, rashes or a pinching sensation.
In more severe cases, swelling, infections, crusting and pus may also develop.
Last week, you bought a pair of matching earrings with your friend. However, only your ears seem to have developed an irritation to them.
Everyone’s reaction to the metals found in earrings vary.
Sensitive ears are usually caused by the metals found in the earring.
Most earrings are made from an alloy of materials - a mix of different metals which give the metal its distinct colour, characteristic and rigidity.
Understanding what metals cause irritation can help you select the perfect earrings for your sensitive ears.
iii. How Can I Tell If I Have an Allergy?
If you suspect a metal allergy, find out which metal you have a reaction to.
You can consult with a dermatologist and test what kind of metals your skin reacts negatively to.
Your dermatologist may recommend a metal patch test.
It’s possible to inspect about 15 kinds of different metals including gold, silver and platinum that is used in making general accessories.
- Place the testing patch, which is laced with a reactive chemical, on the arm or back.
- After 48 hours, peel off the sheet and observe the area.
- Check the area again in 72 hours to see whether there is any reaction.
- Check the area again in 1 week to see whether there is any reaction.
Pigmentation may occur when a strong reaction is generated.
The more allergic you are to the tested metal, the more of a reaction or pigment there may be.
iv. Is There Medicine to Combat My Metal Allergy?
The symptoms of metal allergies can be treated with a topical steroid to suppress the itching once it occurs.
To prevent reoccurrence, it is important not to wear a metal that gives you an allergic reaction.
A metal that you are allergic to will show the same symptoms each time you wear it.
Do be careful because symptoms may worsen.
v. Can I Develop a Metal Allergy Suddenly?
The short answer to this question is: YES.
An allergic reaction is basically a reaction from your body overreacting with the metals in your jewelry.
A reaction may not occur immediately for everyone.
This is believed to be due to the different allergen tolerance levels depending on the person.
Even if you do not exhibit an allergic reaction immediately, by constantly wearing the same metal, the allergen may accumulate in the body.
Exceeding a person’s allergen tolerance range can lead to a metal allergy developing.
Some people may develop the symptoms within a few days, and some may react after a few years.
In some cases, a person who had no prior problems with wearing a specific jewelry piece can suddenly develop an allergic symptom one day.
In this case, it’s probably because the allergen tolerance level has been reached.
What is a Pure Metal?
A pure metal, as the name suggests, is a substance that contains only one type of metal atoms.
Some examples of pure metals are pure gold, pure aluminum, etc.
For example, pure silver consists of 99.9% silver atoms with the remaining being impurities.
Different metals have different useful properties.
However, in their purest form, they’re often too soft and malleable to serve a practical function.
For a practical application, metals are usually mixed together with other metals, to give its stability and form.
These mix of metals is called a metal alloy, which we will cover in the next section.
What is a Metal Alloy?
Metals like pure gold and pure silver are too soft to make jewelry.
Hence, a metal alloy is introduced.
Fine silver and gold jewelry are often mixed with a small percentage of other metals to give the jewelry its durability.
i. 925 Sterling Silver
For silver jewelry, the most widely-used silver alloy is sterling silver.
Sterling silver, also referred to as 925 silver, is composed of 92.5% silver.
The remaining 7.5% is made up of other trace metal alloys to give the silver structure and rigidity.
ii. 14K Gold vs. 18K Gold vs. 22K Gold
Like silver, gold is extremely malleable in its purest 24K form.
Hence, 14K, 18K, and 22K designations are introduced:
- 14K: 14 parts gold and remaining 10 parts other materials
- 18K: 18 parts gold and remaining 6 parts other materials
- 22K: 22 parts gold and remaining 2 parts other materials
iii. 950PT Platinum vs. 900PT Platinum
People often think that platinum is a very hard metal, but it is actually a supple and malleable metal.
Like gold and silver jewelry, other metals need to be added into the composition.
Platinum purity of 100% is also denoted as 1000PT.
With 950PT, 95% of the alloy is pure platinum and the remaining 5% is another metal such as palladium or copper.
The reason why it is not 100% pure, but mixed with other metals is to add strength to the platinum alloy.
Hypoallergenic means “below average” or ”slightly” allergenic.
Wearing earrings labeled “hypoallergenic” means that it is less likely to cause an allergic reaction since little to no potentially-irritating alloys are used to create the earring.
Hypoallergenic materials have a low ionization tendency and is relatively unlikely to cause metal allergies.
Let’s take a look at a list of commonly-used hypoallergenic metals:
Titanium is considered a metal that is “most unlikely to cause metal allergies”.
This is because titanium has a low ionization tendency and the metal ions that cause allergies do not easily react with water.
Because of these two key features, it is considered a metal that has the best compatibility with the human body.
Besides jewelry, titanium is also used in a variety of medical applications such as artificial bones, medical instruments, medical implants, etc.
ii. Medical-Grade Stainless Steel
Stainless steel does not ionize easily because this material does not rust easily.
Stainless steel is an alloy of different materials that can cause allergies, like nickel and cobalt.
So, why is it a good hypoallergenic material that is unlikely to cause allergies?
By compounding them so that they do not rust easily, these metal ions are not reactive therefore minimizing the possibility of metal allergies.
Like titanium, medical-grade stainless steel is used as implants for the human body.
iii. Gold and Silver
As a noble metal, gold and silver are unlikely to corrode and have high resistance to oxidation.
Although allergy is unlikely to occur in gold and silver, these metals are often mixed with other metals to improve its workability and durability in everyday jewelry.
Although gold and silver do not cause allergic reactions, other metals added into the metal alloy can cause an allergic reaction.
Platinum is a material that does not react easily and therefore is an unlikely allergen.
To retain its luxurious silvery-white colour, platinum alloys are often mixed with a metal called palladium.
However, palladium is a metal that is likely to cause allergies.
If you have sensitive skin and ears, or have a palladium-allergy, be careful when selecting platinum jewelry.
Metals Most Likely to Cause Metal Allergies
Different people have different reactions to different metals.
However, to some extent, we know what metals are most likely to cause metal allergies.
Knowing these metals can prevent skin issues, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this list.
Among this list, nickel is the metal that most people have an allergic reaction to.
Since nickel is a cheap and easy-to-process material, it is included in various different things in our everyday lives such as coins.
There is a lot of nickel products in our daily life, so, there is a high possibility that you will develop an allergy to nickel once your tolerance threshold has been reached.
If you have an allergic reaction to certain metal earrings, but you’re not sure which, there’s a high chance it could be the nickel in your earrings.
Tips for People With Sensitive Ears
Here are a few DIY methods that you can apply to your existing earrings to calm those angrily irritated ears.
i. Coat Earring Posts With Clear Nail Varnish
By applying a few thin coats of clear nail polish to the earring’s needles, you can create an effective barrier between the metal and your skin.
This quick and easy 5-second method has helped many wear earrings that they otherwise cannot due to sensitivity.
Reapply a coat every once in awhile as the buffer will start to wear off with usage.
ii. Apply Vaseline onto Your Earring Posts
Similar to the nail polish trick, vaseline can also be used to coat your earring posts to act as a buffer from the metal and your skin.
Simply rub a little bit of vaseline onto the part of the earring that will be in constant contact with your ear.
Do be careful as vaseline can make your earrings slippery. So if you are wearing hook earrings, it might be a good idea to add a little plastic backing to them.
Unlike nail varnish, however, you will need to reapply your coat of vaseline every few hours.
iii. Keep Earrings Clean
This may be surprising to some, but sensitive ears are not always caused by the metal in the earring.
Irritation can also be caused by bacterial infection. Introducing contaminants to a newly-pierced ear or not cleaning your earrings enough are some ways your ears can get irritated.
Wipe your earrings with antiseptic after every wear to keep them clean.
Earring hygiene is often overlooked, but nevertheless, it is extremely important - not only does it prevent infections and other possible skin issues, it can keep your earrings looking sparkling new. Win-win!
Our affordable everyday jewelry collection includes a wide variety of hypoallergenic options which are crafted with sterling silver posts.
They make great irritation-free choices for people with sensitive ears.