You might not realize it until your earlobes turn red and start to itch, but you may have an earring allergy. No one likes to put on a pair of pretty earrings only to discover that they cause itching and irritation, so many people rely on hypoallergenic earrings, and demand for the products is fierce.
The term “hypoallergenic” is heard often, and refers to something that is free from allergy-producing materials. For most people who have allergies to regular jewelry, that means nickel, which is a leading cause of skin irritation, and therefore, it is often assumed that hypoallergenic jewelry made from stainless steel contains no nickel.
The two questions that arise are, “Is this assumption true?” and “What affect will this jewelry have on someone who is allergic?”
Metals and Allergies
Nickel is one of the metals most widely used in alloys for jewelry making, and it is prized for its sturdiness and cost-effectiveness. However, it is also the ingredient in jewelry that most commonly leads to allergy symptoms, particularly when oxidation occurs.
Metals used often in hypoallergenic jewelry include gold, platinum, copper, titanium and stainless steel. Precious metals carry the advantages of high value, beauty and, in many cases, hypoallergenic qualities, but they also command a hefty price tag.
When discussing hypoallergenic jewelry made of precious metals, it should be emphasized that these are made of the solid metal, and not gold or platinum plated items, which can have a substantial amount of nickel as the base metal.
What about Stainless Steel?
Much of the affordably-priced hypoallergenic earrings are made of stainless steel. It could be assumed that because these earrings are said to be hypoallergenic, that they are free of nickel. There is some justice in this assumption, but the fact is that most stainless steel jewelry contains at least small amounts of nickel, around 8 to 12%.
However, the nickel that exists in jewelry that merits the description as hypoallergenic is so tightly bound on a molecular level that it doesn’t behave the way regular nickel does. In a sense, it is not “available,” is not sensed by the skin, and does not cause irritation.
So the answer to the above questions is, yes, contrary to popular belief, hypoallergenic stainless steel jewelry does contain some nickel, but no, it might not matter in the sense that it will not cause an allergic reaction, because your skin doesn’t feel it.
One way to prove that the small amount of nickel in hypoallergenic jewelry is not “available” to cause allergic reactions is if the jewelry tests negative for nickel. Many high-quality hypoallergenic earrings made of stainless steel do test negative for nickel. Therefore, you can still feel confident that the hypoallergenic earrings you own will not irritate your skin, because if the nickel they contain is in a form that is “locked” and can’t cause irritation to your skin, you won’t feel the difference.