How to Avoid Metal Allergies

If you’ve ever experienced itchy, read or swollen ears after putting in a pair of earrings, then you might have some sort of metal allergy. A metal allergy can be triggered in any place in which the metal comes into contact with the skin. For jewelry wearers, this could mean the wrists, fingers, and/or neck or ears.

There are a few common metal allergies out there, most of which are caused by cheaper metals. Two of these metals are:

  • Nickel: According to the Mayo Clinic, a nickel allergy “is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.” And one of the main reasons this metal causes so much strife is because nickel dissolves in water and forms salts. So, every time you sweat or get your jewelry wet, salt forms your skin and cause itchy, painful reactions.

  • Copper: Copper is a pure metal so for those who have a nickel allergy this is a possible alternative. However, some people are allergic to copper, so this may also not be a great choice for jewelry. Copper often reacts with the acids in your skin ,causing oxidation, and can result in blackening of both the copper and your skin.

The trouble with alloys

Nickel, copper and cobalt are commonly used in alloys of gold or silver. If you react to a pair of gold alloy earrings, you may mistakenly assume you’re allergic to the gold. However, allergies to silver or gold are extremely rare. This is why your dermatologist may recommend wearing pure metals.

Alloys to watch out for:

  • Brass: A combination of copper and zinc, brass should be avoided by those with copper allergies.

  • Sterling silver: This option can sometimes work for those with nickel allergies as this alloy is, most often, made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. However, sometimes the 7.5% of copper may be replaced in part by trace elements such as zinc, tin, boron, lithium, germanium, platinum, indium, or it may be nickel. Check with the supplier to see if it is truly nickel-free.

  •  Silver or gold-plated: A thin layer of silver or gold is coated over cheaper metals like copper, nickel, iron or zinc. Over time, the layer of silver or gold will wear or chip away exposing the skin to the allergen metal.

Hypoallergenic jewelry metals

If you’ve had a reaction to jewelry in the past, you may want to try the following:

  • Argentium silver: This alloy contains about 93.5% silver and the remainder is copper and germanium, making it a great option for anyone who loves the look of silver, but who might have a nickel allergy. The germanium in this alloy gives it a high resistance to tarnish (oxidation). I use argentium silver quite frequently in my handmade jewelry designs.

  • Fine silver: This a 99.9% pure metal. However, it is generally too soft for most purposes other than bezels and fold forming.

  • 14KT gold and higher: Gold is a very soft metal. In its purest 24KT form, it’s so soft that if we were to make jewelry out of it, it would easy bend and get misshapen. For this reason, gold is often alloyed with copper, palladium or nickel to make it harder. This, however, does not mean you need to dismiss gold jewelry if you are allergic nickel or copper. There are such small amounts of allergen metals found in gold alloys of 14KT+ that only those with extreme sensitivities and allergies would need to avoid it.

  • Platinum: This rare and oftentimes expensive metal is naturally hypoallergenic. Platinum is a great substitute for silver or silvery alloys as it also boasts a silvery-white color.

  • Palladium: Another white metal, palladium is also safe to wear as it is not alloyed with nickel.

  • Surgical Steel: This metal is generally safe for everyone. If you have a sensitivity to copper, earring posts can be changed to surgical steel to your benefit.

  • Niobium: This metal will not react to skin chemistry and will never corrode or tarnish.  It is one of the safest metals for those with allergies.

  • Titanium: Strong as steel, but very light, high grades of titanium (1-4) are safe for those with allergies.

Overall, fine jewelry that is made of high-quality metals like higher karat  gold, silver and/or platinum is the best choice for those with metal allergies. If you see a certain piece of jewelry in my collections and aren’t sure about the type of metal used, feel free to reach out.  I can also make custom jewelry designs in the metal of your choice. 


Lori Gottlieb