sensitive skin, jewellery allergies and piercings
Putting on a lovely new item of jewellery is a thrill that never gets old. However, when you take your new baubles off and realise they’ve left you with a weird green tinge to your skin, it can be worrying to say the least. Or perhaps your latest sparkly treat has made your skin dry, itchy or swollen? As well as being uncomfortable, this kind of skin reaction is definitely not this season’s latest look! So let’s have a look at what causes these reactions and how you can avoid them.
Identifying a jewellery allergy
That greenish tinge is actually not a metal allergy, it’s a result of a chemical reaction (oxidation) between the metal and the acids on your skin, or in a skincare product you’ve used. Dermatologically speaking it’s not really a cause for concern, although you might not like the look of it. It may, however, appear alongside an allergic reaction.
If your skin begins to feel dry and flaky or it comes up in a red rash, you’re likely to be suffering an allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis. This eczema-like allergic reaction can be itchy or painful. It can also turn crusty or even blister. It’s most common on the earlobes as the skin here tends to be more sensitive. Even when you remove the item of jewellery it will very likely take a while for the reaction to go down. A cortisone cream prescribed by your doctor will help with the reaction.
What’s causing the allergic reaction?
It’s most likely to be a reaction to nickel, chrome, copper or cobalt, all metals commonly found in alloys used to make jewellery. These metal alloys are also commonly found in zips, hairpins, coins and other everyday metals. Leather jewellery can also cause allergic reactions. Sometimes the reaction is delayed. “You might wear it on Friday night, and you start itching on Tuesday,” says Dr David Cohen at the New York University School of Medicine.
Found in many metal alloys including silver, nickel is the cause of most metal allergies, in fact almost 20% of people experience a nickel allergy at some time during their lives. Nickel can also be used to make white gold.
Cobalt is used to make jewellery stronger and more hard wearing. Cobalt alloy is commonly used in a variety of jewellery, often in darker coloured metals.
Silver on its own is too soft to make jewellery with: it’s much stronger when combined with another metal to form an alloy. The most popular alloy is sterling silver, which consists of 92.5 % silver and 7.5 % copper. If you are allergic to copper, you can opt for sterling silver jewellery that’s been plated with pure silver.
Copper is used to make rose gold, the distinctive coppery tint in the copper alloy turns the gold that lovely pinkish hue. Rose gold typically contains around 21% copper. If you think you are allergic to copper, you’re best off avoiding rose gold and anything that looks like it might have bronze or brass in it as these both contain copper.
Reactions to leather
As part of the leather tanning process a substance called chromium is used, this can trigger a reaction in sensitive skin. Opt for vegetable-tanned leather if you find ordinary leather irritates your skin.
Piercings and allergies
Allergies around piercings can occur anywhere in the body, they are most often nickel allergies. Newly pierced skin is the most likely to react to nickel, according to Dr David Cohen. The metal used for the piercing process should be surgical quality stainless steel or 14 carat or 18 carat gold.
Be aware that it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s an allergic reaction or an infection, as the symptoms can be similar. It’s best to see a doctor to check whether it’s an infection, rather than assuming it’s an allergy. As Cohen says, “Usually the complaint is redness, swelling, itching and burning. If it doesn’t respond to traditional treatments for infection and it continues to persist, that’s when allergy is suspected.”
How to avoid allergic reactions in jewellery
The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to choose your jewellery carefully. Only wear jewellery that’s 100% sterling silver (look for the label “fine silver”, also known as .925 Silver), or at least 14 carat gold – though this can get expensive!
Metal alloys are used to strengthen gold as it’s a very soft metal when in its purest form. Palladium is a white metal that’s hypo-allergenic so safe for your sensitive skin. If copper or nickel alloys cause a reaction, opt for jewellery made with palladium alloys instead. Surgical grade stainless steel is also a safe option.
If you’re not sure which metals are causing a reaction, you can ask your doctor to carry out a patch test to see which metals you are allergic to.
Home testing kits for metal allergies
If you’ve been given some jewellery you’re not sure about or perhaps you’ve inherited some antique jewellery, you can test it yourself at home. You can buy a metal testing kit online. Using a cotton swab, the kit will tell you which metals are found in your jewellery item.
How to stop jewellery turning your skin green
Want to stop a favourite necklace, earrings or bracelet from turning your skin a lurid shade of zombie green? Try changing your body lotion and avoid spraying perfume onto the skin near your jewellery. Don’t wear your jewellery in the shower, in the sea, or when working out as this could make it more likely to react.
If your favourite ring still keeps turning your finger green no matter what, there is something else you can do. Apply a couple of coats of clear nail varnish all over the metallic part that’s in contact with your skin, and allow it to dry completely. This forms a barrier between the metal and your skin, stopping any oxidation from taking place. You may need to reapply every few weeks or months.
Tip: Apply a couple of coats of clear nail varnish all over the metallic part that’s in contact with your skin, and allow it to dry completely.
To avoid reactions like this in future, opt for jewellery that doesn’t contain nickel or copper, preferably jewellery in pure silver or at least 14 carat gold.