Information About Jewelry Allergies

What are jewelry allergies?

Jewelry allergies are reactions that occur when your skin is exposed to certain pieces of jewelry. These reactions are caused by the metals jewelry is made from. Common reactions to jewelry metals include greenish-blue marks on skin under jewelry, itchiness, redness and painful sensitivity. In severe cases, these reactions can include burning sensations, rashes and blisters.

      Jewelry allergy photos - DermNet NZ

Why do I have jewelry metal allergies?

It isn't fully understood why certain individuals develop allergic reactions to certain jewelry metals or other substances. Not everyone experiences the same level of reaction, either. Cases range from minor to severe. In severe cases, all exposure to certain metals must be avoided, including ingestion of certain foods that are known to contain the metal.

Top jewelry metals known to cause adverse reactions:

Nickel: Nickel is the number one culprit in allergic reactions to jewelry. More people are allergic to nickel than any other metal. Nickel is commonly found in cobalt, silver and low karat gold jewelry. Exposure can cause mild redness to severe blisters. This surface skin level reaction is known as allergic contact dermatitis.

Nickel allergy information - American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
Nickel FAQs - Dartmouth College

Lead: Lead is a component in many vintage pieces of costume jewelry. It can also be found in newer jewelry manufactured in third world countries, especially cheap children's jewelry. Lead can be toxic if ingested. Long term ingestion can lead to brain damage.

Copper: Copper can be used as a jewelry base metal. It can also be used as an alloy in low karat gold, brass, bronze and other costume jewelry metals. Copper can react with certain individual's body chemistry causing it to oxidize. The reaction causes black or blue-greenish marks to appear on the skin in the area where copper jewelry or jewelry containing copper (typically silver) has been worn.

Cobalt: Cobalt is not found on earth in its pure form. Rather, it is often found in combination with other metals like nickel, copper and chromium. These other metals, especially nickel, can cause mild (redness) to severe (blisters) allergic contact dermatitis.

Cadmium: Cadmium can be found in jewelry manufactured in third world countries, especially cheap children's jewelry. It can be toxic if ingested. Long term ingestion can lead to kidney and lung failure.

Mercury: Mercury can be found in jewelry manufactured in third world countries, especially cheap children's jewelry. Mercury is highly toxic if absorbed into the skin or ingested.

Jewelry Allergy comparison


*Note: The higher the karat content of the gold you purchase the fewer alloys it has in its composition. Rare cases have been documented where people have developed allergic reactions to pure metals like platinum and high karat gold. If you are one of these chosen few, your best bet is to avoid these metals in your jewelry altogether.

**About Cobalt: It is rare, but there have been documented cases where a person has developed an allergic reaction.
Read more here:

More about metal implant allergies- U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Costume Jewelry Allergies

*Important Note: Costume jewelry, especially children's jewelry made off shore has been known to contain high levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and other highly toxic materials. These materials can pose a health hazard to children. Those who continually place this jewelry in their mouths ingest these toxins over time. This is a global problem that is hard to regulate. Those with young children should not purchase costume jewelry of unknown composition. Older children should be instructed to keep costume jewelry out of their mouths.

**About Silver: A lot of silver costume jewelry with fake stones is out there. It was especially popular during WWII to make costume jewelry out of silver. The normal base metals used in these applications like copper and pot metal were needed for the war effort to make munitions, aircraft parts, etc. They were therefore were unavailable to costume jewelry manufacturers.

Workarounds for those with metal allergies:

In the event you discover that you have a jewelry metal allergy, there are steps you can take to reduce or eliminate your susceptibility. These steps are:

  1. Try wearing high karat gold.
  2. Try wearing hypoallergenic metals like platinum, titanium and palladium.
  3. Spray-coat your jewelry with a commercially available protective silicone (not silicon) solution.
  4. Coat your piece of jewelry with clear nail polish. Con: This coating is not permanent. Also, it may turn yellow or become brittle and crack.
  5. Have the base metal of your jewelry electroplated with a purer metal like platinum. Con: Not permanent. This coating will eventually wear off.
More on nickel jewelry allergy symptoms and treatment - WebMD
More on nickel allergy prevention - Mayo Clinic

Medical terms associated with jewelry allergies:

Allergic contact dermatitis: The medical term for the outward appearance of a jewelry metal allergy on the skin.

Atopic dermatitis: The medical term for eczema.

Corticosteroid cream: May be prescribed for topical treatment of a jewelry metal allergy.

Erythema: Red areas or a red rash on the skin.

Eczema: Chronic itchy, inflamed skin.

Impetigo: Secondary bacterial infection caused by scratching eczema.

Oral antihistamine: May be prescribed for treatment of a jewelry metal allergy.

Oral corticosteroid: May be prescribed for treatment of a jewelry metal allergy.

Patch test: Medical test for allergies. The test is typically administered on a patient's back. Several known allergens are applied in a grid pattern to the patient's skin. After 48 hours, the site is inspected to observe which allergens, if any, the patient has reacted to.

Pruritus: Chronic itch.

Scaling: Abnormal buildup and shedding of skin.

Vesicles: Blisters filled with fluid.