Americans will spend $2.5 billion on jewelry this year. One fourth of women will report they’re allergic to something in the jewelry they own. Look down at your fingers. Move your ring out of the way. Is there redness? Maybe some skin irritation, rash, or dry, itchy skin? It may even be raw and painful. If so, read on.
A MadeOn customer, Leah, wrote to tell me that she found the cause to her eczema in the form of something unexpected:
“Renee, I wanted to mention an eczema trigger that a lot of people don’t think about. It’s the one I figured out was mine. Since I removed it from my environment, my eczema has improved about 90%.”
“…It’s nickel! I kept having breakouts of contact dermatitis on my face and hands, which triggered my eczema to flare up. By process of elimination, I figured out I had a nickel allergy. I looked around and figured out that it was my jewelry and my keys that were causing the biggest problem. I tested all the metals I come into contact with on a daily basis and determined which ones had to go.”
“My husband got an aluminum house key made for me. Half my jewelry, including my wedding ring, had to go. My husband bought me a new wedding ring made of argentium. When I do get a little spot that flares up, I use your Simply Shea and it goes away within a day!”
I’m grateful that Leah wrote in about this because while I’ve heard of nickel allergies, I hadn’t connected that other metals could turn into eczema-like symptoms. I personally had to give up a favorite ring due to the way it would leave my skin raw and irritated. Even expensive rhodium plating would eventually wear off my ring, and the skin irritation would be back.
A bit more research brought me to an article in the Wall Street Journal that states “there are two common causes of ‘wedding-ring dermatitis.’ One is an allergic reaction to the metal, generally nickel, which can be present in small quantities even in expensive gold and platinum rings. The other is a surface irritation from moisture and soap trapped under the ring, which can occur with any kind. Both cause similar red, scaly welts, and it can be tricky to tell them apart.” If the reaction is delayed and persists after you remove the ring, it’s likely a nickel allergy. If the reaction occurs quickly, and then resolves if you keep your fingers clean and dry, it’s likely an irritation.
By the way, a ring you may have worn for years may suddenly cause your skin to react. This could be due to the nickel salts coming to the surface of the jewelry years, even as many as 20 years, after you’ve owned and worn it.
No. The term hypoallergenic means “below the normal level” of allergenic. Your “nickel-free” jewelry can still have slight amounts of nickel, at least in the U.S. … the European Union does have a directive that limits the amount of nickel used.
include sterling silver, niobium, titanium, and 14K yellow gold (avoid white gold as it often contains nickel).
My wedding ring was made of white gold. After about 5 years of wearing it, I got a severe rash underneath both the engagement and wedding ring . I took them off and let it heal up, then put them back on again, same rash. I thought I was allergic to the gold. I bought 2 simple, but lovely to me, sterling silver bands that I now wear as my wedding ring. I also have to wear sterling silver earrings and most jewelry, i.e. necklaces, other rings, etc., bothers me so I love watches. Sometimes I can wear simple bracelets, but more often than not I don’t. Now I know why I am unable to wear jewelry, even though I like to make it and love to see what others have on.
I had to stop wearing makeup as nearly all of it contains titanium dioxide as a sunscreen (mineral makeup). The titanium dixoide was causing a cross reaction with nickel. As soon as I stopped wearing makeup, the redness and rash on my face went away. Who knew? I know I was very surprised as I had always though mineral makeup was “safe” as it was free from chemical additives.
My allergist told me that because I had such a huge reaction to metals (mainly nickel) on the patch test, I might try going with no makeup. I was using Bare Minerals at the time, and it does contain titanium dioxide as the sunscreen. I thought I was doing a good thing for my skin in NOT using chemical sunscreen. Turns out, not so much. Then I began looking for more natural makeups, but even those sold at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and online, and billed as “safe” and organic, all contain titanium dioxide. My skin improved dramatically when I stopped using makeup. I feel naked without it, but it’s been two years now and no more horrible eczema on my face. When I looked into nickel allergy online, I also looked at nickel in FOODS (suggested by my dermatologist). My diet is so limited now due to 87 food allergies I could not even contemplate eliminating even more foods, but there are long lists of foods that cause problems to folks with nickel allergies.
Here’s one more email, from Allie, who shared her family’s potential allergy to stainless steel:
One of my daughters is very prone to eczema despite our diligence to staying away from food intolerances and eating fresh whole food. She recently had some flair ups. Just today I was looking up if granite wear is safe and someone mentioned how there is nickel in stainless steel. I looked it up further and it is true. My daughter had just recently been drinking often out of a stainless steel cup. So I got thinking about all the stainless steel around us. I got thinking about my white gold rings. Nickel is what makes white gold white. Oh poo, there go my rings my husband gave me. I am currently wearing a yellow gold much more expensive ring my grandma bought for me after I had cancer when I was 19. We mostly cook on cast iron already, but we sometimes cook on stainless steel. We may be switching to real silverware from stainless steel flatware.
I’m grateful for Debby, Leah, Allie and Becca for sharing their stories.
Not to be the bearer of bad news today, but if you find the same irritation/rash on your ears or cheeks, check the metals in your earrings… and even your cell phone. There is now such a thing as “mobile-phone dermatitis” that’s caused by… you guessed it: nickel.