Imagine this scenario: You just bought a gorgeous new piece of gold jewelry, you step out in style ready to show off your new accessory and suddenly your skin is itchy and covered in a red rash.
Chances are you’ve been there, which is why you’ve come here. Don’t worry, we’ve got answers, and we’re here to help you avoid allergic reactions from gold jewelry. Additionally, you’ll learn about solutions and jewelry rash treatment options.
So, what causes gold jewelry rashes and allergic reactions? Well, the rash you’re experiencing is unlikely to be from gold as gold allergies are extremely rare. That said, gold jewelry is commonly mixed with metal alloys which contain a known allergen: nickel. Most likely the reason you’re getting a rash from your gold jewelry is because it contains a high amount of nickel in it.
What can you do to avoid jewelry allergies? Can you still wear gold jewelry? Will all gold jewelry cause you to have a rash? Let’s elaborate on the causes of gold jewelry allergies and what you can do about it.
First, let’s talk more about nickel and why it causes skin allergies.
Gold in its natural form is much too soft for jewelry, which is why it is mixed with metal alloys to strengthen it. Nickel is commonly used in gold jewelry, however the percentage varies depending on the purity of your gold jewelry. The lower the purity, the higher quantity of alloy. For example, 10k gold will contain more metal alloys than gold, whereas 18k gold will contain mostly gold and less metal alloys.
As such, higher karat grades of gold jewelry only contain trace amounts of nickel, if any at all. On the other side of the spectrum, gold costume and fashion jewelry generally contain a high percentage of nickel which can cause irritation for those with a nickel allergy.
What is a Nickel Allergy?
Roughly one in eight people are affected by nickel allergies. When someone with nickel sensitivity wears gold jewelry containing nickel, a red itchy rash will form on the skin that’s been in contact with the jewelry. Most often the reaction and gold allergy symptoms are not painful, rather irritating and uncomfortable. However, not all gold jewelry will cause a reaction. Which kind will? Well, there are several factors which can cause nickel allergies:
Jewelry made with a high percentage of nickel
Low quality jewelry
Fine jewelry made with nickel alloys to create a specific color, for example white gold.
Not ready to swear off gold jewelry? Good, because you don’t have to. Follow these tips to avoid nickel rashes:
To take the safest route, you can choose to buy nickel-free metals. These jewelry items may be labeled as “Nickel Free”, or “Hypoallergenic”, which essentially means that the metals contain no allergens. The most popular nickel free jewelry metals include sterling silver, platinum and titanium. Of course, you’re not ready to completely eliminate gold jewelry from your collection so it’s time to consider a higher karat grade of gold jewelry. Additionally, it’s important to consult with your jeweler before purchasing gold jewelry to ensure the items are nickel free.
Another effective solution to avoid jewelry rashes is to buy higher grade gold jewelry that contains minimal traces of nickel. Unfortunately, higher karat gold jewelry will cost more, but you’ll also significantly minimize the risk of a rash or allergic reaction.
Keep in mind that gold jewelry in the 10k-14k range will contain more metal alloy, and in turn more nickel. In fact, most people who are allergic to nickel are unable to wear 10k gold. Your best bet is to buy 18k gold jewelry which contains 75% gold, and only 25% alloy. Of the 25% alloy metals in 18k gold jewelry, only 8% is nickel.
Not only will your gold jewelry no longer agitate the skin, but it’s made with a higher percentage of pure gold which increases the value of your jewelry. Most people with nickel allergies can safely wear 18k gold jewelry, however it is not guaranteed that you won’t get a rash. Which is why it’s also important to consider the what color gold jewelry you’re wearing.
While both yellow and rose gold contain alloys, the mixture calls for silver and copper. However, white gold almost always contains nickel. If you have a nickel allergy, you’ll want to buy white gold alternatives which are made with palladium alloy instead of nickel. Additionally, follow these tips to avoid an allergic reaction to gold jewelry:
If you already own a white gold jewelry piece that is causing a rash or allergic reaction, it’s time to get it replated. Rhodium plating adds a layer of protection to your jewelry, and also protects your skin from the nickel which may be the source of your allergic reaction. However, over time the rhodium plating will wear off and need replating. Lastly, ensure that the rhodium plating used is also nickel free.
This method is not recommended for fine jewelry items, however if you’re in a pinch and need a quick fix, it might do the trick. You can apply a coat of clear nail polish to the portion of jewelry which comes into contact with your skin. While this coat will minimize immediate reactions, it is not a suitable long term fix as inevitably, the polish will wear off with time and daily wear.
Bottom line, if you have a nickel allergy the best thing to do is buy hypoallergenic jewelry. Shop for gold jewelry that is nickel free and hypoallergenic to avoid risk of allergic reactions and buy gold jewelry that contains a higher percentage of pure gold than metal alloys.
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