Jul 21

Nickel Allergy and Your White Metal Choices

By Calla Gold

nickel allergy on neck

Do You Have a Nickel Allergy?

Nickel allergy is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis is an itchy rash that appears when your skin touches what is usually a harmless substance. Unfortunately, nickel allergies are commonly associated with earrings and other jewelry, such as wedding bands and piercings.

Causes of Nickle Allergy

Information from: Mayo Clinic

A nickel allergy can develop at any time, so you can get the allergy at 5 or 50. It usually develops after constant exposure to something that has nickel in it.

Once you develop the allergy  you will always be sensitive to nickel. An allergic reaction is somewhat like a case of mistaken identity within your body’s immune system.

“Normally, your immune system reacts to protect your body against bacteria, viruses or toxic substances.”

Three Risk Factors to Keep in Mind

1.  Women and girls are more likely to have a nickel allergy than are men and boys. This may be because females tend to have more piercings and get them at a younger age.

2.  If you have a family history of nickel allergies then you may inherit a nickel allergy.

3.  If you are allergic to other metals, such as palladium, cobalt or chromium then you are more likely to develop a nickel allergy.

Five Symptoms of Nickel Allergy

alaina-brookes-nickel allergy

Ring Dermatitis – Image from Alaina Brookes

Information from: Mayo Clinic

If you have nickel allergy then the allergic reaction (contact dermatitis) usually begins within 12 to 48 hours after exposure.

The allergic reaction may last for as long as two to four weeks.

Nickel allergy signs and symptoms include:

  1. Rash/bumps on skin
  2. Itching
  3. Redness in skin color
  4. Dry patches of skin
  5. Blisters and draining fluid in severe cases

Consider Other Explanations Before Deciding You Have Nickel Allergy

If you are having a bad reaction to your jewelry it is important to rule out other possible explanations.  The irritation, especially like the one in the image above, can be a result of trapped dirt, soap or water.

This is more likely to be the cause of your skin irritation than a nickel allergy.  If it is occurring at the site of a piercing then it may be an infection.

How Can I Know for Sure if I’m Allergic?

Jefferson-Nickel-1If you want to be 100% certain then you should consult your Dermatologist and undergo a “patch test” to determine if you’re allergic to nickel, or anything else while you’re at it.

If you want to avoid a doctor’s visit then you can also do it at home with the “Nickel Coin Test.” You simply tape a nickel coin (which is 25% nickel) to the inside of your arm for 48 hours. If you are allergic, a red rash will appear 8 to 24 hours after you remove it.

If a rash appears then you can treat it with a topical steroid cream and by avoiding future contact with nickel.

My Wedding Band Contains Nickel and I Just Became Allergic!

The Wall Street Journal article “Till Dermatitis Do Us Part” is the source of some of this information.

It is really bad to learn that you have a nickel allergy. The allergic reaction may be able to be remedied by your trusty jeweler!  In order to avoid this allergic reaction it is possible to have the inside of your wedding band rhodium plated.

This creates a neutral metal barrier so you can keep wearing your lovely ring! It will have to be reapplied maybe once every few years.

Another remedy is to coat your jewelry with clear nail polish.  This will form a temporary barrier. One home remedy suggest boiling the jewelry in vinegar and peroxide as this may remove nickel salts from the surface, but this fix will only last until contact with your skin causes a chemical stimulation for the nickel salts to form.

Nickel in Jewelry a Yellowing Factor

Thanks to J West Designs for this illustration of white gold colors before rhodium plating finish is applied.

Look at how the standard/nickel white gold ring has a noticeable yellow cast. This is not something you’ll see at the store as it will have been rhodium plated which makes it nice and white.

Most white gold rings are made with nickel, unless someone specifies that they’re nickel free. A little known fact is that nickel as a metal does oxidize or change in character in time. After it’s been around for a while it oxidizes yellow-ish.

I’m thinking that the nickel in white gold alloy is partially responsible for the need to rhodium plate white gold to keep that nice white color.

 Hypoallergenic Jewelry Choices for You

Palladium is considered hypoallergenic, even to highly sensitive metal allergy sufferers that I have worked with. None of my clients have had a reaction to palladium.


Diamond Band in White Gold with Hand Engraving

Fortunately for those of us who love white gold, there are some alternatives!  You can always specify nickel-free white gold, in which palladium would be used in place of nickel.

Palladium white gold is roughly 35% more expensive, than standard nickel white gold. If you have your heart set on white gold then it is definitely worth it!

Palladium and Palladium White Gold vs Nickel White Gold

MJSA-TriLogoI asked some jeweler friends from the Manufacturers and Jewelers of America to give their viewpoints on palladium and palladium white gold. 

Mark LaJoie says: “One advantage to a nickel WG is it’s rigidity/stiffness. Palladium/WG is softer. Using a gent’s wedding band as a baseline, Nickel/Wg is more resistant to ‘denting’ by a customer with normal wear and will resist getting knocked out of round even when thin. Palladium/WG will dent much easier by comparison via normal wear.”

Joy Raskin says: “Use Palladium white gold. It’s easier to work with; polishes/hammers beautifully and not a trace of nickel in it. That’s what I use when I work with white gold.”

Vernon Wilson says: “Palladium and platinum are much easier to set stones in..white gold can feel very grainy when cutting with a hand engraver. Platinum and palladium have no grainy feel, so cutting is much smoother. They are more malleable metals so you can bend and push the metal much easier without the fear of it breaking from the stress.”

You pay extra for the palladium white gold because palladium is in the platinum metals group and is significantly more expensive than nickel. Palladium is a wonderful metal not just for the hypoallergenic benefits, but for the improved white metal look that palladium provides  when mixed to the gold.

Palladium is a naturally white, light-grey metal and improves white gold’s color over nickel.

Simply put, palladium white gold is softer, but less likely to crack, while nickel white gold is harder to dent, but more likely to crack.​

Swimmers Beware of Nickel’s Achilles Heel


The Enemy of Jewelry Containing Nickel!

Nickel is sensitive to the chlorine in hot tubs and pools, so if you spend much time in either of these, then your nickel white-gold prongs will need to be repaired more frequently then your palladium white gold prongs.

You can also get an all palladium ring – almost 95% purity.  Like platinum, it has more density.

There is also the platinum route.  Platinum is one of the few precious metals that can be made into jewelry with such a high purity of metal; in fact, most platinum jewelry is made up of 90% to 95% pure platinum.

Why You Might Want to Choose Platinum for Your Jewelry


Double Diamond Rowed Platinum Wedding Band

Platinum is hypoallergenic, Unlike white gold and traditional yellow gold, platinum is a strong and durable metal, which means it doesn’t need to be mixed with other alloys to strengthen it.

Platinum is a more difficult metal for jewelers to work with and that factor will be added into the cost of pieces of platinum jewelry. Platinum will feel heavier on the finger because it is denser and it does weigh more than gold.

For these reasons, platinum is much more expensive than yellow gold or white gold jewelry. It is hypoallergenic, which means that consumers with nickel allergies shouldn’t have to worry about an allergic reaction.

When considering whether to choose palladium white gold or platinum for your ring, check out my post “White Gold vs. Platinum for Wedding Rings; What’s the Difference?”

You Do Have Choices

I had a client who was sure she had a metal allergy. She did the nickel test and nothing happened. We realized that her work had changed the soap in the ladies room and it combined with the moisture trapped under her ring was causing the problem.

Drying your fingers well after washing them and drying the underside of your ring can solve a lot of problems.

Hopefully you are not allergic to nickel, but if you are whether you have jewelry with nickel or you’re about to have a ring made you now know what you can do and that you have options.

A Not-Lovin’-Nickel Jeweler,
Calla Gold

36 thoughts on “Nickel Allergy and Your White Metal Choices

  1. Helpful article, thank you! I found out I had a nickel allergy when I was younger and since then have worn yellow gold. especially liked this information on the nickel allergy home testing and the palladium white gold. I might want to have a piece made in that!

    • Hi Linda,
      I’m happy to hear from someone who has a known nickel allergy. I’m glad you found it helpful!
      It’s good to have choices of metal colors. I hope you do indulge yourself in some nice white metal sometime. You might find that icy cool beauty makes your heart beat faster!
      Calla Gold

  2. As someone who has various allergies, I found this really interesting and empowering! I don’t have a nickel allergy, but others may, so I’ll be sharing this informative post. Thanks, Calla!


    • Linda,
      I very much appreciate that you shared this information. In a twist of fate that blog posted on Monday and I saw a client today with a nickel allergy that we are re-doing her white gold jewelry for. She’s going all yellow gold which she is fine with.
      I’m just so pleased that my “wear it, don’t warehouse it” motto is being so well applied here in dealing with her unworn nickel white gold jewelry.

  3. To tag along with what Linda said, I myself do not have a nickel allergy (as far as I know), but will definitely share this information with others. I had heard about the clear nail polish trick as a temporary remedy, but wasn’t so sure about it. If Calla says it’s okay, then I can rest assured about doing that. Thanks for the insight on this!

    • Hi Lisa,
      I’m glad to have you share this nickel allergy post. I’m so pleased that you don’t have this allergy, it’s a real pain.
      I’ve even seen people use the clear nail polish trick on costume jewelry to make the plating last. But as the girl that re-plates them, clear nail polish is not a permanent solution.
      Your Personal Jeweler,
      Calla Gold

  4. Thank you very much for posting this article Calla. This is something that I was totally unaware of before reading this. What was most interesting to me was the fact that you can develop a nickle allergy at any time. I’ll definitely think twice the next time I buy a piece of jewelry. Maybe I’ll start getting some more platinum in my jewelry box.

    • Hi Patricia,
      When I first became a jeweler I didn’t know about nickel allergies either. I had to learn about it on the job. I’m so pleased to see that your jewelry box will be getting a bit more platinum soon. Good for you!
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  5. I was employed in the UK as technical director at Weston Beamor/Domino when the initial EU Nickel Directive was implemented, whereas all nickel-content bearing alloys were to be removed. However, there was a grandfather clause written in allowing for manufacturers to comply by disposing of nickel-bearing alloys through proper government agencies and reclaiming the gold. We took the high-road and immediately switched to gold/palladium alloys, which I found much easier to cast, fabricate, machine and set stones in, as well as, an engraver’s dream. Surprisingly there is a very small population of people that have “nickel sensitivity”, however, one of the biggest ‘nickel-bearing’ products are rivets in common blue jeans. Nickel, like mercury has an accumulative capacity to the body and once that threshold is surpassed it becomes hypersensitivity and is irreversible. Here is a link of the current directive as published by Cooksongold: http://www.cooksongold.com/home/static.jsp?page=updated-nickel-information

    • Dear Christopher,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with the EU’s implementation of the Nickel Directive and getting rid of it in jewelry.
      I wonder if the US will follow their lead. It’d be fine with me if they did.
      Not knowing about blue jean rivets and finding out from you was cool. Also reading about the accumulation of nickel exposure added to my knowledge and the knowledge of my readers.
      You and your technical know how are welcome on our conversations at any time.
      Calla Gold

      • I found this article while trying to find alternative metals for a wedding ring that’s in my future! I unfortunately have a nickel allergy. And the reason I found out about it is because of the buttons in blue jeans. I had a pair of jeans with three buttons and I ended up breaking out above and below my belly button. This led me to getting tested and diagnosed. I have to glue patches over the back of the buttons on jeans now.

        Anyway I enjoyed your article. Any suggestions on online options to find rings in alternative metals? I’ve spent several hours looking online and have only found one option in titanium. I don’t want to choose the only ring I found acceptable! And I don’t want to spend a ton!

        • Hello Danielle,
          If you opted for titanium, you’d have the future problem of not being able to alter the size as needed for the years of your marriage. Check out my blog post:
          If you go for platinum or white gold with palladium, or just palladium you would be fine. If you like yellow gold you won’t have a problem there either. Nickel is traditionally used in white gold, not in platinum or yellow gold.
          That is great that you found out ahead of time about your nickel allergy.
          Your Personal Jeweler,

  6. Hi, Calla Gold. Our product manager for metals here at Rio Grande offers this info. Hope it sheds some light:
    Palladium-based white gold is growing in popularity. Due to the palladium content (which replaces the nickel) the cost is higher than nickel-based white golds. But it is still less expensive than platinum. That’s because gold is usually 14K, so not nearly as pure as platinum. Also platinum is significantly heavier, so the same piece in platinum weighs significantly more than a piece in 14K gold.

    • Rio Grande Product Manager,
      Thank you very much for your input on palladium/white gold mixes without nickel. I’ve ordered a number of times from Rio Grande and I love your products and level of service.
      Happy customer,
      Calla Gold

  7. Thank you for this! I’ve had issues with nickel since I was a teen – jean rivets resulted in blisters on my tummy, many earrings left my earlobes swollen and red, and even bra closures caused a maddeningly itchy rash on my back. Should I ever remarry (my beloved husband passed away, after 34 years together), I’ll be certain to seek out a nickel-free experience :-). What about rose gold – is it completely nickel-free?

    • Dear Nancy,
      It sounds like you’ve really been through it with your nickel allergy. The rose gold I use is nickel free. I did a blog that talks about the alloy metals in rose gold. Here it is:
      I’d always ask your jeweler to confirm, but you should be able to avoid nickel as an alloy with rose gold jewelry.
      I was sorry to read that you lost your husband. He sounds like a good guy. Romantic that I am I hope you find love again.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  8. Hi there, great article! But I have one complaint. Why did you never mention titanium? It’s much cheaper than platinum, very abundant, and extremely tough. I’ve been allergic to nickel since I was a baby, the metal snaps on onsies used to break out my entire chest. Even now, at 24 years old, my belt buckles still break me out. You really should include titanium, it’s much, much cheaper and very reliable, I’ve been using it for years everyday with not a single problem. This is a much better alternative for people who really can’t afford the pricey jewelry that you wrote about, as all your options can get insanely expensive.

    • Hello Free,
      Thank you for sharing how you deal with your nickel allergy. I write my blog from my perspective as a jeweler. I do not sell alternate metal products and didn’t know that titanium was good for people who are allergic. I’ll let your comment tell them all about it.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  9. Oh how I wished I had seen this article before my fiancée to be bought the ring. I’m allergic to Nickel which was found during a patch test for something else I was being tested against. It really burns me and being as I have mild eczema too (mainly around my ears), if I touch it then I get blisters.

    I just do not understand why they use Nickel in the UK being that it’s the most common allergy after hayfever and the worst thing is the man who sold the ring to my other half never asked if I have an allergy. As it was bought last weekend, I hope he can return it for a refund as I know the jeweller doesn’t sell Silver Diamond rings.

    This is why all my jewelley at home is sterling silver. As I child I used to wear yellow gold but since growing up have not really gone for that look.

    May I ask what rose gold is made from?

    I do want to say thank you though for opening my eyes on the whole situation

  10. Calla,
    Thanks so much for this helpful article! I recently became engaged and started having some irritation beneath my engagement ring. I worried that I might be allergic and of course Googled the issue… and found your article! I decided to first test the moisture catching underneath theory. I am happy to report that I no longer have the issue now that I carefully dry my fingers and the underside of my ring. Such an easy fix. Many thanks!

    • Dear Leah,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m delighted that this was a simple solution for you. And super happy you don’t have a metal allergy.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  11. I got my ears pierced at Claires store in the new gate mall in ogden Utah and I have itching and stinging to it. I’m allergic to nickel through my skin then I am on the out side. She used a gun to pierce it and it’s been 5 days and my ears are still itching and stings. I clean it three times daily should I take them out or see the piercing place I got it pierced

    • Hi Savannah,
      I would go to Claire’s to find out what the metal make up of your pierced earring is. I’d also go online and see what other people have experienced after being pierced. This is in case there is no nickel in your earrings. People discussing new piercings online may have helpful suggestions for you. Find out if your symptoms are normal for five days or atypical. In other words whether to stick it out or take them out.
      One client had me make thick posted stud earrings for her daughter who planned to get pierced. The mother had had many problems after getting pierced, but found that 18kt yellow gold caused her no problems.
      It is very important to have the very thick piercing posts for your six to eight week healing time period. It’s not enough to just get gold earrings and heal with them, because your earholes will heal too small and you’ll risk causing bleeding or have difficulty putting new earrings on if your ear holes heal around a normal size post as opposed to the larger initial piercing post.
      My client’s daughter did winningly with her custim made 18kt large posted earrings I’d made for her. We didn’t know if she didn’t share her mother’s sensitivity or if the 18kt made her piercing healing go well, but they are quite pleased.
      I wish you the best of luck in healing your piercings and being able to wear beautiful earrings.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  12. I know I have a nickel allergy but this is why I went with titunum(?), but shortly after I had my wedding band on my finger got red and swelled up. Has anyone else had this problem? Is there a type of ring I should look for?

    • Dear Stephanie,
      I’m sorry to hear that titanium did not solve your nickel allergy problem. Your allergy perhaps goes beyond nickel. A good allergist may be able to get to the bottom of what metals you are sensitive to.
      Have you considered platinum? I have a client who has had reactions to sterling silver, 14kt and 18kt yellow gold and of course anything white gold, but she can wear platinum. It might be worth a try.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  13. I have had a patch test done which confirmed an allergy to nickel and palladium, what are my choices in regards to jewellery options, I’m a little wary to try anything due to the severity of the reaction and not many jewellery stores are helpful in this area. Thanks

    • Hello Michelle,
      My thought for your options in that if you want white metal you could go with platinum which is hypo-allergenic or work with a jeweler who can custom cast a white gold blend which does not contain nickel or palladium.
      There is a grey-white gold alloy recipe that uses:
      Gold 75%
      Iron 17%
      Copper 8%
      It would need rhodium plating to be more bright white color.
      If you are fine with yellow gold there would be none of these allergen metals you have mentioned in it.
      Any custom designing jeweler can discuss gold recipes with the caster they use or if they cast in house can discuss with their casting metal supplier the various recipes available to be able to find a recipe to use for your needs.
      It would need to be done as a single casting which is more expensive than the usual multi-item casting that is done. In other words there is a jeweler out there somewhere that can discuss this with you and find a solution. If all else fails you locally I do work at a distance with some of my clients.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  14. I have had a reaction to some earrings in the past and it seems as I get older, my skin gets more sensitive! Plus, I tried the nickel taped to the inside of my arm test that I read on this article and gave up earlier today (after about 30 hours) and I noticed I’m already getting a welt!
    No nickel for me.

    • Hi Frieda,
      Some people are incredibly sensitive. Luckily you found that out before ordering an expensive ring.
      Thank you for sharing your experience.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  15. I have a nickle allergy and cannot wear most watches because the watch backs are stainless steel and cause a reaction. I have a vintage sterling watch that doesn’t cause much of a reaction and an all-titanium watch that won’t cause the reaction. Can the stainless steel back of a watch be coated with rhodium and still fit in the opening? I’d love to get an apple watch….but there is no point if I cannot get a different back or a coated back. And I’ve tried the polish and it just doesn’t work. Also, the clasp will cause a reaction too.

    • Hello Rebecca,
      I personally in my rhodium plating cannot plate over stainless steel or titanium or other alternate metals.
      When you say you have tried the polish, I’m assuming you mean clear nail polish which some have tried. I wish I could as it would help a lot of people.
      I had a totally weird idea that’d probably be uncomfortable. But if you had velcro on the underside of your watch and a piece of leather to go between your clasp and your skin, you might get relief.
      Long shot I know.
      Considering how many people have metal sensitivity you’d think someone would make titanium clasps.
      My plating method is electroplating. There is another plating method called PVD coating which is done in large batches that can plate over alternate metals. It is used in watch manufacturing. I do not do this. I just thought you should know that it is out there.
      I wish you good luck.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  16. A dermatologist told me I might have a nickel allergy given my chronic dermatitis on my ring fingers. I will do the nickel test to confirm. My wedding band is yellow gold with a platinum edge (which is actually smaller, so my skin is more in contact with that part than the gold) and my engagement ring is platinum. My instinct has been that this is from irritants rather than allergy–does that seem more likely given that my jewelry is not white gold?

    • Hello Camille,
      As a jeweler I have no hard science background with which to answer from. The fact that you have yellow gold and platinum would suggest to that irritants, water with soap, etc would be the cause of your problem, but only a doctor would be able to figure it out for sure.
      One of my clients has become way more careful about soaps. She takes off her ring and has a special place in her purse she puts it. She washes her hands and rinses carefully, fully dries her hands and then puts her ring back on. She’s currently not having problems, but tells me that this regimen in a pain in the butt.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

  17. Hello, I hope you see this message, I have created a product that will protect your skin from the back of you jean button. Let me know if you are interested. Please email me at niyabell31gmail.com

    • Hello Niya,
      You can send me a brochure at:
      Calla Gold Jewelry
      PO Box 40102
      Santa Barbara Ca 93140
      I don’t have enough nickel allergic people that this is a big problem in my area, but I am curious as to what your method is.
      Your Personal Jeweler,

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