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
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:
- Rash/bumps on skin
- Redness in skin color
- Dry patches of skin
- 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?
If 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.
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 and Palladium White Gold vs Nickel White Gold
I 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
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
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,