Monday, January 15, 2007

Metal allergies

By on Monday, January 15, 2007 0 Comments

My own metal allergy probably started with my intial earlobe piercings which were done with a needle (gasp!) of unknown metal content. Ear piercing guns (as in the picture) were not available then. That first sensitization, probably due to the nickel in the metal, worsened when I repeatedly wore cheap fashion earrings in later years. I developed a sorry case of allergic contact dermatitis.

Making my own jewelry became the affordable solution because I can wear sterling silver which is 92.5% pure silver. The other 7.5% is copper which doesn't usually cause any problems. Without a doubt care must be taken in the metal choice for initial piercings.

Nickel is the most common culprit for metal allergies although there are other metals. Note that surgical steel does contain nickel and I think it is best avoided. I only offer sterling silver and gold-filled earwires (14K gold in much thicker layer than gold-plated and will last with care) even if beaders are not sensitive. It is best to be careful where the metal goes through the pierced earlobe. I have a range of both sterling silver and ordinary metal clasps for necklaces and bracelets which almost all the beaders seem to be fine with. For the very few who cannot tolerate any metal at all, I have leather and cotton cord for necklaces. Any metal that might be used for the pendant will be on top of the garment and therefore not in contact with the skin.

If you have a nickel allergy, white gold is also to be avoided as it is usually alloyed to nickel (or palladium) to turn the normally yellow gold a white colour. However, all is not lost if you do have a favourite pair of earrings that you still want to wear but can't - bring them to our workshops and we'll convert them over to sterling silver ones (small charge).

I have come across someone who gets a slight blackening of her skin where her earring rubs. This is not an allergy but simply an individual's cosmetics or perspiration reaction to some of the other metals in the jewelry. The solution is to keep your jewelry away from cosmetics and lotions and keep your skin dry if you are prone to this problem.

I used to wear my gold stud earrings all the time and found that where they made contact with my skin discoloured to a reddish colour. As gold is an inert metal my skin was probably reacting to other alloys in the jewelry. Pure gold at 24 K is too soft so it must be alloyed with other metals. So another tip is to avoid wearing jewelry for too long or upgrading to 14K or 18K if your 10K gold jewelry is discolouring. The design of my stud earrings also trapped skin oils etc more easily. I recommend taking off jewelry at night and not putting them back on until after morning showers.

For those of you who have teenagers, the last two medical reference links below discuss body piercings. The oral variety just makes me shudder!

And oh, there is one other kind of allergy - I call it an upgrade allergy which has no health basis. Just a "need" to go from 14K to 18K gold or to platinum! The malady can strike anytime but most often in November or December.

References
Medical Encyclopedia on Contact Dermatitis
Jewelry allergies
"The itch that won't quit"
Why did my skin turn green?
Gold Allergy/Tarnishing of Gold
Why does gold change colour or tarnish fingers?
Hand eczema in a 22-year-old woman with piercings
Oral piercing health hazards

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