Jewelry & Skin Irritation
Sometimes beauty is difficult. Whether it’s that less-than-comfortable pair of shoes, the pain of hair removal or the tighter-than-pleasant clothes, we’re prone to enduring some amount of pain in order to look good. One avenue of fashion in which you should not suffer, however, is jewelry.
Irritated skin - or allergic contact dermatitis - is the manifestation of an allergic response caused by contact with a specific substance. While non-contagious or life-threatening, this can cause a sizable amount of discomfort for those who suffer from it.
Unfortunately, jewelry is one of the most common causes of this condition, along with poison ivy, makeup, and latex. The primary reason for jewelry causing skin irritation is the presence of nickel. Believe it or not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the population is allergic to nickel!
Nickel is often used as a supplementary metal in different alloys. While usually comprised of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper by weight, sterling silver has been found to contain trace amounts of nickel. Furthermore, other types of silver jewelry (non-stamped sterling) has been known to contain larger amounts of nickel.
Another thing to look out for when it comes to jewelry and skin irritation is gold and/or silver plated jewelry. Regardless of the plating, these pieces can still contain nickel or a mixture of nickel alloys underneath the surface.
Let’s say you do have stamped sterling silver (92.5% silver and 7.5% copper); you have nothing to worry about with regards to skin irritation, right? Unfortunately not. Over time, your silver jewelry will tarnish. The chemical process of tarnishing is a form of corrosion. Many people associate corrosion with oxidation. However, in the case of silver tarnish, the primary element involved is not oxygen, but sulfur.
As silver’s surface comes into contact with sulfur in the atmosphere, it begins to form silver sulfide. This compound is responsible for the blackened look of your tarnished silver. Not only can it be an eyesore, it can cause literal eye irritation, as well as skin irritation.
It’s important to note that like allergic contact dermatitis caused by nickel, skin irritation caused by silver sulfide is non-contagious and non-life threatening. At the same time, its effects can be quite bothersome to those who have a reaction to it.
The natural patina look can be desirable, but this is properly achieved over the course of a long period of time. Silver sulfide that forms rather rapidly would be more prone to causing dermatitis.
In conclusion, next time you’re shopping for jewelry, keep in mind that the metals and alloys used in the piece can have more than a visual effect. If you’re one of the many people who suffers from a nickel allergy, be sure to vet your jewelry for its components. There are many forms of hypoallergenic jewelry that are produced for this very reason.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that tarnished silver can also cause skin irritation. For this reason, it’s best to avoid prolonged contact with tarnished pieces of silver (e.g. daily wearing). Remember, there are ways to remove the tarnish from your jewelry, as well as products that keep it from occurring in the first place!