The jewellery and piercing industry has more in common than you think. If you’ve ever experienced rashes and/or other irritations from wearing jewellery on your piercings, we’re here to solve the mystery.
It’s not your body playing tricks on you. The culprit is most likely nickel. Most stores in the market today sell “nickel-free” or “hypoallergenic” jewellery. Unfortunately, those terms don’t hold any weight. They’re by no means a guarantee that they’re safe for sensitive skin.
To separate the good jewellery from the bad, let’s familiarize ourselves with some basic information.
What Is Nickel?
Nickel is a durable metal. It’s used to provide stability and durability to jewellery, especially when the metal it’s added to has a softer composition or is low strength. Not being biocompatible gives nickel a very significant disadvantage. Nickel can impede healing and cause hypersensitivity.
Fortunately, more and more people are becoming aware of the many disadvantages of nickel piercing jewellery and resorting to nickel-free jewellery instead.
What Is Nickel-Free?
The term nickel-free can be a bit confusing because nickel-free jewellery is not entirely free of nickel. It’s just that the composition of nickel in nickel-free jewellery is so minor that it can’t be perceived without the help of extremely sensitive measuring instruments.
A lot of jewellery available today has some amount of nickel so finding nickel-free jewellery is easier said than done.
Facts About Nickel-Free Piercing jewellery Explained
Hypoallergenic and Nickel-Free Are Not The Same
The term hypoallergenic means “less likely to cause reactions.” Many people mistake hypoallergenic and nickel-free jewellery as synonymous but that isn’t the case. Hypoallergenic does not mean nickel-free.
Instead of taking chances and tiptoeing around the vague term cosmetics industries slap on their products, it’s better to look for specific materials that are known to be nickel-free instead.
Alternative Nickel-Free jewellery Options
If you’re looking for alternative nickel-free metals in jewellery, you can look at jewellery made from the metals and elements listed here.
Titanium is a natural element. It is strong, sturdy, and weighs 40% less than steel. It comes in various grades. Pure medical-grade titanium (grade1) is the most malleable and suitable for earring findings and wirework.
Titanium is highly resistant to erosion. Sometimes, it’s mixed with other metals like aluminum and valadium to create a titanium alloy that is much stronger than pure-grade titanium. This alloy is popularly used for body jewellery, piercings, and belly bars among other things.
Titanium is the most expensive metal used in piercing jewellery but if you’re prone to allergies and infections from jewellery, it’s definitely worth the price.
Niobium is softer than titanium. It's an inert metal that is commonly used in jewellery in its pure form. Grades 1 and 2 are considered pure grades while grade 4 is considered an alloy because its composition contains 1% zirconium.
Niobium, when anodized, reflects a rainbow of colors. It’s malleable and can thus be used to make jewellery and wires. It’s mostly used by people with new or healed piercings as it does not trigger sensitivity issues.
Rhodium is non-reactive and is almost always used to plate white gold and other metals. It’s important to note, however, that rhodium is one of the rarest precious metals which means it’s more expensive than all the other metals.
Platinum is a precious metal. In jewellery, it’s used in its alloy form with only 5 to 10% of another metal added to the mix. It doesn’t tarnish or need plating so if you have money to spare or are looking for jewellery that you can wear for years, platinum is a good choice.
Sterling silver jewellery is usually marked “.925.” This means it’s not silver in its purest form. It’s an alloy containing 92.5% silver. Pure silver is usually alloyed with copper or other metals, never nickel.
Gold, when found in its purest form, is too soft to be used for jewellery. It is thus mixed with other metals in different proportions to make it strong and durable. For example, 18K gold contains 25% of other metals.
Solid gold is recommended for people who have healed piercings and have no allergies and reactions to this metal.
Layering Nickel Won’t Help With Your Allergies
Plated metals such as gold-plated may initially be comfortable to wear without any allergies, but the plating may wear off and expose the cheaper metal underneath, nickel may also "seep" through the soft plating overtime.
An example is ads selling “nickel coating with nail polish.” What they don’t tell you is the coating wears out with time so you’re at risk for the same allergies you experienced before. Only this time you’ll be a few dollars shorter with jewellery you may not be able to wear since it can trigger an allergic reaction.
Making informed choices can help tackle the infections and allergies that may result from wearing certain jewellery. Take note of how your body reacts to different metals so you’ll know which to avoid and which ones are safe for you. No matter how beautiful a piece is, if it doesn’t agree with your skin, it won’t do you any good if you can’t wear it.
The Takeaway: Know Your Skin-Friendly Metals
If you find yourself experiencing allergies to certain jewellery items, it’s time to listen to what your body is trying to tell you and try other options that may agree with you better. The nickel-free jewellery options we mentioned which are made from metals and elements contain no traces of nickel and should be safer. Remember, the lower the metal quality, the higher the risk of infections and inflammations.
Unless you’re willing to do a skin patch test with a dermatologist, finding out which metals your skin can tolerate is pretty much a trial-and-error process. However, once you know which metals are safe for your skin, you can shop for jewellery that agrees with you and purchase pieces you’ll hopefully be able to wear for a very long time.