One of the biggest complaints people have about jewellery is that it makes their skin itch. Worse still, some people get rashes, turn colour and even start to feel unwell. What’s that all about? Why does it happen and what can you do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you?
First off let’s get one thing straight – it’s not in your head. It’s not just you being sensitive. That tickling you feel is not just the item rubbing against you, especially if you’re finding that it intensifies if you get hot and sweaty. The following pictures come from The Birmingham Assay Office and show the damage ignoring the signs can do to skin:
Nickel allergy on the neck
Another nickel allergy photo
I’m fairly certain even the hungriest vampire would think twice about wanting to nuzzle up to that neck – it’s angry!
So what causes this type of irritation? Generally people call it nickel allergy although it’s not always just nickel. Metals used in jewellery are often combinations as different types of metal have different properties. Some have nice colours, some are rust resistant, some are too soft to be easily used on their own. As The Assay Office state:
Hallmarking is necessary because when jewellery and silverware are manufactured, precious metals are not used in their pure form, as they are too soft. Gold, Silver, and Platinum are always alloyed with copper or other metals to create an alloy that is more suitable to the requirements of the jeweller. Such an alloy needs to be strong, workable, yet still attractive.
Owing to the high value of gold, platinum and silver, there are significant profits to be gained by reducing the precious metal content of an alloy at the manufacturing stage. Base metal articles plated with a thin coat of gold or silver look the same as articles made wholly of precious metal, at least until the plating wears, and even an expert cannot determine the quality or standard of precious metal items by eye or touch alone.
As a guide, Sterling Silver should be hallmarked. This mark carries a 92.5, meaning that the item is 92.5% silver with the remaining 7.5% made up of other metals such as tin or copper.
The problem is that in the modern age, many jewellery items are made overseas where small amounts of money (to us) may be worth large amounts (in local currency) especially when repeated for hundreds or thousands of items. Consequently jewellery made in Asia will often be cut with many cheap metals to increase their profits. Chinese produced goods are particularly likely to have this, with a far higher rate of problems and product recalls than anywhere else. Toxic metals that may be blended in might be nickel, but cadmium, lead and others have all been found and frequently continue to be found.
In the last month I’ve seen news on lead reaching jewellery made in India and how Health Canada found Chinese sources were melting toxic car batteries and electrical goods to make jewellery. Clearly both are shocking and deplorable. Cadmium, nickel, lead, mercury and other such metals are extremely toxic and even big stores like Walmart, Claire’s and Toys’R'Us have had product recalls. What can you do?
First off there are standards in place. Well in certain places. The EU has the strictest standards anywhere so your best bet for quality is to by European jewellery. Next is American jewellery which permits a higher count in nickel. Elsewhere in the world standards may vary hugely if there are standards at all.
If you are at all unsure and on holiday, stick to safe jewellery types – things made from string, beads, pearls and wood or resin. Bronzed items may look attractive in the summer sun but we want you to keep gleaming long after the moment is over, so think twice markets.
Secondly, if you are buying fine jewellery (that’s something that claims to be gold, silver, platinum or palladium), it should be hallmarked. The UK has had a history of hallmarking for over 700 years and so has high standards. Other countries may use the “Common Control Mark”. Check out this summary of the UK’s 1973 Hallmark Act legislation to see what that means if you’re unsure.
Lastly, for all the other jewellery (commonly called costume or fashion jewellery), there are ways of protecting yourself if you’re at all uncomfortable wearing it. One way of dealing with earrings is by changing the fastening to a sterling silver or gold one. You can do this fairly easily on pierced fish hook earrings and most clip on earrings.
One of our favourite ways is the use of a professional grade hypo-allergenic jeweller’s skin guard.
Hypo-allergenic jeweller's skin guard
This is a type of hard wearing varnish lacquer that you can paint onto every part of your jewellery that would come in contact with your skin. For instance, body piercings and pierced earrings can be coated in this invisible lacquer. You are then prevented from coming into direct contact with it and therefore never need suffer from allergies or rashes! And as an added bonus it helps prevent cheap alloys from becoming oxidised and changing colour too.
Here’s to you looking beautiful!