Fiendish Nickel – What You Need To Know About Metal Allergies
Most people know that “cheap” jewelry can cause rashes, itchiness, dryness, and general allergic sadness in our bodies. (If you want to see pictures of these reactions, just google it, I’ll spare you the horror.)
What you may not know is the what, why, and what of metal allergies.
What: What causes this reaction? Is costume jewelry made of poison?
No. Well… sorta. (Some costume jewelry has been known to contain lead, but that is a whole different post.) The culprit that we’ll be discussing today is nickel. Nickel is a silvery white metal that is shiny, inexpensive, and commonly alloyed (mixed) with other metals. You can find nickel scattered throughout your life; in the buttons and buckles on your clothes, in the cutlery you eat with, in the jewelry you wear, and even in your food.
Why: Why does nickel hate us? Why do our bodies hate nickel? Whhhhyyyyyy?
Long answer: Your body is filled with delicious salty water. When you sweat, you bring salt and other minerals to the surface of your skin. Your sweaty mineral infused skin corrodes the nickel and allows it to penetrate the skin, which can cause irritation. If the bacteria that lives on your body (yes, we all have have little colonies festering on our skin) enters along with the nickel, your body attacks the bacteria and mistakenly attacks the nickel as well. (Just like that time you got banned from the mall cause your friend was shoplifting. Nickel should keep better friends, and so should you.) The more often this happens, the more severe the allergy can become.
Short answer: Because science.
What (again): What can we do about it?
Since allergies can develop at any age and only worsen over time, your best defense is limiting your exposure in the first place. This is especially important when selecting body jewelry, which lives inside open wounds in your body. Avoiding costume jewelry made in China is a good rule of thumb. Seeking out gold instead is another good rule, however, it’s not a surefire solution, as the quality of gold varies substantially. (Did you now that 14kt gold is only 58% gold? What is the other 42% made of? That’s an important question.)
Below are the materials that we use (and that people request) most often.
Gold. Only the finest for your ornamental wounds.
We get all of our gold from Alchemy Adornment. It’s 14kt (18kt is too soft and easy to scratch), dental quality (that means that it is the same quality as the gold they might put in a filling, and meant to live inside your body), and has a mirror finish (a super shiny surface has less imperfections). With gold, alloys are your allies. Knowing what your gold is mixed with is key. Alchemy’s gold is mixed with copper and silver, and their white gold also has palladium in place of nickel.
Titanium. It’s got what fractured bones crave.
We get our titanium stuff from companies like Neometal, Anatometal, and Industrial Strength. These companies specialize in implant grade, mirror finish, titanium body jewelry. The quality is identical to the titanium that the medical industry routinely implants into the human body to fix fractured bones.
The runners up. Nice try, thanks for playing.
Surgical Steel. While there are high grade surgical steels that are commonly used for body piercing, they do still contain trace amounts of nickel which can cause problems. For this reason we favour titanium.
Also be aware of “stainless steel”, which many inferior jewelry manufacturers stamp on their products to trick you into thinking it’s special. (Surely it’s fancy, they wrote it on the package!) They make counter tops and doorhandles out of stainless steel too, but you wouldn’t put those inside your body. Probably.
Silver. Silver is beautiful and a popular choice for necklaces, rings, and bracelets. It does however, oxidize in the body, leaving those annoying green stains, which makes solid silver a poor choice for new piercings. If you love the colour silver and want something fancier then titanium, ask for white gold.
While not all people will have a physical reaction to nickel, it is actually toxic, and should be avoided whenever possible. And with so many beautiful quality alternatives, why would you want to take the chance anyway? Remember, your body and your health are worth taking care of. Cause you’re awesome.
(This dog told me so.)