Saturday, January 16, 2016

Metal Earwire Sensitivity

Photo by Rena Klingenberg

This morning I had an excellent question in my inbox from Rachel asking about cooper ear wires and metal sensitivity. I have tried to pick through the wide variety of information on the internet to come up with the information below. Ultimately there are no definitive answers as your sensitivity can depend on so many factors including your age (hormones), the weather (hot?), and how the item was made. As with many things, there are exceptions to every rule!!

Here are some basics on metal allergies:
*Nickel is the big culprit in metal allergies. Avoid it. It’s the most common metal allergy, and occurs in approximately 10% of the population. Base metal, iron, goldplated, gold & surgical steel contain nickel.

* Surgical steel which is touted for those with allergies can occasionally contain trace amounts of nickle.

*Aluminum is good for most people, but not often used.

*Copper is a pure metal — it does not contain any other metals. Is is fairly inert and allergies to it are rare, but there are folks who react to it. If you are able to wear sterling silver, it is likely you will be fine with copper. Will copper turn your skin green? It is possible if you wear it very long term. But to wear a pair of earrings for a day? No. Fun fact: Copper is antimicrobial & 100% recyclable.

*  Brass is an alloy of copper & zinc. It is good for most people, but there are folks who react to it.

* High-carat gold (over 14kt) does contain trace amounts of nickle, but usually not enough to cause sensitivities. Rose gold contains a higher percentage of copper and white gold has the highest concentration of nickel

* In Gold-filled (GF) jewelry the gold is permanently bonded to the base metal. It has an approximately 50-100x thicker coating of gold than gold-plated jewelry, so it can be worn longer. Gold-fill pieces do contain trace amounts of nickel, and may need to be avoided for those with extreme sensitivity.

* Silver or gold plated are made of a base metal (usually copper, but sometimes iron, nickel or zinc), which then undergoes a process called “electroplating” to coat the surface of the metal with a thin plating of metal (either sterling silver or 14kt gold). Jewelry finished in this way is generally not ideal for long-term wear, as the plating can wear off over time. For those with metal sensitivities, this means that once the plating begins to wear, the underlying metal will be exposed and can cause irritation. 

*Fine (995) silver is good for most people, but there are folks who react to it.

* Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. It can have a trace amount of nickle. It is good for most people. Sterling silver can leave black marks on your skin due to a reaction with the copper content & the tarnishing of the jewelry. To avoid this, remove jewelry when showering and dry completely before wearing.
 *Pure niobium or grade 23 titanium are good bets for very sensitive ears. They are expensive and you do not see them used very often. (I do have anodized niobium earwires in blue, green, fushcia and grey that I can substitute on request.)

Tips for reducing sensitivities:
* Avoid wearing the offending metals for extended periods of time.
* Do not get jewelry wet: Moisture trapped between the metal and your skin can increase your chances of sensitivity.
*Avoid base metals when you’re perspiring: nickel breaks down quickly in the presence of sweat (salt), and can cause your skin to flare up — this is why many people find metal allergies “worsen” in the summer months.

As we age our reactions to metals change (thank you hormones!) If you have a pair you love and you start reacting to them, an occasional coat of clear nail polish on the earwire should help.

**Information for this article was collected from various sources including Rena Klingenberg's Jewelry Making Journal and The Art of Brilliance Found Jewelry.

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