You may have worn the same gold cuff or silver earrings every day since you bought them on vacation, but now the skin around the jewelry is red and itchy.
Allergies to metal accessories can appear without warning, and are sometimes caused by a combination of summer heat and your own body perspiration. “Sweat can destabilize a poor-quality metal alloy and lead to the release of many metal atoms from the alloy, which can penetrate the skin,” wrote Annick Barbaud, a professor at the Sorbonne University School of Medicine in Paris, in an email. .
There’s more bad news, she added: “You’re still allergic for life, and there’s no possibility of desensitization.”
The culprit is often nickel — a durable, low-cost metal frequently used in cheap jewelry — but chromium, cobalt or other metals can cause problems, Dr. Barbaud said. And because labeling practices differ, even some jewelry labeled hypoallergenic or nickel-free may actually contain traces of nickel.
“There is no scientific definition of ‘hypoallergenic’. It’s a marketing term,” Dr. Barbeau said. “We hope that ‘hypoallergenic’ jewelry will comply with European regulations limiting the release of nickel from objects that come into close contact with the skin. However, for someone who is already allergic to metals, especially nickel, even hypoallergenic jewelry may still cause a reaction.”
Fine gold jewelry can also cause problems, because 24k gold or pure gold is soft and is usually alloyed with some other metal for strength. White gold, for example, is often alloyed with nickel, while yellow gold is usually alloyed with silver or copper, although some nickel can be added as well. The 9 karat or 12 karat gold used in inexpensive jewelry can have a high alloying percentage.
The European Union regulates the amount of nickel allowed in jewelry, but the United States does not. said Nina Andersson, CEO of Blomdahl, a jewelry company founded in 1985 in Halmstad, Sweden, that focuses on allergy jewelry. This regulation allows nickel to be released into pierced jewelry at up to 0.2 micrograms per square centimeter per week. For ordinary jewelry, the limit is higher; 0.5 micrograms per square centimeter per week.
Leakage, which is the term used to describe the release of atoms from a metal, is exacerbated by warm weather. “When you’re sweating, the leakage is higher and your exposure is higher,” Anderson said.
Blomdahl, which promotes its products as “exquisite jewelry,” has designs for adults and children alike, ranging in price from €14 to €136 ($15 to $149). Ms. Andersson said the company’s total annual sales were about SEK 75 million ($7 million); Its US subsidiary is authorized to use the Blomdahl name and sells most, but not all, of its designs.
“According to our dermatologists, medical grade titanium and medical grade plastic are the best for skin,” Anderson said. So the brand makes plastic jewelry for kids, including a pair of drop earrings with pastel crystals cut in floral shapes and set in medical-grade plastic, priced at €32. Titanium is used for its adult designs that make direct contact with the skin, such as earrings, rings, and nose rings. A simple eight-millimeter titanium nose ring, for example, has a price of 21.50 euros.
Ms Anderson said that for necklaces, bracelets and anklets, the company uses “the highest grade of stainless steel, covered with a ceramic layer on top that we developed with our dermatologists and hospital-tested, which encapsulates the nickel within the jewelry.”
To maintain the company’s strict standards, she said, “All nose and ear jewelry are sold in hygienic ‘clean packaging’. You can’t try them on. If you open the package and the seal is broken, you can’t return them.”
Blomdahl has also developed an ear and nose piercing service, which is available in Europe and the United States, and manufactures its own drill, which is registered with the US Food and Drug Administration as a medical device.
Bad personal experience with piercings was behind Louisa Serene Schneider’s decision to create hypoallergenic jewelry and her own piercing program. “I had to sew my ears twice,” she said, because the holes were so badly positioned.
So when it came time to pierce her daughter’s ears, Ms. Schneider switched from her career in investment banking and hedge funds. “My daughter deserves a safe experience,” she said. “What if I could get nurses to pierce ears and build a brand around it? I had the idea of creating a company that would prioritize safety and adopt the medical standard for ear piercing.”
In 2017, Rowan was born. The company’s name is a nod to the rowan tree, which is considered by many cultures to have protective powers and which grows throughout Rowan County, NC, where Mrs. Schneider’s family originated.
The company offers hygienic piercing, created with the help of an advisory board of medical professionals, including physicians, and performed by registered nurses trained in the procedure. “At Rouen,” Ms. Schneider said, “we pierce longer posts to allow airflow and swelling; very short posts can get infected.”
Rowan only makes earrings, including the Endless Hoop, which comes in three sizes and two metals; The 10mm version in 14k gold over silver, for example, is available online at $56 a pair. “We say it’s nickel-free and copper-free,” said Ms. Schneider. We use medical grade stainless steel, titanium, 14k gold and hypoallergenic sterling silver.
The brand also carries silicone studs, which Ms. Schneider said are “perfect for swimming, sports, and summer activities. The silicone earrings are unaffected by sweat or bug spray.” Fifteen studs, with a mini case, priced at $39.
Ms. Schneider said Rowan’s approach has been shown to be effective in avoiding infection and irritation. “The current industry standard for negative piercing results is 30 percent,” she wrote in a subsequent email. “Data from 7,155 piercings shows that we have an adverse outcome rate of less than 1 percent — defined as customers who have an infection, embedded jewelry, an allergic reaction or any other reason that could cause them to miss a piercing.”
However, Kimberly Hastis, the jeweler behind the Boston-based brand Porcelain & Stone, said she prefers to avoid nickel altogether. “Many people may think that surgical steel is safe, but for me personally, it may still contain small amounts of nickel that is bound to the molecular structure of the steel,” she said. “In the past when I visited the dentist, I might have a reaction, a rash, or a raw feeling in the mouth where the dentist tool rests.”
They eliminate the possibility of allergic reactions by using ceramic and stone, and creating settings that are “14 karat gold-filled, which is a heat-press plate of 14 karat gold bonded to an inner core of copper and zinc.” A rainbow moonstone pendant in 14k gold on an 18 inch chain costs $186.
Mrs. Huestis’ sensitivity has directed her towards her current career: “As a child, I could only wear gold; my parents said I was an expensive child.”