Is Sterling Silver Hypoallergenic for Sensitive Skin?
Experts estimate that up to 17% of women and 3% of men have a metal allergy, primarily nickel. This means that it's likely that you know someone who has a metal allergy.
We're surrounded by metal in modern society, and many people love to accessorize with jewelry. If you have a metal allergy, finding jewelry that does not cause an adverse reaction to your skin can seem like a daunting task.
There is, however, a possible solution to this problem—sterling silver jewelry. You may be wondering, though, is sterling silver hypoallergenic for sensitive skin?
Having sensitive skin can throw a wrench into this seemingly elegant solution to allergy-free jewelry. Today, we're going to break down why some people react to sterling silver while others do not.
What Is Sterling Silver?
Silver is a hypoallergenic precious metal, which means it doesn't cause allergic reactions. On its own, silver is too soft of a metal to be turned into jewelry. To use silver for jewelry making, we need to mix it with other metals and make it stronger. This is how we get sterling silver.
92.5% of sterling silver is made of pure silver, while the other 7.5% consists of other metals, usually copper. This is why you see sterling silver stamped with '925' to signify that it is 92.5% silver.
Not All Sterling Silver Is Created Equal
Although copper is typically used in sterling silver, some other metals are used, such as germanium, nickel, platinum, silicon, and zinc. If sterling silver jewelry is made using a cheaper metal, like nickel, it can cause an allergic reaction for people with a metal allergy.
Silver Plating and Silver Filling
In some cases, jewelry that is only silver-plated or silver-filled is passed off as genuine sterling silver jewelry. When jewelry is silver plated, it means that there is a thin coating of silver layered over a base metal. When that coating eventually erodes, the base metal is exposed and causes an allergic reaction.
Silver-filled jewelry is, unfortunately, not much better. Unlike its name would suggest, silver-filled jewelry is not actually filled with silver. Instead, silver-filled jewelry is, in essence, silver-plated jewelry with a thicker coating of silver. Like other silver-plated jewelry, this coating can break down over time and expose the allergy-causing base metal.
Why Do Some People Have Metal Allergies?
Metal allergies are similar to many other common allergies. When you wear jewelry or are exposed to metal in any other way, tiny molecules of that metal pass through your cells to your lymph nodes.
When you're allergic to metal, these molecules cause your immune system to react. It produces histamines to try to fight off the molecules that it sees as trying to cause you harm. This is a normal function of the immune system and does not mean that the metal is causing you genuine harm.
Copper is a hypoallergenic metal in its pure form; however, copper can lose its hypoallergenic properties if it's mixed with other metals (like nickel). There is also a possibility that you can be allergic to copper.
A study conducted between 2004 and 2017 found that 10% of the study patients showed an allergic reaction to copper, regardless of any previous history of dermatitis. So while it is statistically uncommon for someone to have a copper allergy, it is something to consider when you're looking for hypoallergenic jewelry. If you think you may have an allergy to copper, it's best to speak with your doctor and have an allergy test done.
Signs You Have a Metal Allergy
If you have a metal allergy, there are some common symptoms to look out for. These symptoms can include:
- Blistering or scaling of the skin
These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on how allergic you are to the metal in question. Every time you're exposed to the metal you're allergic to, your skin will react the same way. You may find, though, that some areas of your skin will be more sensitive than others. For example, your ears may be more sensitive than your hands.
How to Treat Your Skin After an Allergic Reaction to Metal
If you have an allergic reaction to metal, your skin will be sensitized and will need to be treated as gently as possible to prevent further irritation. Here are some steps you can take to calm your skin after an allergic reaction:
Apply a cool, wet compress—this will reduce swelling, relieve itching, and help dry any blisters.
Use a soothing lotion—avoid any scented lotions as this may cause further irritation on sensitized skin. A calamine lotion can be used to relieve itching.
- Moisturize your skin regularly—when you have a topical allergic reaction, your skin's natural barrier becomes disrupted. It needs moisture to repair itself.
Is Sterling Silver Hypoallergenic?
Are people allergic to sterling silver? Generally, the answer to this question is "no." Sterling silver, when not mixed with nickel, is hypoallergenic and safe for people with sensitive skin to wear. The best way to obtain nickel-free sterling silver jewelry is to purchase your jewelry from a reputable jeweler.
As we mentioned above, if you have a copper allergy, then there is the potential that you may react to sterling silver. However, don't let this discourage you from wearing silver jewelry. Silver can be mixed with platinum to create sterling silver and will provide a hypoallergenic option for you.
Precious Metals That Are Hypoallergenic
In addition to sterling silver, there are other precious metals that are used to make hypoallergenic jewelry. If you have sensitive skin, you aren't limited to just wearing excellent quality sterling silver. Let's go over a few of your options.
Commonly thought to be a hypoallergenic jewelry option, gold can provide a hypoallergenic alternative if it meets certain requirements. To avoid any potential allergic reactions, you'll want to choose 14-carat gold or higher.
Various colors of gold are alloyed with other metals to create their signature hues. Rose gold is created with copper, while white gold can contain nickel. Some white gold is made with platinum, but you'll want to approach colored golds with caution if you have sensitive skin.
Platinum is both more rare and durable than gold and has a natural white hue. If you have sensitive skin and enjoy the look of silver or white gold, platinum can be an excellent alternative. It is not mixed with any alloys before being made into jewelry, meaning it is completely hypoallergenic.
Rhodium is one of the metals used to finish white gold and belongs to the same metal family as platinum. It rarely ever tarnishes, though it can be a bit more expensive than other metals.
The great news, though, is that jewelers are starting to use rhodium to plate sterling silver, which makes it more affordable and prevents potential allergic reactions you might have to the alloys used to create sterling silver.
Argentium is a variation of sterling silver that is made with germanium. It's completely hypoallergenic and is tarnish-resistant. As a bonus, it's environmentally friendly since all Argentium sterling silver is 100% recycled.
A popular option for wedding bands, titanium is another hypoallergenic jewelry option. It's durable, won't corrode, and is non-reactive to almost all other metals and chemicals.
Surgical Stainless Steel
Surgical stainless steel is commonly used for body jewelry and marked as 'SSS.' This metal earned its name from its use in the medical industry for biomedical applications. If you find that your skin is sensitive to any of the metals we've mentioned, surgical stainless steel could still allow you to wear jewelry.
How to Care for Sterling Silver Jewelry
While sterling silver is not as prone to tarnishing as pure silver, it still needs proper care to ensure your jewelry's longevity. Here are some tips for how to make your sterling silver pieces last:
Avoid water: purified water on its own won't damage sterling silver, but any chemicals or contaminants in the water can tarnish your silver.
Proper storage: be sure to store your silver jewelry in individual air-tight bags away from natural light.
Know when to take it off: chemicals, harsh sunlight, and sweat can all tarnish silver jewelry. Avoid wearing your jewelry when exercising, bathing, or working outside.
Polish it regularly: using a microfiber cloth, work in long up-and-down strokes to clean your silver jewelry. Avoid using circular motions while you're polishing, as it can make the tarnish worse.
Do You Wear Sterling Silver?
Now that we've explored the ins and outs of metal allergies, we can confidently answer our initial question: "Is sterling silver hypoallergenic?"
Yes, sterling silver is hypoallergenic so long as it isn't mixed with an allergenic metal like nickel. So, do you wear sterling silver jewelry, or do you have another favorite metal? Let us know in the comments below!