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How Jewelry Metal Affects Your Skin

By Edited May 3, 2016 2 1

Many women are very upset when they see a nice piece of jewelry and they cannot wear it because of allergies to the metal. I will try to offer you some information to why that occurs, and perhaps you can avoid purchasing items that you cannot wear.

Gold, silver, and platinum are consider Noble metals. For ages, nations considered these metals (platinum is the only exception) as the primary way to purchase necessities in exchange for goods. These metals, in the early stages of the civilized world, were also used for ornate decoration and jewelry. In modern times there have been many changes in the jewelry business, some good and some bad. The unfortunate part would be for those who are limited in the type of metal they can physically wear.

When I decided to create jewelry as a side hobby and as a part time business, I looked into various aspects of what was available for retail. I worked for an electronic company in a test laboratory and had access to equipment many individuals would never have the opportunity to see or use. I looked into costume jewelry and the more costly jewelry store items. I eventually settled on (by accident) the now growing popular art of wire wrapping. When I started 17 years ago, it was difficult to find information on design manipulation. I found some basic examples and taught myself. Now I have a nice repertoire of items and designs.

In our laboratory we had an electron microscope. Not very many are around because of the cost and training. We also had another machine that analyzed metal content and another that actually showed layers similar to an MRI or a CatScan Unit. Let me explain a simplistic view of some costume jewelry designs.

Costume jewelry usually begins with a base metal like copper or a molded white metal. The white metal is usually cast (molded) for cheap jewelry and often consists of tin, antimony, cadmium and lead in certain proportions. The term used for the final stage of design is electroplated. However, the copper-based ones are a little more sophisticated in design, applying metal layers onto a base metal. Each layer applied is usually measured in micro inches (µinches). The amount of µinches will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, the sequence is relatively the same but with the final layer somewhat thinner than the previous. The copper or bronze (a copper alloy) is formed into a design. A layer of gold is electrochemically applied. Since the gold has to look pretty, the next layer is nickel, to give it a nice shine and better adherence. Another thin layer of gold, usually much less than the first, is placed next. It is then finished with a layer of protective coating to keep it shining for a tested period of time.

This type of jewelry worn against your skin may turn your skin green. Here is why. We all have a certain amount of acid in our body that reacts to metal, some more, some less. The layering of a piece of jewelry is the reason for this oxidation. Manufacturers use different gold coatings such as 10, 14, 18, or 24 karat. The naked eye is not powerful enough to see what actually takes place. With high tech instrumentation, you can see how each layer is covering the next layer and so on. If you look closely through this device or even through an electron microscope, you will get the surprise of your life.

The reason for the allergy problem is "Porosity". Porosity; a material laced with tiny pores that allows fluids or gasses to pass through or permeate. Each layer is porous as layers of metal get electroplated onto the base metal. It would look like random slices of Swiss cheese laid upon each other. As your body sweats, no matter how little, the moisture seeps down into and between these pores until they make contact with all the metal layers and finally with the base metal. Depending on the length of time it contacts your skin, it leaches upward, adheres to your skin and because the base metal is copper-based the oxide generated is hued green.

You may not be allergic to the oxide, but it does create a nice ring on your skin. The allergic reaction to gold whether it is plated or solid may not be the answer to the reason for the allergy. I have found many that claimed they were allergic, tried some of my jewelry, and did not break out in hives. My logical assumption would be, as I have researched, many are actually allergic to the nickel or the coating.

Sterling Silver allergies tend to have the same problem concerning coatings and the use of a copper-base is a standard. The copper gives the silver strength because of its pliability in the raw state. The silver content (.925 or 92.5%) has a variety of additives. Lately the use of Argentium is mixed to reduce the time of the silver tarnishing. Some other additives are germanium, zinc, platinum, silicon, boron, etc, with Germanium leading the pack after Argentium. Manufacturers are very concerned with their customers and their ability to wear the silver.

The tarnishing of silver, as we know it, is also an oxide. There are a number of ways to remove and to prevent the tarnishing. I hope to provide you with that information in another comprehensive article in the near future.

You know the word, "hypo-allergenic", "hypo", meaning low carrying, and "allergenic", meaning allergen or protein causing a reaction as to an allergy. It is just another buzzword for the jewelry business. Logically, after knowing the meaning, it means it will only produce a low possibility of an allergic reaction. With only a low possibility, you really can expect an allergic reaction at any point. The only solution is always soaking your jewelry in isopropyl alcohol. That will sterilize your jewelry and make it as safe as possible.

The little advice that I can offer to those who think they are allergic to a piece of jewelry is to try it out, you never know what portion of the jewelry you are allergic to since manufacturers use different metals and elements. An alternative solution is wearing the jewelry on your clothing. It will make you happy that you can still wear what you desire.


Nov 15, 2009 8:55pm
Informative and interesting to learn from a good teacher. TX thumbs up!
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