If you notice red bumps or a rash after taking off your jewelry, it is possible you’re allergic to it. Jewelry allergies are not uncommon and may vary in severity. According to the University of Virginia, jewelry allergies are one of the most common causes of allergic skin dermatitis and may affect about 10 percent of the population. The cause of the allergy is one or more of the metals, which the jewelry is made from, such as gold, silver, nickel and copper. Although it is possible to be allergic to any metal, nickel is the most common allergen.
What Causes The Allergic Reaction?
Most people who are allergic to jewelry are reacting to the nickel, which may be a component in the jewelry. Nickel is often used in many types of jewelry including costume and gold plated. In addition, fine jewelry, such as pure silver or gold jewelry also often contains some nickel. Since gold or silver is soft, nickel may be added to help shape the jewelry.
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An allergic reaction occurs when your skin comes in contact with a component in the jewelry, such as nickel and contact dermatitis develops. During an allergic skin reaction, the body reacts to what is usually a harmless substance by producing certain antibodies. The antibodies trigger mast cells to release histamine, which causes common allergy symptoms, such as hives and rashes.
Symptoms of a jewelry allergy may include a rash on the area of the skin which was exposed to the jewelry. Red welts or hives may also develop. The skin may be painful as symptoms first develop. Itching is often present, and the skin may become discolored. In some cases, a rash can spread beyond the site exposed to the jewelry. Perspiration coming in contact with the jewelry can also make symptoms worse. The moisture reacts with the nickel and creates a compound of nickel and salt, which can intensify the allergic reaction in some people.
Often, the symptoms of a jewelry allergy develop a day or two after the jewelry comes in contact with the skin. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the severity of the allergic reaction will depend on the length of time the allergen was in contact with the skin. Also, the concentration of the allergen plays a role in the extent of symptoms. For example, if a person is allergic to nickel, jewelry containing very small amounts of nickel may only cause mild symptoms.
Treatment of contact dermatitis, such as jewelry allergies, may vary depending on how severe the reaction is. Proper skin care, such as keeping skin clean and dry is essential in order to prevent an infection from developing due to broken skin. In many cases, treatment is not needed, however, in certain instances treatments, such as the following may be recommended.
- Benadryl ointment: Benadryl ointment or creams can be applied to the skin up to four times a day to reduce itching associated with a jewelry allergy. Benadryl can also be taken orally to reduce itching.
- Steroid cream: In some instances, a doctor may recommend applying a steroid cream to the area to reduce skin inflammation. It’s essential to always follow directions, since creams containing steroids can dry the skin, which can make the skin more painful and prone to infection.
- Mixture of baking soda and water: Banking soda and water mixed together to create a paste and applied to the skin can help soothe irritation caused by allergic contact dermatitis. The baking soda may also help reduce itching.
- Antihistamines: If symptoms are severe enough, topical solutions may not be enough and oral medications may be recommended. Over the counter antihistamines may help reduce rashes, itching and hives.
Depending on the severity of the allergy, it may be necessary to avoid wearing most types of jewelry. In other instances, wearing jewelry, which contains minimal nickel or is nickel-free, may solve the problem. Jewelry that often contains less nickel includes gold, copper and sterling silver. Other options include jewelry made from stainless steel, platinum and titanium. Look for alternatives to metals when choosing a watchband, such as leather.
In addition to switching to jewelry made from other metals, a jewelry coating shield may help. The coating is placed on the jewelry prior to wearing it. It creates a barrier between the skin and the jewelry
Having a jewelry allergy does not necessarily mean you have to stop accessorizing with your favorite necklaces and bracelets. Determining what metals you are allergic to is the first step if you suspect a jewelry allergy. Trying jewelry made from different metals may be all that is needed to prevent an allergic reaction. Keep in mind, jewelry allergies are usually not serious and will often clear up in a few weeks once you avoid the allergen.