Metal Allergies and Dermatitis
Last updated: December 2022
This November, my daughter, who is 8, got her ear lobes pierced for the first time. An early Christmas present from her dad and me.
If I am being honest, I was dreading it a little bit. The only reason was that I knew, given that my daughter also has symptoms of both contact and atopic dermatitis, that this wasn’t going to be a cheap gift.
What issues do I have with jewelry?
You see, I very seldom wear jewelry. I have two pieces of jewelry I wear with regularity: an 18-karat gold bracelet and a platinum tongue ring. Yes, they make tongue rings in platinum.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to brag. I don’t own much jewelry because of my allergy to most standard metallurgical formulations. I can’t wear anything less than the most costly metals. I have never been what you could consider wealthy. In other words, if I accidentally swallow this tongue ring, I am out of luck.
How does my body react to metal?
Through my body piercing obsession during my teens, we discovered that the allergy extended to all areas of my body. Certain metals are quicker to react or have more uncomfortable reactions. It seems no matter which kind of metal, the outcome is the same. If I wear a metal I am allergic to, I’ll experience very aggressive contact dermatitis that will increase in severity until removed.
The usual reactive symptoms I experience include a rash, hives, and discoloration that is painful and often itches. I have had ulcerations form as a result and have had parts of my body swell up, including my tongue.
What metals am I allergic to?
So what metals do I have to avoid? Almost all of them.
My allergy includes nickel, stainless steel, copper, brass, plated metals, and any alloy combinations of the above. Much to my dismay, that means that rose gold jewelry is out of the question.
What is the most common metallurgic allergen?
Now, many people do experience some form of metal allergy, usually to products that contain nickel. The renowned jeweller Charles and Colvard state on their blog that nickel is the most common metallurgic allergen internationally and the most commonly used in manufacturing and production!1
It is not just nickel that can cause such reactions. Cobalt, chromium, zinc, and copper are all common metal allergens known to cause contact dermatitis. Metal allergens such as the ones named above can also be ingested and cause reactions in persons with allergies and sensitivities.2
What can you do to manage it?
As always, speak to a healthcare professional you trust when unsure if making specific dietary or lifestyle changes is the correct choice for you and your unique situation.
So how do I deal with this day-to-day?
How do I know which metals to avoid?
Well, I know which metals I need to avoid and don't wear them. I was able to discover the specifics of my allergies from the results of a procedure called patch allergy testing.
However, I realize this may not be a viable or affordable solution for many people. Not everyone is as fortunate as I have been with successfully accessing affordable medical care.
So what can one do when one cannot afford or does not have coverage to have diagnostics like patch testing done?
What if you can't get a patch test?
Well, my best advice, in this case, is to familiarize yourself with your body and its reactions to your jewelry. Depending on if you can stand it, you even be willing to experiment with different brands of costume jewelry. Often different manufacturers will use different formulations and amounts of metals in their alloys. Some are more tolerable than others.
However, if you are like me and are painfully reactive would recommend using caution and ensuring you are buying only specific metals.
What about my daughter?
I regret that my daughter and I will not likely be able to stand wearing the cute donut earrings we saw during her piercing at Claire’s, lest we tempt a severe contact dermatitis flare-up on our earlobes.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel just a little bad about passing on such an annoying piece of my genetic makeup. However, that is life, and when it gives us lemons, we make lemonade. When it gives us atopic dermatitis and metal allergies, we make patient support groups!
What piercing did she get?
I’m also happy to report we found a very cute and reasonably-priced pair of earrings that won’t give my daughter's first piercing experience an uncomfortable start! It sucks that she has to navigate these waters too, but there are some bonuses. She, too, gets to learn the excitement of February 15th jewelry sales!
Are you allergic or sensitive to metals? Where is your go-to for costume and everyday jewelry? Let me know in the comments!
What type of infection do you deal with most often?