WHAT ARE THE BEST METALS FOR SENSITIVE EARS?
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about what metals are actually safe for sensitive ears.
The common belief is that earrings labeled "hypoallergenic" will not cause any adverse reactions. However, as we previously discussed, the term hypoallergenic simply means "less likely to cause an allergy," it does not guarantee that your ear piercings will not react.
At Tini Lux, we prefer to use the term biocompatible to describe our earrings. Biocompatible is defined as the capability of coexistence with living tissues or organisms without causing harm. Our earrings are made with metals that are capable of coexisting with the human body without causing harmful reactions.
The goal of the following information is to help educate people on metals commonly used in fashion jewelry and what makes them safe or unsafe for those with metal allergies.
Metal allergies (aka contact dermatitis) are contact allergies, meaning a reaction only occurs when your body is in contact with the substance (like when you are wearing earrings). The symptoms of metal allergy include reddening of the skin, swelling, blistering, rash, pain.
Contact dermatitis does not occur immediately; it develops over extended contact with the reactive substance. This is why many people can wear earrings for years without issues and then seemingly overnight develop painful reactions when they try to wear them.
Once a contact allergy is developed, it can occur after a few moments of contact with the allergen. Approximately 20% of the population suffers from metal allergies, and that number continues to increase because so many people wear earrings that contain highly reactive metals.
Keep reading for a deep dive into some of the metals that are most commonly used in earrings, as well as the metals that we use at Tini Lux, in hopes to clarify some of the conflicting information that you may have read or heard before.
There is a note below each of the metals that states whether it is approved by the Association of Professional Piercers and if there are any qualifications to it's use.
pure metals vs metal alloys
An alloy is a substance composed of two or more metals, or of a metal or metals with a nonmetal, intimately mixed, as by fusion or electrodeposition.
Alloys can be problematic for a couple reasons. Firstly, because they may contain trace elements of reactive metals like nickel. Secondly, because the electrochemical reaction between the metals may cause allergies. Therefore, to ensure that your earrings will not cause pain, you should only wear pure, unalloyed, biocompatible metals.
Titanium is approved by the APP if it is implant grade, medical grade, or commercially pure ASTM F-67 compliant. It is extremely lightweight and according to the APP is "ideal for people with concerns about nickel sensitivity." There are alloys of Titanium that are not medical grade or commercially pure, so you should always be skeptical of earrings labeled "titanium" without any more information. If you have questions, you should email to clarify the grade of the Titanium. Our earrings are made by a medical implant manufacturer with the same implant grade titanium that they use for their medical implants.
Titanium is the most biocompatible element (less than 0.6% of people are allergic to it) and will not irritate even the most sensitive skin. Since titanium is inert and non reactive to almost all chemicals it will never corrode, tarnish or rust.
Niobium is approved by the APP in it's natural, unalloyed state.
Niobium is a naturally inert metal that is non-reactive with the human body. Niobium is naturally a blueish color, but it can be anodized in order to give it a gold tone. Niobium jewelry is anodized by placing the metal in a specific solution of soap and water and applying an electrical current. Unlike typical fashion jewelry, anodized Niobium does not have any plating, coatings or dyes; after the anodization process it is still 100% pure Niobium which means it is still 100% non-allergenic and non-reactive. Since it is a pure metal and not an alloy, it is always nickel free.
Since Niobium is naturally non allergenic, and it's color can be changed without adding any foreign or reactive materials, it is an excellent metal for earrings. Niobium earrings can be worn safely, even by people with a metal allergy, and does not have a plating or coating that will eventually tarnish or wear away. Niobium is the perfect material for our hypoallergenic drop earrings.
Platinum is approved by APP in it's pure, unalloyed state. It is extremely inert (non-reactive) and therefore a good option for piercings. However, platinum is extremely expensive so it is not an affordable metal for fashion jewelry.
other commonly used metals
Approved by APP if it is 14k or higher, nickel-free, and alloyed for biocompatibility. Gold higher than 18k is too soft for body jewelry because it can easily be scratched or nicked. Anything less than 24k gold is an alloy, meaning that it is mixed with another metal. It is rare that a company will tell you what the alloyed metals are, and for that reason it is risky to purchase gold earrings if you have sensitive ears.
Gold plated, gold-filled, or gold overlay/vermeil jewelry is not acceptable for sensitive ear piercings. All of these involve coating a base metal with a layer of gold. The gold surface (which is very thin—measured in millionths of an inch) can wear or chip off, leaving your piercing exposed to the reactive metal underneath.
SURGICAL STEEL/STAINLESS STEEL
The word "surgical" is very misleading. Although it sounds like it must be safe for the human body if it is surgical grade, the term "surgical" here actually refers to the fact that it is good for surgical instruments because it is strong, easy to clean, and corrosion resistant.
Surgical steel is not used for medical implants because the metals can cause complications when left in the body.
It is approved by APP if it is ASTM F-138 compliant or ISO 5832-1 compliant; ISO 10993-(6,10, or 11) compliant; or (EEC [European] Nickel Directive compliant. There are many different alloys of surgical steel, and not all of them are considered biocompatible. Many alloys contain up to 12% nickel because nickel provides a smooth and polished finish.
Stainless steel is also an alloy that can contain large amounts of chromium, molybdenum, and nickel. Even if it is labeled "nickel free" the other alloyed materials can be highly reactive or the reaction between the alloyed metals may cause issues as mentioned above.
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- Mayo Clinic - Contact Dermatitis
- Metal Hypersensitivity
- APP Jewelry Material