What is Hypoallergenic Jewellery?
Hypoallergenic is the term used to describe an item that will not cause an allergic reaction when placed in contact with the human body. It is mainly used when discussing the qualities of things that come into intimate contact with the skin, such as clothing, bed linen, makeup and jewellery. If a reaction occurs, it is termed contact dermatitis. This is exemplified by inflammation, irritation, reddening or blistering of the skin surface. This condition may be temporary or it may last a lifetime.
Like a food allergy, not everyone reacts in the same way; some people will not experience any reaction to certain things, while someone else may experience great discomfort. Genetics and acquired tolerance play a major factor. Most consumer goods are quite harmless and will cause absolutely no problems for anyone, while some have to be approached with a certain amount of caution.
In terms of jewellery, the type of metal and its concentration is the main issue. The effects are most readily seen in piercings, but reactions to neck chains, bracelets and rings are not uncommon.
The metal that causes the most harm is nickel. It is used primarily as a coating to simulate silver, but is used extensively as a constituent in many alloys (metal mixtures) including surgical and stainless steel. It is very hard, tough and relatively cheap, and for this reason, gets used in a great deal of budget costume jewellery and clothing fasteners such as buttons, bra hooks and buckles. Once a nickel reaction has been triggered, it is with you for life. It is banned from jewellery use in the EU and was voted 'Allergen of the Year' in 2008 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Copper has been much maligned as an allergen causing substance. But the evidence suggests otherwise. It is in fact one of the essential metallic elements required by the human body and is itself biostatic. This means that bacteria will not grow on it, in fact quite the opposite is true, it has been demonstrated that it can destroy a wide range of dangerous bacteria and fungi. Specialised copper alloys are even being used as germ killing surfaces in hospitals and many public places.
The green skin discolouration that is associated with copper is verdigris (copper carbonate), which forms on the copper from contact with atmospheric oxygen. This transfers to the skin surface through normal wear, and can be eliminated by proper cleaning and polishing of the copper article before wear. There is absolutely no evidence that copper can be absorbed through the skin and has been used safely as a body adornment in its pure form or as bronze for thousands of years. Problems with copper based jewellery can usually be traced to the inclusion of nickel in the alloy.
The best way to avoid adverse reactions to jewellery is to only wear quality items made from known content. Gold and gold alloys (different Karat values) that do not contain nickel are all fine and the same goes for silver and its alloys (Sterling, Brittania etc). Titanium and niobium are also excellent choices. Most plastics are clinically inert and should cause no problems. Stainless and surgical steels are generally good, but contain traces of nickel, use with caution.
Plated components pose a further risk. Gold plate thickness varies from 0.175 microns to 2.5 microns (a human hair is about 100 microns thick), and can be easily scratched or worn away, with potentially dangerous filler metals becoming exposed after extended wear.
If you absolutely must wear a jewellery piece that causes irritation, it is suggested that you coat the areas that will contact the skin with lacquer or clear nail polish.
As always, there are exceptions to the rules. Tolerances, chemical imbalances and genetic makeup are different for everyone, if you do have problems it is recommended that you consult a doctor or qualified skin specialist as soon as possible.
All of our designs are based around function and form. We strive to achieve elegance and simplicity in the form of our pieces, but this has to be balanced at all times with function. Our jewellery has to be enduring, made to last a lifetime and beyond, a true heirloom piece; the quality of the build is paramount. But above all, it has to be safe for the owner to wear. This is what drives our choice of materials.
No plated parts, no nickel, no compromise.
Happy wearing, and stay safe.
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