Choosing jewelry can be nerve-wracking if you or your giftee have sensitive skin. What starts as a perfectly accessorized outfit can devolve into an allergic reaction within moments. First, there’s a bump here and there, followed by a full-blown rash before you know it. The key to irritation-free accessorizing? Knowing which metals you’re allergic to. (And yes, it is an allergy.)
As you’re jewelry shopping, keep a close eye on which metals the pieces you’re eyeing are made from. When you’re aware of which metals play friendly with your skin and which ones to avoid, you can accessorize worry-free.
- Saurabh Singh, MD, Saurabh Singh, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at SkinTap, a virtual dermatology clinic.
To help, we turned to a dermatologist to help us understand the science behind a skin reaction, and then (naturally) we shopped the hypoallergenic brands for the best jewelry for sensitive skin—no more aching earlobes, no more little bumps on your chest, and definitely no more rings of green around your fingers where rings once lived.
What are the typical signs of sensitive skin?
Redness, hives, and dry, flaky skin—sound familiar? Those are the typical signs of sensitive skin, which Dr. Singh equates to patients who have rosacea or eczema (atopic dermatitis). The severity of those conditions can range from mild dryness in the winter months to a severe generalized rash, year-round, that should be treated with systemic medications. The symptoms of those with sensitive skin can vary too, from those who get exuberant reactions, to bug bites (sensitive) to those unable to use common over-the-counter face washes (also sensitive).
Sensitive skin and jewelry FAQs
What metals are most likely to cause a skin reaction to jewelry?
“The number one culprit for a metal allergy is nickel,” says Dr. Saurabh Singh, a board-certified dermatologist in the D.C. metro area.
Cobalt, chromium, and copper are also potential causes, he says, but in the overwhelming majority of skin reactions to jewelry, nickel is the troublemaker.
What types of metals are best for sensitive skin?
For patients with sensitive skin, Dr. Singh recommends titanium or platinum. These metals can be expensive, though, “so at the very least,” he says, “I tell patients to make sure any jewelry they buy is labeled as nickel-free.”
Help! I had an allergic reaction to jewelry. How do I soothe my skin?
Step one: Remove that item of jewelry, both from your skin and your jewelry collection as a whole.
“The second thing to do,” says Dr. Singh, “is to apply a topical corticosteroid to the affected areas twice a day.” If your reaction is severe, and the corticosteroid doesn’t appear to be calming your skin, you may need to visit a doctor to receive a prescription cortisone cream.
What does it mean if a piece of jewelry is “hypoallergenic?”
“Hypoallergenic” is the key word anyone with sensitive skin wants to scan for when shopping for jewelry. Hypoallergenic pieces should contain metals—whether stainless steel, sterling silver, gold, or otherwise—that are less likely to cause a skin reaction. One metal it definitely won’t include? Nickel.
What about plated jewelry—is that safe?
That depends. What metal is being plated over? Oftentimes there will be nickel hiding under plated jewelry, in which case, no. While plated jewelry is generally considered safer, giving you a buffer between the base metal and your skin, if you’re particularly sensitive to jewelry, Dr. Singh advises avoiding plated jewelry altogether.
“When a sensitive skin patient wears plated jewelry, he or she may not develop a reaction at first,” he says. “But over time, the patient will most likely become sensitive and have difficulty wearing that piece of jewelry.”
Best Jewelry Pieces for Sensitive Skin
We’re to the stage in adulthood where the phrase “hypoallergenic hoops” thrills us. That’s only part of the reason why these Rowan earrings made this list, though. Not only are they made from 14k gold on sterling silver, giving them the thumbs up to every earring wearer with sensitive skin, but they’re cute as can be, too. They’re bold without being too big, and substantial without dragging down your lobes. Rowan exclusively makes hypoallergenic jewelry—no nickel, no brass, and no zinc ever—so you can feel confident wearing any pair of their hoops, studs, or cuffs.
Material: 14k gold on sterling silver
For sculptural jewelry that instantly elevates any outfit, even if it’s just jeans and a white tee, consider a necklace from Faris. The Seattle-based designer creates bold geometric jewelry of all kinds—necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets, you name it—that feel like wearable art. Each piece, like this bronze and gold-tone plated pendant, is made with high-quality materials too, so they’re sensitive-skin friendly.
Material: Bronze and gold-tone plated
You don’t want your wrist breaking out into a rash from a bracelet. This bracelet from NÜR promises not to, and you don’t have to blow a paycheck to buy it either. It’s made with 18k PVD that is gold plated over stainless steel, and is waterproof and tarnish-free too—cherries on top of the sensitive-skin-friendly sundae.
Material: 18K PVD gold plated over stainless steel
There’s no denying it: J.Hannah pieces are an investment. J.Hannah jewelry will also last you a lifetime, instantly becoming heirloom pieces thanks to their timeless and ultra wearable design. Take this balbous ring from her Form Collection, for instance. It’s easy to layer with other jewelry and just as easy to integrate into your already existing jewelry collection. It’s—dare we say?—perfect. This ring promises to be kind to sensitive skin too, since it’s made with either 100 percent recycled gold or sterling silver.
Material: 100 percent recycled gold or sterling silver
For a little pop of sparkle in your ears without throwing down much cash, nab one (or two) of these studs, made with 14K gold or rhodium-plated with internal brass. This earring can be bought as a single or a pair, depending on how you want to decorate your ear piercings. Keep in mind that while this stud is plated with 14k gold, brass lives underneath. Brass is hypoallergenic and inexpensive, which allows brands to keep costs down, but it can turn skin green. While not an allergic reaction, it’s not the best look either.
Material: 14K gold or rhodium-plated brass
Like all things ‘90s and early 2000s, anklets are cool again and we’re here for it. If you’re ready to decorate your ankles again, nab one of these paperclip chain-style anklets from Baublebar. It’s made from 14K gold plated sterling silver, so it’s guaranteed not to tarnish, even if you wear it to the beach. No need to wait until summer rolls around to rock an anklet, though; think how cute (and surprising!) it’d be peaking out from a trousers and lug-sole loafer look.
Material: 14k gold plated sterling silver
If your jewelry style is dainty and delicate, add this darling bracelet, which is dotted with cultured pearls from oysters and freshwater mussels, to your jewelry box. Your wrists won’t break out into any sort of reaction from this sweet piece either, since it’s made with a thick layer of 18k solid gold on top of sterling silver—two metals that are kind to sensitive skin. It’s bound to last longer than regular gold plating while offering a better price than solid gold. Win/win.
Material: 18k solid gold on sterling silver
Here’s betting you’ll reach for this Maple & J ring, with its bold and far-from-boring stacked look, day after day, no matter what you’re wearing. There’s no going wrong with a standout gold ring, and this solid 14k gold one promises to look just as sharp the first day you wear it as it will years from now. Pair it with a handful of other rings or let it do all the talking itself. Either way it’s a beauty.
Material: Solid 14K gold or 14K gold-filled
Jewelry-wise, there are a few things we inherently trust. 1. Pieces that are made in Italy. 2. Pieces that are made with 14k gold, like these hoops which feature 14k gold plated on top of sterling silver. 3. Pieces that feature just enough drama that they can be worn on their own with either an evening gown or a pair of your favorite worn-in jeans. Check, check, and check in the case of these hoops. BRB, we’re clicking “add to cart” right now.
Material: 14K gold plated sterling silver
Nameplate necklaces are back and in a big way. (Thank you Carrie Bradshaw and early 2000s nostalgia.) If you haven’t added one to your jewelry box yet, this Tiny Tags necklace is the way to go, since you can choose between four hypoallergenic materials. Not only could you treat yourself to a nameplate necklace, but it’d be a sure-fire gift idea too, from Mother’s Day to bridesmaids gifts to a gift that’ll surely earn you a spot as #1 Aunt to your nieces.
Material: Sterling silver or 14K yellow, rose, or white gold
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