Picture this. You’ve just purchased a new pair of earrings from a retail shop at your local mall. You go home and try them on. At first, you love them! They’re exactly what you envisioned. Until…
A few hours later, your earrlobes become sore and red. What’s the deal with that?
Well, dear reader, you may be allergic to the metals (likely nickel) used to make the earrings. But rest assured, you’re not the only one. Not hardly.
In fact, according to the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF), nickel is the most common contact allergen in the world.
And when it comes to fast fashion, they love to cut corners, making jewelry less safe while putting money in their bank. There has to be a better way – and there is.
In this blog, we’ll define “hypoallergenic,” what that means for folks with sensitive skin, and ways to ensure you’re getting high-quality body jewelry that will reduce your risk of an allergic reaction.
Is “Hypoallergenic” Just a Buzzword?
The short answer is no. The word “hypoallergenic” means that something is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction, specifically cosmetics and textiles.
In theory, this label would be a good way for those with sensitive skin or known contact allergies to know that a product is safe for them.
The caveat is: simply seeing “hypoallergenic” on a label doesn’t protect you. In the case of the United States – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have guidance on the matter, but they do acknowledge it. On their site, they state:
“There are no Federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term ‘hypoallergenic.’ The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.”
This is all to say, be wary of something labeled “hypoallergenic,” without anymore information to back it up. We’ll go over other labels to look for in a later section.
Allergic Reactions: What You Need To Know
Allergens are naturally occurring everywhere. If you have an allergy to something—albeit a food, plant, or in this case, a metal—that means your immune system creates antibodies that label that “something” as harmful. So when you encounter it, your body attacks it, which is precisely what gives you the adverse reaction.
In the case of our hypothetical situation above, the reaction was red, sore earlobes. Though those symptoms are mild, allergic reactions can cause symptoms that are deadly. If you suspect you have a severe allergy, talk to your doctor.
How To Find Truly Hypoallergenic Jewelry
There is one sure-fire way to make sure the body jewelry you’re buying is hypoallergenic: read the ingredients or determine what the jewelry is made from.
Titanium Body Jewelry
First and foremost, titanium body jewelry is going to be your best bet for hypoallergenic jewelry. This is because titanium is biocompatible, which means it’s not harmful to living tissue. In fact, Alfred T. Sidambe wrote in Materials:
“Titanium is considered to be biocompatible because it has a low electrical conductivity which contributes to the electrochemical oxidation of titanium leading to the formation of a thin passive oxide layer. The oxide layer in turn leads to a high resistance to corrosion.”
In other words, titanium excretes a substance that increases its ability to withstand corrosion, making it a safe choice for surgical implants, or in our case, body jewelry.
But even so, not all titanium is created equal.
ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, has developed and published guidance surrounding a wide range of materials, including titanium. So, when picking out jewelry next time, ensure it’s compliant with ASTM F136. It’s a standard that’s also endorsed by the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) as safe for piercings.
Gold Body Jewelry
Like titanium, gold is also biocompatible and hypoallergenic. The problem is that pure gold (24 karats) is a soft metal and therefore not durable enough for piercing purposes. For this reason, gold is often mixed with other metals—like copper—to fortify it, mainly for the purposes of jewelry.
Making it more durable is a good thing, right? Yes and no. Oftentimes, the added metals are what cause you to have an allergic reaction, especially if you have super sensitive skin.
For this reason, you should always look for the highest karat gold possible. Typically, that will be 18-karat or 14-karat. The number of karats correlates to the amount of gold in the jewerly. If 24 karats is pure gold, then that means 18-karat gold is 18 parts gold and 6 parts other metals. In layman’s terms: the higher the karat, the more hypoallergenic the jewelry will be.
Stainless Steel Body Jewelry
Also described as surgical-grade or implant-grade stainless steel, it’s covered under both ASTM guidance and SAE International to ensure safety for medical (or body jewelry) purposes. When shopping for body jewelry, keep an eye out for either F-56 grade or 316LVM stainless steel, especially if titanium isn’t available.
Stainless steel is similar to gold in that it usually contains a small percentage of other alloys. Unfortunately, two of the alloys mixed into stainless steel are nickel and copper. Even in small amounts, both these metals can be irritating to those with sensitive skin, and therefore, one needs to understand the risks involved when purchasing stainless steel body jewelry.
Be a Responsible Consumer
While contact allergens vary from person to person—and it’s possible you may have no allergies at all—it’s best to buy jewelry from a reputable source. A professional piercer would be able to steer you in the right direction based on your needs. But if you decide to shop online, do your due diligence. If something is labeled “hypoallergenic,” make sure they have the materials or ingredients listed to corroborate the claim.
Your One-Stop-Shop For All Things High-Quality Body Jewelry
At Urban Body Jewelry, we have a huge portfolio of high-quality body jewelry for piercings from head to toe. From titanium earrings to stainless steel labrets to 18kt gold rings, we have something for everyone and every style. Our product descriptions almost always list the materials and certifications, making the purchase journey a little easier (and safer) for everyone involved.