Itchy Ears? It Could Be Your Artisan Earrings

So Steady as She Goes

A woman came to see me recently with red, itchy, scaly earlobes. She thought she had psoriasis. She didn’t. She had hand-crafted earrings.

Many earrings contain nickel, one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. Developing an allergy to something requires that you are exposed to it, often repeatedly, which is why nickel allergy is more common in women. Though still used extensively here in the US, there are restrictions on nickel in jewelry in Europe.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that locally crafted earrings were more likely to contain excessive levels of nickel as compared to store-bought earrings. They did not, however, find that there was a relationship between the price of the earrings and whether or not they contained nickel. The study found that   69% of earrings purchased from local artists contained nickel while only 24% of earrings in chain stores contained the metal.

The authors recommended that all jewelry be labelled as containing nickel or being nickel- free to increase public awareness and to help those who are known to have a nickel allergy. Until then, there is a test that you can buy to determine if a metal contains nickel. It’s called dimethylglyoxime (DMG), and can be purchased over the counter or online. When DMG is applied to nickel, it turns the DMG red or pink.

So, should you toss your favorite earrings if they contain nickel? If you have a true nickel allergy, probably so. Unless you don’t mind developing an itchy, red crusty rash. But before you toss (or re-gift) them, you can try to seal the nickel in the jewelry so it doesn’t contact your skin: One way is to paint the metal part with 3-4 coats of clear nail polish. Or you can purchase a nickel protectant, which might work better.

Photo credit: FCC, Evil Erin

4 thoughts on “Itchy Ears? It Could Be Your Artisan Earrings

  1. I always wondered why my friends ears would react to certain types of earrings…I think she may have a nickel allergy!..

  2. This is a really useful info for me. I never knew why some earrings I wear cause so much itch, and some don’t. I end up throwing most of them. At least now I know what to check for when I go shopping for earrings…

  3. I’ve had this problem with cheap metal watches, the wrist band left a big ring of itchy red rash and then I found out it was the nickel in the metal alloy. Fortunately not many people use nickel in watch straps any more!

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