A jewelry lover’s worst nightmare is realizing that earrings always makes their skin red and sore. But who wants to go a lifetime without wearing earrings because of sensitive skin? Thankfully, there are plenty of types of earrings safe for sensitive ears and alterations you can make to irritation inducting earrings to make them safe to wear.
The best type of earrings for people with sensitive ears are made with pure titanium, platinum, copper, argentium, niobium, fine silver, and surgical stainless steel. Earrings made with gold and sterling silver, as well as earrings labeled as hypoallergic, are also less likely to cause irritations but may aggravate certain skin types.
Keep reading as we cover the best types of earrings for sensitive ears, what metals in earrings cause allergic reactions, and how to prevent your skin from being irritated from earrings you already own and love.
The Best Types of Earrings for Sensitive Ears
All hope is not lost for jewelry lovers with sensitive skin. There are earrings made metals that are entirely safe to wear as earrings. When shopping for your next favorite pair of earrings, look for earrings made of pure:
- Fine Silver
- Surgical Stainless Steel
This metal combination may sound surprising, and even a bit non-luxurious, but these metals in their purest forms are completely safe to use as earrings or as anybody jewelry. Several of these metals, such as titanium and surgical stainless steel, are used in medical equipment and as surgical implants without any risk to the patients.
You absolutely do not need to feel limited in your jewelry choices because of your metal sensitivities. Plenty of major jewelers such as Tiffany & Co. and David Yurman offer titanium and platinum jewelry. Many more stores are beginning to offer earrings made with metals such as surgical stainless steel in an array of styles and prices so you can shop safely to your heart’s content.
What Are Hypoallergenic Earrings?
With sensitive skin, you need to be extra attentive to the metals in your jewelry when shopping. Cheap, costume jewelry will almost always be made with allergen inducing metals and are best avoided. Keep your eye out for any jewelry that states it is nickel-free or hypoallergenic.
Hypoallergic earrings are a popular alternative for those looking for comfortable earrings that they can wear every day without compromising comfort for style. Unfortunately, hypoallergic earrings are not a guaranteed solution for everyone. Instead of being completely allergen-free, hypoallergic earrings are made with materials that likely cause fewer allergic reactions but can still aggravate certain sensitivities.
Since there is no manufacturing standard for hypoallergic earrings, each set of earrings can be made with different quantities of various metals. For example, some hypoallergic earrings may not have exposed allergen triggering metals on its surface, but these metals may be hidden under a coating of a safer metal type that can eventually wear away with use and irritate your skin.
Are Gold and Sterling Silver Earrings Safe?
Even if you ditch jewelry you know is made with metals that irritate your skin, you may be tempted to buy pure gold and sterling silver jewelry. Unfortunately, entirely pure gold jewelry would be too soft to wear and incredibly expensive.
Metals such as nickel, zinc, and copper are added to gold and sterling silver jewelry to improve their durability and luster. Even high-quality sterling silver is only 92.5% pure, compared to fine silver, which is 99.9% pure. You can tell jewelry’s gold purity by its carat weight; for example, 14K gold jewelry is less pure than 22K gold jewelry and will contain more metals that can irritate you.
If you are set on buying yellow, white, or rose gold jewelry, always shop for jewelry made with a higher gold purity, such as buying 18K gold earrings over 9K gold earrings to lessen your chances of any allergy irritations.
What Types of Earrings to Avoid If You Have Sensitive Ears?
The biggest allergen causer in jewelry for sensitive skin is nickel. Since nickel is a strong, cheap, and versatile metal, it is used almost everywhere, such as your zippers, keys, and coins. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10% to 20% of people are allergic to nickel, commonly known as the “nickel itch.” Avoid earrings made with nickel if you notice any signs of irritation on your skin after wearing it. Nickel irritation can also occur from wearing other types of jewelry such as rings, necklaces, and bracelets.
Despite the sizable percentage of people with nickel allergies, the United States does not have restrictions on its usage in consumer products, unlike Europe, which has to follow nickel safety regulations that limit the maximum amount of nickel in products to ensure that they are safe for everyone.
Interestingly, the more times you pierce your skin with nickel, the higher your chances become of developing a reaction. Dr. Vij of Cleveland Clinic explained that “After more exposures — six to eight or more — your body will have a greater likelihood of a response.” While you may have once been happily free of any nickel irritants, you may one day find your long-time favorite earrings damaging your skin.
Even if your earrings are nickel-free, the piercing gun used on you may have contained nickel that irritated your skin instead of being made with sterile, surgical-grade stainless steel. This is another good reason to always work with professionals with access to the best tools and necessary experience to safely pierce your skin instead of relying on the piercers at your local mall. To find a qualified piercer, visit Safepiercing.org and search for a certified member of the Association of Professional Piercers in your area.
Some people swear by applying several coats of clear nail polish to earring backings to prevent irritation. However, this simple DIY is not a solution because it does not create a sufficient barrier between your skin and the metal. Plus, putting used nail polish on an opening in your skin is not hygienic and could lead to more problems than just nickel allergies.
If you are set on wearing earrings that you know irritate your skin, consider buying transparent plastic earring covers that prevent the metal from touching your skin.
How Do I Know If Earrings Are Irritating My Ears?
If you just had your first ear piercing, you may be wondering if your skin’s irritation is the result of the piercing process or if it is coming from an allergen in the earrings.
Typically, the skin around new piercings becomes a bit puffy and crusted as it heals. As long as you regularly clean your ear piercings, the puffiness and crusting on your ears will disappear in a few weeks.
Allergens, on the other hand, take about 12 to 48 hours to appear on your sensitive skin. Be sure to keep an eye out for any signs of redness, soreness, itchiness, blisters, bleeding. If left untreated, your skin can darken, crack, and even ooze.
Remove your earrings as soon as you notice these symptoms, and if your skin is causing you great pain, your doctor can prescribe a lotion to help bring your skin back to normalcy.
How to Prevent Earrings You Already Own from Irritating Your Ears
Now that you know how nickel in earrings can irritate sensitive skin, there are plenty of measures you can take to stay stylish while keeping your ears feeling their best:
- Remove your earrings the moment you notice any signs of irritation.
- Always read what metals your earrings are made with.
- Avoid wearing cheap costume jewelry because they are usually made with nickel.
- Shop for earrings made with body-safe metals such as pure titanium, platinum, copper, argentium, niobium, fine silver, and surgical stainless steel.
- Gold, sterling silver, and hypoallergenic earrings are worth a try, but they are not a guaranteed solution for everyone. Remove earrings made with these metals if you notice any signs of irritation.
- Instead of coating the skin-irritating earrings you love in clear nail polish, slide plastic earring covers over your jewelry to keep your skin safe.
Do not be afraid to part with earrings you cannot wear. You can always give your earrings a second life by gifting them to a friend, donating them, or selling them to a second-hand jeweler for extra cash to go towards your new, skin-safe earrings.