A world of sensitive earlobes

Do you suffer from itching, swelling, tenderness, blisters, dry patches or even pain when you wear certain earrings? Do you steer away from certain items of jewellery because you’re worried about reacting to them? Are you keen to wear fashion jewellery that doesn’t break the bank, but don’t know where to start or even what materials are problematic? 

Welcome to the world of sensitive earlobes. There are lots of us with them, but we all react in various ways to individual pieces of jewellery. Luckily, Arlette Gold take sensitivities, materials and allergies seriously – if you like any earrings in our collection but are sensitive, or allergic, drop us a line. We are in constant contact with all of our designers so we can easily triple check on materials; and in many cases can request a special order to suit your ears!

The definition of hypoallergenic is “designed to reduce or minimise the possibility of an allergic reaction, by containing relatively few or no potentially irritating substances.” The term was first coined for a cosmetics campaign in 1953, and is now used to describe items from jewellery to pets.

According to the National Institutes of Health, allergic symptoms resulting from exposure to metals typically appear 12 to 48 hours after exposure. But it’s worth putting in the time to find out exactly what you’re allergic to. 

One of the most common culprits for sore ears is Nickel. It’s a naturally white metal often mixed with other metals to create an alloy. Nickel allergies are common so earrings will often be marked if they’re “nickel free”. However, although jewellery marketed as “hypoallergenic” is nickel free, it can mean that it just has a lower nickel content – very sensitive ears may still react.

Stainless steel is a metal alloy composed of chromium and iron. It is marketed as an option for sensitive ears but small amounts of nickel and copper may be present, so if you’re very sensitive, it’s worth enquiring about the composition before you buy. If you’re very sensitive, surgical steel may be your best bet. It is used in surgery, and contains no nickel or alloys that might cause allergic reactions.

If you’re looking for a material that is, in theory, totally non-allergenic, Titanium is an elemental metal and doesn’t contain nickel. It doesn’t corrode, tarnish, react to sunlight, salt-water, or any body chemistry. Certain grades do have small percentage of alloys but they’re low and biocompatible. However, titanium jewellery is notoriously inelegant and old-fashioned.

You may be tempted to splash out on pure gold or sterling silver earrings, but they can trigger a reaction – precious metals are often too soft on their own so are frequently blended with sturdier substances. Sterling silver 925 (considered a safe bet for most people) by definition is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other substances (zinc or copper perhaps) – so if you’re reacting it’s probably due to the composition of the remaining 7.5%, or, in very rare cases, have a silver allergy. Gold comes in a variety of colours which can mean it’s been alloyed with another material. White gold is usually combined with nickel or another white metal to give its white hue; yellow gold with silver or copper; and rose gold with copper for its pink hue.

A helpful way to tell the composition of a particular piece of gold is to check its Karat weight, a measure of purity. The higher the karat the higher the ratio of gold to alloy. 24k is considered 99.5% pure and anything less than 14k means that at least half of the mix consists of other metals or alloys. Know what variety of gold suits you - if you’re sensitive opt for 14k gold or higher; if you’re really allergic go for 24k.

To help keep retail prices down, copper and brass is often plated with silver and gold or a base alloy. However, because over time the outer surface can wear and expose the base metal to come into contact with the skin, this method doesn’t guarantee hypo-allergenic products. However, the higher the karat plating the less likely this is to happen, and it’s possible to have your jewellery re-plated to maintain the buffer. Always research the base metal and choose earrings with solid gold or solid silver posts if you react. If you can afford it, platinum is considered the least likely material to cause allergies.

Our advice? It’s a case of trial and error. The key is to know what metals you’re wearing, both inside and outside surfaces, and therefore, if you do react, then what materials you’re sensitive to. Reputable retailers will provide material details – in our experience, if they’re vague it’s generally because you don’t want to know!

Shop Arlette Gold:

A fan of stainless steel? BrainbowInnabox, Lia B, Promises Promises offer posts made from the material.

Looking for pure Sterling Silver 925 pieces? Deborah BeckEmma Aitchison, Evgenia Elkind, Iris Van Hulst, Laviandbelle, Little Joy Jewellery, Mondocubo, ORA Pearls, Rachel Jackson LondonWildthings Collectables and World Finds all work in this material.

Is 9 carat gold your bag? We recommend Little Joy Jewellery or ORA Pearls.

Or what about these gold-plated, sterling silver pieces from Laviandbelle, Rachel Jackson London and Wildthings Collectables. With plating karats of 22k and 18k respectively even I can wear them no problem (and my friends will attest how sensitive I am!)

Shlomit Ofir and High Society Collection plate brass with high quality and resistant 16-24K gold or silver, and their ear posts are made from only sterling silver. I’m also good with them.