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Fine jewelry is king when it comes to quality, but let’s be honest; 14, 18, or 24-carat everything isn’t always practical. However, if you have sensitive skin, anything other than the good stuff is usually off the table. Sure, tarnish is annoying when it comes to more affordable pieces, but the real problem is how they can cause so much irritation. Even if slight at first, a small bump or two can quickly escalate to a full-blown rash. And what piece of jewelry is worth that?
The good news, or well, the facts: “There is no such thing as sensitive skin, especially to jewelry,” says Dr. Orit Markowitz, a New York City board-certified dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin in NYC. “If skin has a reaction to jewelry, it means that skin is allergic or is easily irritated by certain jewelry, which can cause contact dermatitis.” Are you having a lightbulb moment?
In other words, the key to irritation-free accessorizing is knowing what metals you might be allergic to. Once you know that, it’s much easier to navigate jewelry shopping, including affordable pieces, from silver to plated. Ahead, keep scrolling for a sensitive skin breakdown for jewelry lovers, according to Markowitz. Plus, an edit to shop, because, well, how could we not?
Meet the Expert
What Are the Typical Signs of Sensitive Skin?
“If someone thinks they have sensitive skin, it means they most likely have either of these two reactions,” Markowitz tells Byrdie. “When skin gets irritated or has an allergic reaction, you will often see redness, flaking, and even maceration or wetness of the skin. Another sign of a reaction is if you see little, tiny bumps under the skin that are itchy.”
What Types of Jewelry Are Best for Sensitive Skin?
“It really depends on which jewelry creates an allergic reaction or irritates the skin,” says Markowitz. “The number one culprit known to cause a skin reaction is nickel or any of the cross reactants to nickel, which is cobalt. And often, these are found in silver jewelry rather than in pure gold or platinum.”
What Should You Avoid When Jewelry Shopping?
“You want to avoid the allergens within the jewelry,” says Markowitz. “If you know that you tend to react to certain metals, try to stay away from them. For example, if you know your skin reacts to nickel, try to avoid the silver family, but that doesn’t include white gold.”
Can You Still Pile on the Jewelry?
“Irritating the skin or causing an allergic reaction from jewelry has more to do with exposure,” Markowitz explains. “The more pieces, layers, or larger the pieces tend to create moisture under your skin. The moisture combined with the jewelry sitting on your skin can cause little elements from the jewelry to seep into the skin and create a reaction. Once your skin has been exposed to these little elements time after time and reacts to them, there’s no turning back—even the smallest amount of exposure will lead to a significant reaction.”
Is Plated Jewelry Safe?
According to Markowitz, “Plated jewelry is a way to get a high-end-looking piece of jewelry for less money, and it can also protect the skin from the elements it may be allergic to, like nickel,” says the dermatologist. “But be careful as the jewelry wears down; patients can end up having a reaction to the inner components, so it’s not an ideal solution for patients that know they can’t wear silver, for example, to plate it with gold.”
The takeaway here: Take care of your plated jewelry as if it were the real deal, and avoid tarnishing at all costs.
What About Hypoallergenic Jewelry?
Certain metals are far less likely to elicit hypersensitivity reactions. "Of course, any individual can react to anything, but we know the best 'hypoallergenic' metals are platinum, 14 or 18K gold, surgical stainless steel, titanium, and niobium," Dr. Rose says.
What Products or Remedies Are Best for a Jewelry Reaction?
“The best over-the-counter treatment is 1% hydrocortisone ointment,” says Markowitz. “I recommend staying away from a cream—especially if the skin is wet, macerated, or bumpy—because the preservatives in the cream can lead to further irritation.”