'Tis the Season

Is nickel allergy under your tree?
It won't be long now, and we'll be drinking egg nog, singing carols, and exchanging gifts under the tree. Some of the gifts exchanged will be jewelry, some of that jewelry will contain nickel, and some of that nickel will starts a nickel allergy rash which lasts a lifetime. So, um, not to be a party-pooper, but let's think about that.

Gift giving and receiving does not always follow the rules of logic by which we live our ordinary lives. We are willing and happy to wear certain jewelry because it was a gift from a certain someone, whether that someone was grandma, husband, or friend.

Every now and then I need to talk to the people who are not wearing jewelry, but giving it away.  Some of you know about some of your nickel-sensitive friends, relatives, or spouses, and some of you don't.

Let's just assume for a minute that all of your friends and relatives have a nickel allergy. Now it's not too likely that that's true, but if you don't know, how can you assume that they don't? One way to find out if they have an allergy is to ask (try it, it works!), but otherwise, the safest thing to do is to assume that the person you're gifting has an allergy, or may develop one in the future.

Now here's a little background on nickel allergy. The first time you get exposed to nickel (or your sweetie does), you won't break out in a rash. Nickel is an allergen, and as such, your body reacts a little more to it each time you are exposed. At some point that may show up as a visible (and painful) rash. Not everyone will develop a nickel allergy rash, but once you have one you can be certain that it started sometime in the past, and also that you'll have it for life. The rash may come and go, but you will always have the allergy.

Nickel is one of most common causes of contact dermatitis, and by choosing your gift carelessly, or just because you like the stone, you may be completely unaware of the gift you are really giving - a nickel allergy rash.

Avoiding jewelry is one way to avoid the rash, but frankly, the advice to just stop wearing jewelry is often given too flippantly, with little consideration about how complex this can be. Jewelry is often a memento of relationships or memories, not easily discarded or exchanged. It is a link to the social world, and can be an expectation for dressing up to professional standards. Add to that, that many every day objects can cause nickel allergy rash, including cell phones, keys, paper clips, and belt buckles. The advice to simply give up jewelry really does not get to the root of the problem.

Nickel in jewelry is, in fact, completely avoidable, though I don't expect too many industries to jump on the bandwagon soon. If you live in Europe, you're much more likely to have nickel content in your jewelry regulated, but in the U.S., it is still up to the buyer to learn everything they can. This is where small independent jewelers who are knowledgeable about what they make, and care about their customers, are the most valuable asset of all.

Yikes. Does this look familiar? Don't fall for it. 
And while we're on the subject of gifts, lets talk about KIDS. Don't buy your kids cheap jewelry. Don't buy your kid's friends cheap jewelry either. (Think about how you shop for your kid's friends' birthday parties...)  Don't buy your niece or your grandkids cheap jewelry. Don't buy cheap jewelry for the little gift exchange thing your relatives make you do. Don't buy cheap or unidentified jewelry for kids at all.

Kids can get nickel allergy, just like everyone else. Earrings are particular culprits in causing or making an allergy worse, because it goes right through the skin. If a piercing is not fully healed, the nickel has easy access to your child's bloodstream. Besides that, the habits and behaviors of kids can put them more at risk too. It is not uncommon for a child to stop wearing earrings for a while, then just jam them through when they decide to wear them again. They really don't think or know that there may be a consequence to that, least of all nickel allergy. If your child gets a nickel allergy now, she will have to endure it for the rest of her life.

When you see earrings on a card, and the prices are that cheap, you can be sure that they're selling you a heap of nickel. Jewelry like this may have mysterious labels, like "Fashion jewelry," or "Silver-tone." Cheap jewelry isn't the only jewelry with nickel in it, but it is a major culprit.

Nickel is shiny and it is cheap. You can buy a lot of bling for a little price tag. This IS the reason that companies continue to use it to make jewelry, the reason that stores continue to stock it, and in part, the reason people continue to buy it. Don't fall for it.

I'll be happy to route you to my shop (it's sort of my job), but in fact, there are other places to find nickel-free jewelry, too. Check for a guarantee and see what the terms are. Even high end jewelry can have nickel in it, but the principle is the same.  Ask good questions, like: What is IN the jewelry you're selling?  What metals CAN a person with a nickel allergy safely wear? Who made these earrings? What else can you tell me about this piece of jewelry?

If you don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of nickel allergy research, you might try the direct approach with your giftee. Ask them what they want. Ask them where they shop (in person or online), or you can even just present them with a gift certificate to go shopping. If that's not romantic enough for you, go shopping together and make a special event of it, so that you can choose something together. If you happen to have another friend with the allergy, that could help you go "under cover" a little more easily. You could include them in your research, and ask details about where they shop and who they trust.  Whatever you do, you can ensure that your holiday is what it is meant to be - a reminder of how much you care.


  1. I definitely agree with this post, I wish my mother new I got pierced when I was 2 years old ... well the rest is history. Thanks for sharing.


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