Engagement ring

Things You Should Know: Engagement Ring Metals, and All Things Hypoallergenic

five hypoallergenic rings

There is no feeling quite like shopping for, or receiving, an engagement ring. The beautiful gems and precious metals carry promise and thoughts of the future and forever companionship. However, an allergy to the engagement ring metals, whether sudden or chronic, puts a damper on this special occasion. That's easily prevented as long as you're shopping for hypoallergenic rings.

Metal allergies affect approximately 15% of jewelry wearers. The culprit: immune system conditions that cause a person’s body to perceive certain types of metals as toxins. This causes the skin to react with pain where the jewelry sits, rashes, swelling, blisters, itching, and other uncomfortable symptoms to certain metal alloy types. Some reactions even include depression, fatigue, and arthritis. Your doctor or dermatologist can decide whether your symptoms result from a metal alloy allergy or another condition. This could spare you the pain of buying an engagement ring with the wrong kind of metal!

What types of metals cause allergies?

Not all metals or metal alloy types cause allergic reactions. Jewelers know well the market for jewelry that will not produce allergic reactions, and some even specialize in the hypoallergenic engagement ring department. A good jeweler or retailer will be able to tell you exactly which metal alloys went into each of his or her engagement ring metals, and he or she can help you make a smart decision without stretching your budget.

Listed below are some of the metals and metal alloy types that often cause uncomfortable allergic reactions:

  • Nickel: This metal causes reactions because, when exposed to water or sweat, it breaks down into a type of salt. Salt, of course, is irritating (hence the saying “pour salt into open wounds”). This is the most common, but not only, metal that brings on allergic reaction symptoms.

  • Copper: Copper is often hypoallergenic, but it is a soft, extra-pliable metal. It makes beautiful jewelry, but it does not withstand wear and tear like some other metals. Therefore, some crafters reinforce it with a little nickel metal alloy, which can cause an allergic reaction.

  • Lead: Some metal alloys have a small percentage of lead. We’ve known for many years that lead causes terrible birth defects and strong reactions, and the same is true of any jewelry made with even the tiniest amounts of it.

Which metals cause more allergic reactions with extended wear?

As we mentioned above, nickel is a leading culprit in metal alloy sensitivities. The salts it creates as the metal mingles with moisture on your skin gets trapped, and the longer you wear the jewelry, the more irritated your skin becomes.

Plated jewelry can also present issues. While plated jewelry is often less expensive than jewelry made from 100% of their respective metals, the plating wears off with time. The fading material then exposes the metal underneath, often reinforced with nickel, which then leads to the development of reactions where there were none present before.

Some people notice reactions to jewelry that has no nickel at all. This depends on your immune system and physical chemistry. Talk to your jeweler and doctor to make an informed decision on your jewelry purchases.

Metals used for 14-18kt white, rose, and yellow gold

Jewelers use karats to measure the purity of the metals of each jewelry piece. For example, a 14kt piece means that the metal is just over half pure, 18kt means it’s about 3/4th pure, etc.

Crafters often use platinum in 14kt and 18kt jewelry, especially engagement ring metals. It differs from white gold in its price range and purity, and makes an excellent jewelry metal choice. Many jewelry makers use platinum because it is hypoallergenic. That does not mean that it is 100% pure, although the platinum metal is one of the purest metals from which to design jewelry. It means that, although it may have trace amounts of other metal alloys, those trace amounts are not enough to register any allergic reactions with the consumer’s skin.

Jewelry crafters infuse pure gold, or yellow gold, with other metals to create distinct types and tints of gold. Rose gold, for example, is a combination of copper and yellow gold, mixed in different ratios. However, the copper is more likely to have nickel, the metal which causes most allergic reactions. You should examine and research it carefully before falling in love with the red-tinted metal.

White gold often contains considerable amounts of nickel, so although it makes beautiful jewelry, it isn’t hypoallergenic. White, rose, and yellow gold may also have traces of other metal alloy types. Don’t be afraid to get specific with your questions when making a jewelry purchase.

Platinum for hypoallergenic rings

The safest metal to wear for those who may have sensitive skin or known allergies is platinum. Platinum engagement rings are the most hypoallergenic rings. Platinum used for jewelry is comprised of 95% pure platinum and 5% iridium. It is typically a lot less likely that platinum is the cause of allergies. This is why it is a common and popular choice for engagement rings and other jewelry. Platinum is also a dense and durable metal, so it is a great choice for everyday wear. Platinum can be a great choice, however it can be more expensive than other metals like 14kt gold and 18kt gold. Be sure to keep these factors in mind when selecting platinum for your jewelry.

Tips for avoiding reactions to metal for those with sensitive skin

Some things you can do to prevent known or potential allergic reactions to your jewelry are:

  • Protect and cover your skin when dealing with jewelry and other metal objects.

  • Sell things to which you are allergic and replace them with hypoallergenic materials.

  • Use antihistamines and/or steroids to reduce the discomfort of developed reactions.

  • Talk with your doctor prior to buying metallic products or things that might have trace amounts of metal alloy components.

Things to consider about metals when buying an engagement ring

To avoid ruining a happy occasion with an unknown, or forgotten, skin sensitivity, here are some things about which you should think when shopping for engagement rings besides ring size and setting to ensure you get a hypoallergenic ring:

  • Warranty: If problems arise, you’ll need to return or exchange the jewelry.

  • Price: More expensive doesn’t equate to hypoallergenic. Research your metal types before making your metal choice.

  • Lifestyle Not everyone likes removing jewelry for work or play. It would be unwise to give a nickel or nickel-blended engagement ring to someone who loves swimming.

  • Allergies This includes food and medication allergies. A person who is allergic to certain meds or foods may also be sensitive to certain metals.

Always err on the side of caution. There’s no such thing as too much information when jewelry shopping!