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Allergic to gold?

Updated on December 29, 2010
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It could be gold... but it's more likely to be nickel

 There are some of us who bare a terrible affliction - we're allergic to metal and can only wear precious metals.  It's a burden... although more for those poor souls that have to buy us jewellery.

Well, don't let the secret out but most of us wretches who break out in hives after 30 minutes of wearing anything but the finest materials aren't actually allergic to all base metals, just one - nickel.  (If you've been tested by the doctor and know for a fact that you are allergic to actual gold then skip to the end for a list of alternative options.)

Nickel is a base metal found in abundance on the planet, so it's cheaper than other metals.  Consequently it is often used in gold and silver alloys to harden the metal and also make it whiter.  It also causes contact dermatitis, otherwise known as hives or a nasty, itchy, red rash.

However nickel is not used in all gold alloys, so if the nickel is your problem then you can still wear gold, you just have to wear the right sort.

The different types of gold

Gold is defined by two things: karat (K), and color.  In the USA you'll find gold in 24K, 22K, 18K, 14K, 10K and sometimes 9K categories.  The higher the number, the more pure the gold.  A piece of gold is split into 24 parts, so if you have 24K gold, it is guaranteed to be 99.95% pure gold.  It is a rich, buttery yellow in color and also very soft - you can mark it with a knife.  18K gold is 18 parts pure gold, and 6 parts other metals like copper, silver, zinc.  14K gold is 14 parts pure gold, and the other 10 are parts are compounds of other metals, and so on.

Then you have color: traditional yellow gold; rose or red gold, and white gold (these are the three most common, although more types exist such as green, purple and black gold).  The more pure gold is, the more yellow it will be.  If you mix gold with copper, you'll get red/rose gold.  If you mix gold with silver, zinc, palladium, nickel or other white metals, you'll get white gold.  This explains why 10K yellow gold is less yellow than 24K.

Where the nickel hides. 

Nickel will be used in American-made 9K and 10K alloys of all colors of gold.   When buying in the USA 18K and above of yellow gold should not bring you out in a rash, 14K should be alright unless you are particularly sensitive or you wear the item constantly, a wedding band for instance.  If you're sensitive to copper and zinc (how do you react with sunscreen that has these ingredients?) then stick with 18K.  22k and 24K are beautiful but are suited best to pieces that you will look after, i.e. putting them away nicely in a box not throwing it in the bottom of your purse, because the gold is soft.

White gold.  Do not buy 14K white gold that has been manufactured by the USA unless you have checked with the manufacturer to see if it is nickel free.  18K white gold is more likely to have palladium as it's whitening alloy rather than nickel but again check with the manufacturer, because in the USA it is still common to find nickel in the 18K alloy. 

But 18K is expensive, and I prefer white gold, what can I do?

If you're allergic to nickel and you're desperate for white gold, buy jewellery that has been made in Europe.  The European manufacturers do not use nickel in their gold alloys, even the 9K gold there should not bring you out in a rash (although if you're buying 9K white gold it's likely to have been plated with rhodium which may wear away and show yellow gold through after time). 

If you want to wear silver then you should also try buying European sterling silver instead of either North or South American silver, as again most silver made in the Americas includes nickel.

I am actually allergic to gold itself, any alternatives?

For the yellow gold look?  Not so much, you could try bronze although that is darker in color and could contain nickel.  For the white gold look, there's quite a few to choose from.

Platinum is readily available in jewelry stores, it is a hard wearing, long lasting metal which is sought after for jewellery making since - like gold - it is resistant to tarnishing, and doesn't wear away.  It has a silvery grey patina.

If you're looking for something brighter than platinum then you can try palladium, another expensive white metal. 

The brightest white metal is rhodium but it is so difficult to work with that it tends to be used only for plating.  However some jewellers are having success and forging rings our of rhodium by mixing it with platinum... rhodium currently costs about 10 times the price of gold though.

Iridium, the most tarnish resistant metal currently known of in the universe (that's pretty tough then) is another inert white metal (like platinum and palladium).  it is incredibly durable but be warned pure iridium is expensive because it's so tough that it's difficult to work with.

Other than that you can try metals such as titanium and surgical steel.  Pure titanium is nickel free and very lightweight to wear (often used for spectacle frames), however be aware that some titanium may have been mixed with small amounts of nickel.  Surgical steel does contains small amounts of nickel, but if you only have minor reactions to other metal items (like belt buckles and zippers) then you should be fine with it (same goes for alloyed titanium).

Or steer away from metal altogether.  You can buy superb wooden jewellery that has a really elegant look to it - you don't need to be a hippy to wear wood and plants. has a stunning array of wooden wedding bands.

The stock offered on are masterpieces of engineering - beads are woven together to make necklaces, bracelets, rings and more, that are a cut above your usual beads thrown together on a string.

Glass jewellery is very fashionable at the moment with so many manufacturers that there is a huge variety out there.  Leather is another alternative, it can be dyed and manipulated without ever ending up as biker chic.  All manner of stones can be made into rings, bangles, pendants and beads.  Of course a lot of these materials will be combined with metal in some way, but  amongst them will be pieces completely free of metal. have a lot of products so they might have something suitable.

Try going to and typing in non-metal or hypo-allergenic jewelry.  (Etsy is a website for the small independent retailer trying to sell their crafts so you can get some unique pieces on there.) 

If you're of an arts and crafty ilk, you could consider making your own jewelry. have a range of non-metal clasps and fasteners.

One last tip, if you are allergic to nickel you may find that those stretchy fabric adhesive bandages leave you with hives that were worse than the original cut you were trying to cover up.  Avoid that kind.

Nickel free/ gold alternatives on Amazon.


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