Jewelry

Hypoallergenic Earrings – And Why They Matter

How to choose earrings sensitive ears

As Wedding Know How editors, we write about things that we love and we think you'll like too. We have affiliate partnerships and sponsorship and may generate some revenue from these at no cost to you.

Have  you ever worn earrings which irritated your ears making them itchy, swollen or blistery? If you have, it almost certainly means you’ve had an allergic reaction to the metal of the earrings.

People with sensitive ears can easily develop allergies to one or more metals in the jewelry they wear. While some people think the problem is with wearing the earrings themselves, the actual problem is with the metals in the earrings.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at different types of hypoallergenic metals as well as the best options for earrings for people with sensitive ears.

The bottom line: Most metals contain allergens that irritate sensitive ears. Choose earrings made of high-quality metals to avoid allergic reactions.

Why Do Ears Get Sensitive?

How to choose hypoallergenic earrings

Some earrings contain metals that can cause allergic reactions resulting in ear sensitivity. The most common allergenic metal is nickel, but others like cobalt, copper and chromium can cause issues too.

These can cause a number of issues for those who are sensitive to metal. The bad news is that they’re present in most of the alloys used for jewelry.

Nearly all inexpensive earrings contain some amount of nickel in their alloy. Nickel can also be found in alloys of gold and silver.

If your ears are prone to metal allergies, you’ve probably experienced redness, itchiness, crustiness, oozing, pain, bleeding or swelling when wearing certain earrings. It’s important to choose your earrings carefully, paying attention to their metals when you purchase them.

What Are Hypoallergenic Earrings?

Hypoallergenic earrings are made of metals that don’t cause any allergic reactions. It’s easy to find these earrings on the market. However, just because a pair of earrings is labeled ‘hypoallergenic’, doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to be safe.

Most inexpensive hypoallergenic earrings contain base metal that has been plated, so that the allergens in the base metal won’t come into contact with your skin. However, as soon as the coating wears off, your ears will most likely get irritated.

While these cheaper options are fine to use once in a while, we don’t recommend wearing them regularly. For regular wear, it’s best to choose earrings made of high quality metals that don’t cause allergic reactions.

Hypoallergenic Metals for Earrings

Gold Earrings

24k gold earrings

These solid gold studs are perfect for sensitive and newly pierced ears. See these on Etsy.

Gold is an excellent metal for earrings because of its hypoallergenic properties but there’s a catch to this.

Most gold is alloyed with other metals to enhance its durability and affordability. The lower the purity of gold (the amount of gold in the metal), the higher the content of other metals like nickel or zinc.

This can result in the metal losing its hypoallergenic nature.

It’s best to look for gold that’s over 14K, as this means that more than half the metal is made of pure gold. 18K is an excellent option as it has 75% of pure gold, while 24K is 100 percent gold. 

Platinum Earrings

Platinum studs

Platinum earrings are ideal for those with metal sensitivities. See these here.

Platinum used for making jewelry items contains 95% pure platinum and about 5% iridium. It’s one of the safest and most hypoallergenic metals to wear in earrings.

Platinum is a more durable and valuable metal than gold, which is why it’s popularly used for jewelry, especially for everyday wear. Its heavier and just like gold it won’t tarnish, rust, corrode or change color over time.

While it does resistant permanent dings, however, platinum can show minuscule scratches which can give it a dark surface appearance as a result of regular wear.

Silver Earrings

Sterling silver earrings

These silver statement earrings are hypoallergenic and nickel-free. See them on Etsy.

On its own, pure silver is completely hypoallergenic but like gold, pure silver is soft and not very durable. Because of this, fine silver (99.9% pure silver) isn’t typically used for jewelry making especially since it’s too malleable to mold.

Sterling silver, which contains 92.5% pure silver, is a more popular choice for jewelry, but it can contain other metals like copper or nickel. Although it’s generally marketed as safe and hypoallergenic, it can still affect someone with very sensitive ears.

If you’re shopping for sterling silver earrings, ask the jewelry if the metal contains any traces of nickel. For some people with sensitive ears, the trace amounts of nickel or other metals in sterling silver don’t cause any issues. However, everyone is different and it depends on how sensitive your ears are.

Surgical Stainless Steel Earrings

Stainless steel earrings

Surgical stainless steel is known for its quality and durability. Ideal for people with metal allergies. Check price here.

Surgical stainless steel (or SSS) is an excellent substitute to platinum and silver and it’s also very affordable in comparison. It’s typically used for body implants and is ideal for piercings. There are several different types of stainless steel alloys and some of these can contain nickel. Consider choosing grades 316LVM and 316L which are hypoallergenic and ideal for sensitive ears.

Niobium Earrings

Niobium earrings

Nickel-free, hypoallergenic niobium earrings for sensitive ears. See these on Etsy.

Also known as columbium, niobium is a chemical element (not a metal), that can be manipulated and used in jewelry-making. It’s similar to SSS and titanium in hardness, durability and affordability.  It’s a safe choice for making rings, earrings as well as other piercing devices. However, inobium isn’t as popular as the other metals on the market so it may be difficult to find niobium earrings.

Titanium Earrings

Titanium earrings

These unique titanium earrings are 100% hypoallergenic and perfectly safe to use. See these here.

Titanium is another hypoallergenic, durable metal that hardly ever causes allergies. It’s a popular alternative to silver or gold and is considered to be the most biocompatible metal which means its not toxic or harmful to the body.

It’s lightweight which makes it comfortable and very easy to wear. While it doesn’t tarnish, however, titanium can show signs of wear and tear.

Plastic Earrings

Plastic earrings

Not only are plastic earrings safe and allergy-free, but they’re also a lot of fun! Check price here.

Plastic earrings are very affordable and are perfect for people with metal allergies. On the downside, however, they can look cheap and there isn’t a wide variety of designs to choose from.

Some plastic earrings aren’t entirely made of plastic and may have metals or stones on them. If you decide to go ahead with plastic earrings, make sure the earring post and the backs are made of plastic since those are the parts that will be touching your skin.

Wood Earrings

Wood earrings

These tribal style wooden earrings are a great addition to your jewelry collection. They’re also safe to wear. See these on Etsy.

If you’ve never considered wearing wooden earrings before, now would be a good time to consider it. Although wood isn’t a common choice for earrings, it’s perfect for people with sensitive ears since it doesn’t cause any allergic reactions.

Wooden earrings have a unique look and there are numerous designs available on the market. Like with plastic earrings, make sure the post and earring backs are made of wood before you wear them.

Allergenic Metals to Avoid

Nickel

Nickel is the most common cause of metal allergies, but unfortunately, it’s found in many jewelry pieces and everyday items. It’s usually mixed into metal alloys such as gold and sterling silver so it can be hard to tell if it’s present or not. Always remember to ask the jeweler if the earrings you’re planning to buy contain any nickel so that you’ll get the right product that’s safe for your ears.

Cobalt

Like nickel, cobalt is another metal that’s used in metal alloys due to its durability and resistance to heat. However, cobalt is well-known for its toxicity (in fact, the name cobalt comes from kobald, which is German for goblin) and is one of the most common causes of metal allergies. If you have sensitive ears, make sure to avoid earrings that contain cobalt altogether.

Plated Metals

Plated metals are usually allergenic because they’re made of base metals such as zinc or nickel which are covered with a layer of another metal.

Over time the plating wears off and your skin will come into contact with the base metals, resulting in allergic reactions.

For someone with sensitive ears and skin, it’s best to avoid earrings made of plated metals. Some examples include vermeil and rolled gold.

How to Make Your Earrings Hypoallergenic

If your favorite pair of earrings is irritating your ears, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to throw them away. Here are a few tips on what you can do to make your earrings tolerable.

  • Coat them with clear nail polish. This is an easy way of creating a barriet between your ears and the nickel in the earrings. It’s not a permanent fix, however, so if you’re planning to wear the earrings several times, you’ll have to reapply the polish every now and then.
  • Give the earrings a quick wipe with hydrogen peroxide and then apply a few coats of vaseline. This only works for an hour or two since your skin will absorb the vaseline and reapplying it regularly can be quite annoying.

FAQs About Hypoallergenic Earrings

  1. What kind of earrings are hypoallergenic? This depends on the metal the earring is made of. Look for metals that don’t cause allergic reactions like higher karat gold, platinum, niobium, titanium or surgical stainless steel.
  2. What does hypoallergenic mean on earrings? The term hypoallergenic simply means that there’s  little to no chance of the earrings causing allergic reactions.

In Brief

While it might be tempting to go for cheap costume earrings because of their affordability, it’s always better to purchase a high quality pair made of hypoallergenic metals especially if you’ve got extra sensitive ears. You’ll avoid the hassle of getting an allergic reaction and your ears will thank you for it!