Sometimes jewelry can leave greenish or black marks on the skin, particularly copper or costume jewelry. Even though some people have metal allergies or sensitivities, most discolouration is caused by a reaction between the skin and alloys (added metals), especially when the jewelry touches areas that perspire. Here are some common metals that can stain your skin, why it happens, and how to prevent staining in the future.
Copper oxidizes (tarnishes) very quickly and the tarnish can be transferred to your skin. The jewelry piece you're wearing might not be pure copper, but it could have enough copper in it to cause a reaction. Some people seem to have a body chemistry that's prone to staining even when a tiny amount of the metal is present. Some people with inflammatory conditions wear copper directly on their skin and appreciate the marking as an indication that the copper is being absorbed.
A good alternative to copper, particularly for earwires, is Niobium or Titanium. They are considered hypoallergenic because they do not contain any nickel alloys, so they are safe for someone who is allergic to jewelry with nickel, copper, or other base metals and alloys. Niobium also comes in different colours. I use the bronze-coloured Niobium to make earwires for copper, brass or bronze earrings. That way the colour of the earwire is compatible with the colour of the earrings and is hypoallergenic. Regardless of allergies or reactions, I do not recommend anyone wear any metals in earwires other than Gold, Sterling or Pure Silver, Niobium or Titanium
Since Sterling silver contains a small amount of copper, you may get green stains from wearing the alloy. However, stains from Sterling silver jewelry are usually black and occur when the silver tarnishes due to a reaction with gasses in the air. Salt water or air, for example, can accelerate tarnishing and discolouration. Some Sterling pieces are coated with products like rhodium that help keep them from tarnishing, but the coatings will wear off in time.
Pure silver does not stain and rarely causes skin reactions. The layer of silver in silver-plated jewelry is usually extremely thin and wears off easily. The metal beneath the silver plate can often cause skin reactions and allergies. Silver-filled jewelry however is a much better alternative as the layer of silver is thick enough not to wear off or expose the skin to the base metals.
Gold, like silver, rarely causes skin reactions or staining. Problems arise when other metals such as copper, nickel, and silver are added to gold to alter the color, make it stronger or more affordable. For example, the colour of rose gold is obtained by adding extra copper to the gold.
The lower the "karat" number on your gold, the less pure gold it contains. Some people never have a reaction to the metals in even 10-karat gold, but others must buy 18-karat pieces to stop the discoloration.
Gold plated jewelry can cause reactions if the plating wears off, exposing the metal beneath the gold. Gold -filled, like silver-filled, jewelry has a much thicker layer of gold and therefore will likely not wear off to the base metal which can cause skin reactions.
If you're allergic to nickel your skin will become itchy and red when it comes in contact with your body. Nickel allergies are very common and so I recommend replacing the earwires of costume jewelry with safer metals such as silver, niobium or titanium wires.
Metals from China
I caution against wearing any metal jewelry that has been made in China because they may contain nickel or toxic metals such as cadmium and lead. This is particularly important for children as studies have found high levels of cadmium can cause brain damage in children and lead can be fatal. In North America jewelry is not regulated nor monitored by authorities Random checks have found high levels of lead and Cadmium in jewelry made in China. Experience has also taught us that we cannot trust that jewelry products marked Sterling Silver etc. from China are in fact what they say they are. So it is up to us to protect ourselves from toxic elements which is why I do not use any metals from China when making TerrAdore jewelry.
How to Keep Jewelry From Staining Your Skin
If you find yourself with stained or irritated skin after wearing a piece of jewelry, try some of these tips:
- Minimize your exposure to metal tarnish by keeping your jewelry clean and tarnish-free. You can do this with a polishing cloth or by storing it with anti-tarnish paper, etc.
- Coat the part that touches your skin with clear nail polish or spray lacquer. You can also ask the jeweller to seal the jewelry for you.
- If a piece of jewelry stains your skin, try to determine what metal it was made from if possible. If the staining is severe, avoid that metal in the future. If cheap jewelry is staining your skin, it is likely the nickel is the problem. Try costume jewelry that is labeled nickel-free and see if you still have the same issue or even better, swap out the earwires for safe metals mentioned.
- If gold is staining your skin, try switching to 18-karat gold, a more pure metal. Also, try yellow gold instead of white or rose gold, as the alloys in either white or rose gold could be causing the reaction.
- Platinum is expensive but rarely reacts with our skin, so it is a great choice for people prone to staining or metal allergies.
- Stainless steel jewelry usually does not provoke allergies or reactions and is often used in body jewelry for that reason.
- Titanium and Niobium are good metal alternatives for people with allergies to some metals.
- Keep your skin dry when wearing jewelry. Don't wear your jewelry while swimming, working out, or doing the dishes.