Allergic reactions to silver jewelry can take years to develop because it takes time for the surface of the jewelry to tarnish. A silver jewelry allergy is really a nickel allergy. The allergy is a form of contact dermatitis that starts when the small amount of nickel used in the silver jewelry leaches out and comes in contact with the skin. Since pure silver is too soft to be used in jewelry, nickel is added to sterling silver to improve its luster and strength.
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Symptoms of the Allergy
If you are allergic to silver jewelry, you should see signs of contact dermatitis. The skin around and beneath the piece of jewelry becomes inflamed, itchy and dry. Severe allergic reactions make the skin appear red, flaky and scaly. Blisters and rashes also may break out. In less severe allergic reactions, your skin becomes only mildly irritated and discolored.
Depending on the other alloys used in your silver jewelry, the discoloration may be black, blue or green. Discolorations are caused by oxidation of the silver or the repeated use of soap and lotions on the skin with the jewelry. The chemical change can cause a reaction in sensitive people. The discoloration is not necessarily an allergic reaction; instead, it might be harmless and easily washed off.
Nickel allergies affect 7 percent to 15 percent of men and 24 percent to 36 percent of women. Nickel is used in minute amounts in silver jewelry and reaches the skin when the silver surface of the jewelry is tarnished. When mixed with moisture and other chemicals on your skin, nickel forms nickel salts that are responsible for the allergic reactions.
Nickel allergies can be diagnosed with a patch test. Alternately, you can do a modified test at home by taping a nickel coin to the inside of your arm for 48 hours. If you are allergic to nickel, there will be signs of contact dermatitis on your skin.
Treatment and Prevention
To treat allergic reactions to your silver jewelry, use moisturizers, antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams. If you choose to keep the jewelry, you can prevent further allergic reactions by coating the side in contact with your skin with one of many products designed to create a clear shield. Another option is to use clear nail polish. Electroplating the silver piece also prevents nickel from leaching out. Other less-expensive solutions include keeping your skin and the silver clean, applying powder to the skin beneath the silver and wearing the jewelry less often.