fickle tips: avoiding allergens whilst accessorizing

I'm allergic to nickel, so I can't wear costume jewelry without risking a horribly itchy reaction. Cold weather is great because I can wear a cute scarf all day, but that's only one season out of the year. How can I accessorize year round without going broke on fine metals, and without driving my skin crazy?

Losing out on costume jewelry is a bummer, so much kitschy cheapness! But avoiding nickel doesn't necessarily mean that costume jewelry is out the window.

allergic accesories

I must have been feeling the red/white when I made this

Plastics and acrylics are always a good choice, and often provide a splash of brightness that metal jewelry might not. There are plenty of non-metal bangles and chunky beaded necklaces to go around! But if chunky/kitschy isn't your style all the time, there's always wood and leather, depending on your personal style.

A lot of mostly-not-metal necklaces still have metal portions or clasps. If you can, attempt a little jewelry surgery! You might try restringing beads on fishing line or ribbon to avoid the problem. If it's charms you're after (like the "Hello!" one in the collage), it would probably be a good idea to splurge on one nice chain of a metal that won't irritate your skin. Usually it's fairly easy to slip a charm off of the chain and switch it onto the nicer one. With one nice chain, you could show off any number of pretty charms as well as create your own unique combos.

I'm not sure of the severity of your allergy, but if you can handle nickel for brief periods of time, you may find a world of accessorizing delight in brooches. They have no prolonged contact with your skin, so should (presumably) be wearable if you don't get a rash putting them on. Plus, brooches are totally fabulous and can land anywhere from classic to obnoxiously rhinestoned on the style-o-meter.

Finally: it usually manages to pop up, but Etsy really is almost always an excellent style resource. There are sellers there who craft jewelry from antique silver, stainless steel (according to the mighty Google, although this is a nickel alloy, it's bound tightly enough that the nickel shouldn't affect the skin), acrylics, wood, leather, cloth, and all sorts of interesting things often for far less money than asked by jewelry companies. I did a quick search for "nickel free" and found lots of adorable and inexpensive things. The sellers there are also usually very communicative and happy to talk about their work, allowing you reassurance that there isn't some secret nickel in those snazzy accessories. There are also many Etsy sellers who deal in supplies, so you can get gorgeous charms and pieces for a fraction of the cost if you're willing to put in a little bit of work on your own.

Good luck, and happy accessorizing!

I don't know a lot about metal allergies, so I apologize if any of this is inaccurate or unhelpful. Do any of you have a tip for our allergic readerfriend?


  1. I'm so happy to see this post. If I so much as hear the phrase "costume jewelry," my skin breaks out. I can handle something small like a clasp, but full-contact chains are a nightmare. And forget about belts, metal buckles lead to unbearable itch.

    I like to put obnoxiously sparkly brooches on skinny headbands year-round. There are also all manner of glittery hair pins available.

    In lieu of rings and bracelets, I collect nail polishes. So many options for color and twinkle.

    Etsy is fantastic. I've noticed a lot of sellers starting to offer allergy-friendly options for things like ear wires and chains, even if a charm has nickel.

    Nickel allergies are fairly common. It's estimated that up to 20% of women have at least some form of reaction to jewelry with nickel, but the severity varies from person to person. The allergy isn't caused by contact with the metal itself, but by the mix of your skin's oils and perspiration with the metal.

    For this reason, nickel has been eliminated as a dentistry metal. Ick, can you imagine having a reaction in your mouth?

  2. Also! Two more very important things about metals.

    Even if something is sterling silver or gold plated, be careful. Sterling and gold are not allergens, nor is the brass that often serves as the base metal. However, there is nickel used in the flash plating process, so as the plating flakes off over time, the nickel is exposed.

    Jewelry made out of base metals are not allergens! Brass, bronze, and copper are great alternatives to expensive fine metals.

    If you have a piece that needs to be plated, take it to a good jeweler and specify your nickel allergy. There are other plating processes that do not use nickel, so if you're looking to preserve a beloved piece, it is worth the investment.

    NEVER EVER EVER use clear nail polish to "plate" a piece of jewelry yourself.



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