How to Prevent and Treat a Jewelry Rash
When you wear your jewelry, do you ever get a jewelry rash? That is, do you experience any redness, irritation, or itching? It’s possible you’re having an allergic reaction to metal(s) used in the jewelry-making process. This is a real bummer if it’s an item you just bought, were gifted, or inherited. It’s particularly disappointing if it’s a much-loved piece you’ve been wearing for years without incident!
Believe it or not, jewelry rashes, the result of metal allergies, are quite common and can develop at any point in your life. The good news: there are lots of ways to successfully treat a jewelry rash and proactive measures you can take to prevent it from happening in the first place.
What is a Jewelry Rash?
A jewelry rash, also known as contact dermatitis, occurs when your skin gets exposed to certain metals present in the alloy that was used to make your jewelry. The most common culprits are nickel (nickel allergy affects 10% of the people in the U.S.), cobalt, chromium, copper, and brass. These metals are frequently used to make affordable costume or fashion jewelry but there are also trace amounts present in precious metals like gold and silver (to improve the jewelry’s durability).
Signs and Symptoms of a Jewelry Rash
A jewelry rash can surface with a range of symptoms, from minor to severe, and can vary in duration. The jewelry rash is usually confined to the areas where jewelry meets the skin – earlobes for earrings, fingers for rings, wrists for bracelets, and the neck for necklaces. However, jewelry rashes can spread to other areas of the body as well.
Here are the most common signs and symptoms of a jewelry rash:
- Red or flushed skin
- Swelling in the affected area
- Itching and/or burning sensation
- Bumpy skin with a small cluster of pimples or blisters
- Scaling or flaking of skin
- Dry patches that resemble a burn
What’s Causing Your Jewelry Rash?
Allergic reactions to jewelry occur when the immune system perceives a substance as harmful and triggers an immune response. There are a variety of factors that increase the likelihood of developing a jewelry rash as a symptom of a metal allergy. These include genetics, the amount of time your skin has been in contact with the jewelry, and whether you have experienced allergic reactions to jewelry in the past.
How to Treat Jewelry Rash1
If you’re currently experiencing a jewelry rash and need immediate relief, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following:
Remove the jewelry right away
Do not put it back on until your symptoms have subsided and the jewelry rash is gone. Avoid the urge to scratch the affected area as this can trigger further inflammation.
Apply a topical steroid cream or ointment
This can help reduce pain, itching, and swelling. Try 1% hydrocortisone cream or ointment (e.g., Cortizone-10, Cort-Aid, Dermarest Eczema, Neosporin Eczema). For further relief, try cooling the product in the refrigerator before applying.
A note of caution: Avoid standard over-the-counter ointments like antibiotic creams, as these may contain ingredients such as neomycin which can aggravate a jewelry rash.
Moisturize your skin
Moisturizing can repair its natural barrier and protect it from irritants. Apply moisturizer to provide a protective top layer over any medicated cream you’re using. To avoid further aggravating a jewelry rash, choose a product free of dyes, alcohol, and fragrances.
Take an oral antihistamine to relieve itching
Try products that contain loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy).
Apply a cold compress
If you don’t have any anti-itch creams readily available, try using a cold compress to bring the swelling down and calm the jewelry rash. Soak a clean cloth in cold tap water, then apply it to the affected area.
When to See a Doctor for a Jewelry Rash
While most jewelry rashes will clear up with an at-home treatment, speak with your doctor if you experience the following jewelry rash symptoms:
- Blisters draining fluid
- Red streaks
- Tenderness, warmth, or pain
- Pus in the affected area
- The jewelry rash is spreading
A doctor may determine that you need a prescription-strength topical cream or oral steroid to get the jewelry rash to calm down.
Consult a Dermatologist
If the jewelry rash is recurring or persistent, it may be a good time to see a dermatologist. They can perform a skin patch test to identify the specific allergen causing the jewelry rash and recommend a treatment plan.
How to Prevent a Jewelry Rash From Occurring
When it comes to managing a jewelry rash, preventing it from developing in the first place is the best plan. You may be able to prevent a jewelry rash—without having to stop wearing your favorite jewel altogether—by taking some precautions. We note a few below; just keep in mind that allergic reactions and skin sensitivity vary from person to person, so there is no guarantee that any will be 100% effective.
Apply Clear Nail Polish to Jewelry
Apply a thin layer of clear nail polish to wherever the jewelry touches your skin (the inside of a ring, for example). The polish acts as a protective barrier between your skin and the irritant in the metal. This is a temporary fix, however, and you will need to reapply additional coats of polish from time to time to keep jewelry rashes at bay. Another added benefit of nail polish? It can prevent tarnish.
Clean Jewelry Often
Dirt, oil, and bacteria can accumulate in the crevices of jewelry, leading to skin irritation and metal tarnish. Keep your skin protected and your jewelry shiny by cleaning your pieces frequently. Soak your jewelry in a mild soap and water solution, gently brush it with a new, soft toothbrush, and then dry it with a soft cloth. For earrings, use a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol to clean the posts regularly.
Keep Your Skin Clean and Dry
Poor hygiene, moisture, and jewelry don’t mix. When water or sweat gets trapped between your jewelry and skin, bacteria can form leading to skin irritation. For this reason, avoid wearing jewelry when you shower, bathe, swim, or exercise.
Buy Hypoallergenic Jewelry
The best way to avoid a jewelry rash altogether is to buy jewelry made from high-quality hypoallergenic metals that are suitable for sensitive skin. These include surgical-grade stainless steel, sterling silver, 14k yellow gold, platinum, and titanium.
Have Your Fine Jewelry Plated
If a cherished piece of jewelry that you wear daily— such as a wedding ring—causes a jewelry rash, ask a jeweler to have it plated or coated in a more sensitive skin-friendly metal like rhodium. This creates an ultra-thin layer of protection between your skin and the metal that has caused the jewelry rash.
Use Silicone Earring Backs
Have sensitive ears? You may require hypoallergenic gold or platinum posts on your earrings to avoid a potential ear infection. There are also silicone and plastic anti-allergy sleeves into which you can slide your earring posts – creating a cushion between your earring and ear. You could also opt for rubber silicone backs that are less likely to cause a jewelry rash.
If you have sensitive skin and have been wearing your jewelry day in, and day out (e.g. an engagement ring), it’s important to take it off every once in a while. Your skin can get dry, irritated, and itchy from prolonged exposure to the metal so sometimes it’s good to take a break from the bling!
Once you manage to wear the jewelry you love without developing a rash, protect it by obtaining personal jewelry insurance through Jewelers Mutual. It’s an affordable option that covers loss, damage, and mysterious disappearances. You can receive a jewelry insurance quote in just 30 seconds by clicking the button below. No personal information is required.