Are Sterling Silver Earrings Hypoallergenic?

When you’re allergic to a type of metal in earrings, it can cause an allergic reaction, which means, if you’re like many people this happens to, you can’t wear many pairs of earrings.

You might feel upset when you can’t wear earrings with your favorite outfit, but there might be hope yet in the form of sterling silver earrings.

Hypoallergenic and “Filler Metal”

The definition of “hypoallergenic” is that it describes something that is pretty unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. So, in the case of sterling silver earrings, it is possible, that, depending on what the filler metal is in it, that you can wear certain types of them.

Be aware, however, that “hypoallergenic” doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to wear earrings with that label.

First, let’s define what “sterling silver” actually means. You need to know that in order to understand “filler metal.”

Sterling silver has to be a minimum of 92.5 percent pure silver. The other 7.5 percent of the metal in it can be another type(s) of metal.

Usually, the filler metal is copper, which is also non-allergenic and soft, like silver. However, earrings need something else to help them keep their shape.

The rest of the filler metal is usually nickel, which can actually be an allergen to many people.

On the other hand, that other metal could be tin, boron, lithium, germanium, indium, platinum, or zinc, which typically don’t cause people any problems.

Argentium sterling silver is one type of sterling silver that contains germanium instead of nickel.

However, if you’re looking at a pair of sterling silver earrings, you want to make sure that the label indicates that they are made with “nickel-free sterling silver” or “hypoallergenic sterling silver.”

That way, you can be relatively certain that what you’re about to put in your ears doesn’t contain nickel, which there is a good chance causes an allergic reaction in your ears when you wear earrings containing nickel.


It’s important to be aware, that just because a label says the earrings don’t contain any nickel, you can’t be sure that they don’t. Sometimes the labels flat out lie.

There are other labels for silver earrings that you need to be aware of. One of them is “silver plated.” This just means that there is a thin layer of silver over a base metal like nickel, tin, copper, etc. that can easily come off.

When that coating comes off, your skin is exposed to the metal underneath, which could well be nickel.

A piece of jewelry that is “silver-filled” isn’t really an inner core of silver, covered by another metal. It’s just a thicker layer of silver coating that won’t come off as easily as if it were “silver plated.”

Other Choices

You have another option than sterling silver made without nickel if you’re looking for hypoallergenic earrings. You will have to shell out some more bucks for the privilege, but you can likely wear “fine” silver or gold, which is made from 99.9 percent silver or gold.

Stainless steel is another choice for people with nickel allergies. While it is an alloy that often includes nickel, some people can wear it if it has lower nickel content.

Hypoallergenic-type stainless steel may be called SC45 Steel or 430 Stainless. These types are composed of one percent nickel, but 304 Stainless steel can be more than 10 percent nickel.

Stainless steel contains steel, which is iron with carbon, chromium, and nickel to cut down on brittleness.

304 stainless steel contains 8-10.5 percent nickel, 0.08 percent carbon, and 18-20 percent chromium, including iron and trace elements of silicon, phosphorous, sulfur, manganese, and nitrogen.

430 stainless steel has less than 0.75 percent nickel, and some forms of it meet the EU nickel directive of having under 0.05 percent nickel ion migration.

XC45 Steel has less than or 0.3 percent nickel, 0.42-0.5 percent carbon, and silicon, manganese, sulfur, phosphorous, chromium, and copper.

Niobium is another type of hypoallergenic metal. It’s often used like titanium in medical implants. You’ll never find it plated or painted, and its color comes from its being anodized in an electric bath.

Niobium doesn’t have additives, so you can wear its yellows, blues, blacks, greys, or copper hues without worrying about an allergic reaction.

Allergic Reactions

What should you look for if you are not sure if you’re allergic to nickel? When you put your sterling silver earrings in, look for redness, itching, burning, swelling, and/or a skin rash where the earring touches your ear.

You might also experience a green or dark grey stain on your skin. The ear and wrist are likely to be more sensitive than, say, your chest, where a necklace would rest.

There is a good chance that you’re allergic to nickel if you experience any of these symptoms when you’re wearing earrings not made of fine silver or gold, sterling silver made without nickel, or stainless steel with very low amounts of nickel.

It’s possible that nickel is not really what you’re allergic to at all. You could be allergic to copper or to any non-pure metal. Trying different types of hypoallergenic earrings is really the only way to find one type of metal that you can wear in your ears.

There is no United States definition of what is nickel-free, and alloys contain different amounts of it. You can find items with very low nickel is to find jewelry that indicate they meet the EU Nickel Directive.

You can also just avoid alloys altogether and focus on metals not combined with any other metal, such as niobium and titanium.

So as you choose your next pair of earrings, be careful about what type of stainless steel you choose. Buying earrings that are made of elemental metal, that contain very low amounts of nickel, or which are free of it entirely can help ensure that you will be able to avoid an allergic reaction to them.

If you can, find stainless steel earrings or other types of earrings that meet the EU nickel directive to keep your ears happy and looking good

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