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For those with sensitive ears, shopping for earrings can be a tricky trial and error process. With so many cheap earrings made of mystery metals, it's no surprise that some cause your skin to feel irritated and itchy. To get to the bottom of it, Bustle reached out to a few jewelry designers to hear more about what to look for and what to avoid while shopping for the best hypoallergenic earrings for sensitive ears, which’ll match your style and avoid metals that your ears are sensitive to.
Trisha Okubo is the founder and creative director of the jewelry brand Maison Miru. As a Stanford engineer, she creates sculpture-inspired jewelry designs that are both functional and fashionable.
Lauren Priori is a jewelry designer and the owner of L. Priori, a Philadelphia-based jewelry store specializing in custom engagement rings, heirloom redesign, and fine jewelry. She graduated from the Gemological Institute of America and has previously worked in sales at Tiffany & Co., at a diamond auction house, and on Jeweler’s Row.
What To Look For When Shopping for Hypoallergenic Earrings
According to Okubo, “The most common metal allergy out there is nickel, so if you have sensitive ears, you should be looking for earrings made without any nickel. The tricky thing is that nickel can be present in many kinds of metals (including solid 14-karat and 18-karat gold) so you should look for earrings that specifically state that they are made without any nickel.”
Instead, seek hypoallergenic earrings like those made of titanium, surgical-grade stainless steel, and solid gold that are specifically listed as nickel-free, per Okubo’s advice. Some of the earrings are free of other potentially irritating metals too, like lead and cadmium, which I’ve noted.
Keep Your Jewelry Clean
One other tip you might not have thought of? Multiple jewelry designers shared that keeping your earrings clean is also key. According to Priori, “The most important thing is to keep your earrings clean! A lot of times people think they have allergies to metal, but their skin is really reacting to (a) buildup of oils and bacteria on their earrings.” To help, here’s a great guide on how to clean your jewelry.
All of the earrings on this list have earned nickel-free labels from their manufacturers and have been vetted by reviewers with sensitive ears who confirm they haven’t caused any irritation. I’ve pored over jewelry options, their materials, and read through reviews, and have gathered up the best hypoallergenic earrings for sensitive ears, below.
Editor’s note: Always be mindful of your skin’s specific sensitivities when shopping for anything that might trigger an allergic reaction. For more context on metals and which might be right (and wrong) for you, there’s a deep dive into some metals at the bottom of this article.
The Best Metals For Hypoallergenic Earrings:
Stainless Steel is one of the most affordable options, and is often the base underneath which hypoallergenic earrings are plated with other metals, like 14-karat gold. As you shop for stainless steel jewelry, keep your eyes out for “surgical-grade” or “nickel-free” labels, which means it’s less likely to cause irritation. Note: While surgical-grade stainless steel can contain traces of nickel, it is considered hypoallergenic for the majority of people.
Gold can be a great hypoallergenic option, but it’s important to pay attention to the specifics, as gold jewelry will be designed with a number of karats out of 24. For 14-karat or 18-karat gold, that jewelry will have 10 or 6 parts of other metals, respectively, to complete the design. Since those parts can have nickel in them, look for nickel-free gold earrings to ensure they’re less likely to irritate sensitive ears.
Platinum is hypoallergenic and also tends to last longer without tarnishing when compared to many other metals like silver, for example. While it can be hard to find 100% platinum earrings, platinum-plated earrings that are made without nickel should be safe for most sensitive ears (so long as the plating remains in tact, or the design is completely nickel-free).
Brass metals are usually made out of an alloy of copper and zinc, which is often nickel-free, but can still provoke allergic reactions if you’re sensitive to copper or zinc.
Rhodium is hypoallergenic, and when earrings are plated with rhodium, they’ll likely be safe for sensitive ears so long as the plating remains on the design. For extra safety, look for rhodium-plated earrings made with completely nickel-free materials.