White Gold Allergies
You’ve probably heard about allergies to nickel white gold. What may be more surprising is that it’s possible to be allergic to the palladium alloy of white gold. In this article we’ll discuss how common white gold allergies are and what your options are if you are allergic to white gold.
What are the symptoms of a metal allergy?
Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 26, 2022
If your skin becomes infected, it will become warm and redder or filled with pus. Get medical care right away.”
This article has tons of great information including some tips on how to avoid nickel in non-jewelry items. Nickel is found in a huge amount of products such as tweezers, buckles, snaps and so many more. I have personally experienced many of the above symptoms. The itching can be quite intense, especially at night. The dry cracked skin can make daily activities painful and irritating. More about my personal allergy story later in this article. But first let’s start with the basics.
What is nickel white gold and what is palladium white gold?
Pure gold is a deep yellow and very soft. You need to add other metals to create the other colors such as white gold and rose gold.
Karats and alloys:
When other metals are added to pure gold this forms an “alloy.” The percentage of pure gold in the alloy is what determines the karat. For example, 18K gold is 75% pure gold, 14K is 58.5% pure gold. The other metals also lend properties to the metal such as hardness and workability.
When creating white gold, the most common additive used is nickel. Nickel is very white, relatively inexpensive and also lends hardness to the metal. Palladium provides a slightly warmer white color to the white gold and also hardens the metal. Fewer people have been found to be allergic to palladium which has made it a popular alternative choice for white gold.
Copper (a pinkish orange metal) is used to make rose gold but pure silver (a white metal) and copper are used to make green gold!
How common are white gold allergies?
A small but significant percentage of people are allergic to the nickel in white gold. According to “Metal allergy--a review on exposures, penetration, genetics, prevalence, and clinical implications” by Jacob P Thyssen 1, Torkil Menné
“The prevalence of metal allergy is high in the general population, and it is estimated that up to 17% of women and 3% of men are allergic to nickel…Among dermatitis patients, the prevalence of metal allergy is even higher.”
Some claim that palladium is hypoallergenic and while it’s true that the vast majority of people are not allergic to palladium white gold but, it is possible to have a reaction. This is especially true if you’re already prone to skin reactions.
In the article “Metal allergen of the 21st century--a review on exposure, epidemiology and clinical manifestations of palladium allergy” by Annesofie Faurschou 1, Torkil Menné, Jeanne D Johansen, Jacob P Thyssen
“Palladium contact allergy is nearly always seen together with nickel allergy, as palladium and nickel tend to cross-react…The median prevalence of palladium allergy was 7.8% (range <1.0-19.0%) in dermatitis patients”
In other words, if you are allergic to palladium you are likely to also be allergic to nickel.
How do I find out if I’m allergic to palladium or nickel white gold?
Always check with your doctor/dermatologist if you have any reaction to your jewelry. Your doctor might recommend a patch test conducted by a specialized dermatologist will tell you with certainty what you are and aren’t allergic to.
You may also wish to eliminate other variables that can potentially cause skin irritation.
Other variables could include:
- soap/lotion/etc. trapped in hollow spaces
- chemicals like cleaners held next to skin by the jewelry
- rings that are too tight and hold moisture
- Always keep your jewelry clean! You can do this at home easily and cheaply. With a tiny bit of liquid dish soap in warm water and an old clean toothbrush, you can soak and scrub most of your jewelry keeping it looking new and sparkling. For pearls, turquoise and other extra soft and/or porous gemstones, have your local jeweler clean them professionally or ask our gemology team for advice.
- Have all your jewelry cleaned and checked professionally 1 to 2 times a year by your local jeweler.
- Take your jewelry off while cooking, showering, gardening or other things that could build up debris in your jewelry. For more tips on getting the most wear out of your everyday jewelry and avoiding costly repairs, read our blog post.
What are my options if I’m allergic to both nickel and palladium white gold?
Rhodium Plating: In some cases it is possible to rhodium plate white gold jewelry.
- Provides a thin layer of the white metal rhodium on your jewelry deposited by an electric current in a special solution.
- This layer can wear off over time and may have to be reapplied.
- Some soft or sensitive gemstones can not be put through the rhodium plating process.
Consult your local jeweler to find out if rhodium plating is right for your jewelry, or contact us.
Coating with lacquer:
Some recommend painting the skin contacting surfaces of your jewelry with clear fingernail polish or a similar lacquer. We don’t recommend this method for several reasons:
- may damage sensitive gemstones
- comes off easily
- some people are allergic to the common ingredients in nail polishes and other lacquers
Choose other metals:
Consider platinum or other colors of gold for new jewelry purchases. There are other white metal alternatives that some types of jewelry can be made with such as stainless steel, titanium and others. These metals work great for jewelry such as wedding bands and pendants. Contact your local jeweler to find out if these would work for you, or contact us.
Reset your diamonds and gemstones:
Another option is to have your existing jewelry remade in platinum. Platinum is a naturally white metal and most jewelry made with it is either 90% or 95% pure depending on the alloy. Platinum is the most hypoallergenic metal available for jewelry and allergies are extremely rare. Your gemstones and diamonds can be removed from the white gold settings and reset into the new platinum.
Transform your gold:
If you want to re-use your white gold sentimental family jewelry in a new piece of custom jewelry, Jewelsmith offers a service called “same molecule refining” that extracts the pure 24K gold from any gold jewelry. Unlike large-scale refining where lots of jewelry from various sources are all processed at once, this small batch service returns your same gold back to you, not just any gold from a big lot, but your gold. This 24K gold can then be made into any color or karat of gold. In other words, you can turn your grandparent’s white gold wedding rings into yellow gold! Contact us to learn more about “same molecule refining.”
Summing it up:
The vast majority of people do not have an allergy to white gold alloys, so odds are, you’ll have no allergy problems wearing white gold jewelry. But if you do, you have options.
If you know that your skin is very sensitive and you prone to allergies in general, consider platinum, other colors of gold or alternative metals.
Stop by your local jeweler once to twice a year to have your jewelry professionally cleaned and inspected. Clean your jewelry at home! This can prevent reactions from soap/lotions/etc that become trapped in your jewelry.
If you have a skin reaction to your jewelry, see your doctor or dermatologist. Then see your local jeweler to explore your options.
My personal white gold allergy story:
I have been a professional jeweler since way back in 1995. Every day of my jewelry career I have handled white gold jewelry, both nickel and palladium alloys.
Several years ago I started developing a persistent rash on my fingers that defied treatments. I tried a process of eliminating all the soaps/lotions/detergents/cleaning products as well as many other attempts to figure out the source of the allergy. Finally, patch testing was recommended to me. Since my insurance would help pay for it and as I had exhausted my other options, I decided to go for it.
Some 40 or so samples of materials were taped to my back for 48 hours. Not the most comfy process especially since I also have a sensitivity to tape! Another 48 hours later after the samples were removed, 48 hours after that, the dermatologist read the results. I was not shocked to learn that I was allergic to nickel, but a palladium allergy was a real surprise. When I asked the doctor if this was common, she said no, but they were seeing more and more of it. She said that even handling it for a few minutes would be enough to provoke a reaction. The insidious thing about these metal allergies is that the rash only appears days later. Without the patch test, I would never have figured out what was going on. Ultimately any discomfort from testing was worth it for me because of my level of exposure. Fortunately, I can wear nitrile gloves when handling white gold as well as a prescription barrier lotion. For the first time in years, my hands are healthy and clear!
My case is unusual because of my occupation and the constant exposure. If you feel that you may have an allergy, contact your doctor or dermatologist.
About the author:
Molly Hollingsworth is a professional goldsmith with a BFA and more than 27 years experience