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Silver is a precious metal that is hypoallergenic. In other words, it doesn’t cause allergies or reactions. However, in its pure form, silver is too soft for jewelry use which means that it needs to be alloyed.
Sterling silver is pure silver that has been mixed with other metals to create a harder metal. Whether it’s hypoallergenic depends on the other metals that gets mixed in with it.
Let’s take a closer look.
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Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% pure silver (hence the hallmark 925) and 7.5% of other metals, typically copper.
The trouble with copper is that it’s highly susceptible to tarnishing which is why sterling silver jewelry tends to oxidize so easily. But on the bright side, copper is a hypoallergenic metal because it’s a pure element.
Some other metals that can be used in silver alloys include zinc, germanium, silicon, platinum and sometimes nickel. These metals add strength and durability to the metal and helps it to resist tarnishing.
It’s the possibility of there being nickel in the sterling silver alloy that can make it non-hypoallergenic.
When most people have allergies to metal, it’s because of nickel. Symptoms of nickel allergies can result in swelling, redness, itchiness and rashes.
The amount of nickel in sterling silver alloys is often negligible, but for those with intense sensitivity to nickel, this may still cause issues.
Sometimes sterling silver is plated with rhodium to enhance its shine and make it reflective. This is a great option because not only does it make the silver look great but it also keeps any nickel from touching your skin. Just be aware that as the rhodium wears off over time, your skin will come into contact with the base alloy.
So going back to our original question:
Is sterling silver hypoallergenic?
As you can see, it depends on the metals in the alloy so ask the retailer if the metal contains any nickel. If you find that you’ve had reactions to sterling silver in the past, it’s probably because of nickel content. Look for sterling silver marked ‘nickel-free’ when you purchase.
Having said all that, most people don’t have any issues wearing sterling silver and it’s generally considered a safe metal to wear.
For a list of safe and unsafe metals for nose piercings, check our article here.