Can Sterling Silver Jewellery Cause Allergies? Delving into Alloys and Nickel Regulations

January 20, 2024 3 min read

Can Sterling Silver Jewellery Cause Allergies? Delving into Alloys and Nickel Regulations

In the realm of personal adornment, sterling silver jewellery stands out for its splendid lustre and refined elegance. Yet, beneath its gleaming surface lies a question of concern for many in the UK: the potential for allergic reactions. This issue largely pivots around the presence of nickel in sterling silver alloys and the regulatory limits set on this metal. 

Sterling silver, by its standard definition, is an alloy composed of 92.5% silver. The remaining 7.5% is typically made up of other metals, which play a crucial role in enhancing the durability and workability of the silver. Traditionally, copper has been the go-to choice for this purpose, but it's not uncommon to find nickel in the mix, particularly in lower-cost jewellery.

Nickel's inclusion in jewellery alloys has long been a subject of concern due to its potential to provoke allergic reactions in some individuals. These reactions, known as nickel dermatitis, can manifest as redness, itching, and even blistering upon prolonged contact with the skin. Such unpleasant experiences have prompted a closer look at the use of nickel in consumer products, especially those in constant contact with the skin.

In the UK, legislation requires all jewellery sold to meet the maximum nickel levels as set out in BS EN 1811:2011. It aligns with broader European Union directives, aiming to minimize the risk of allergic reactions. Under these regulations, the permissible levels of nickel release from products intended for direct and prolonged skin contact are stringently controlled. Specifically, the legislation sets a limit for nickel release at 0.2 µg/cm²/week for post assemblies which are inserted into pierced ears and other pierced parts of the human body, and 0.5 µg/cm²/week for other products intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin, such as sterling silver chains.

These limits are not arbitrary but are based on scientific studies and dermatological evidence, striking a balance between consumer safety and material functionality. For sterling silver jewellery, adhering to these standards often means ensuring that nickel, if present at all, is kept at levels that significantly reduce the risk of allergic reactions. While most high-quality sterling silver pieces in the UK market are compliant with these regulations, vigilance is key. While a reaction to sterling silver jewellery is unlikely, if you have one, remove the jewellery immediately and permanently discontinue its wear. 

The National Association of Jewellers does not recommend the use of terms such as “nickel free”, “hypoallergenic” or “nickel safe” and we therefore do not describe our jewellery as such. We can, however, confirm we only purchase our jewellery from manufacturers and suppliers who test their jewellery and adhere to the UK standards and regulations.

When it comes to vintage or artisan sterling silver jewellery, the waters are somewhat muddied, as these pieces may not fall under the purview of current regulations. In such cases, it's prudent for consumers to exercise caution and, when possible, seek verification of the metal's composition.

To sum up, while sterling silver jewellery can contain nickel, the risk of allergic reactions is significantly mitigated by stringent UK and EU regulations. However, a discerning approach, particularly for those with known sensitivities, remains essential. By understanding the technical aspects of sterling silver alloys and the legal limits on nickel content, consumers can make informed choices, ensuring their jewellery is not only stylish but also kind to their skin.


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