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People are generally not usually allergic to silver or sterling silver. Rather a metal known as nickel, which has been used in sterling silver. Sterling silver is an alloy consisting of 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals, traditionally copper, and sometimes some manufacturers will use nickel in sterling silver as a less expensive alternative to other metals.
Why Sterling Silver?
Pure silver is too soft to produce any functional pieces and loses shape too easily. Other metals are added to improve ductility, firescale, tarnish resistance, and reducing casting porosity.
Nickel, is a hard and ductile, silvery white metal that has been mistaken for silver in the past. It is commonly used in jewelry including with precious metals and not just cheap or costume jewelry such as gold, white gold, sterling silver and platinum. It gives white gold it’s white color by alloying it with gold. Also, adds many other properties besides color, such as strength and durability, and it has a strong lustrous effect.
Metal Allergy Occurrence
Allergies to nickel occur in approximately 10% of the population, and nickel is the most common metal to cause an allergic reaction. An allergy to nickel used in jewelry usually causes a reddening of the skin, as well as itching or burning in the area of contact and sometimes blistering of the skin, or a rash. There are differences in severity of metal allergies and sometimes if you do not have a severe allergy to a certain metal then a piece of jewelry containing a very small portion of that metal may not cause a reaction, whereas a piece of jewelry containing a high amount will cause a slight reaction.
Metal Allergy Development
While some are genetically predisposed to have a reaction to some metals, others can develop a metal allergy over time with regular exposure. This is common among most kinds of allergies. So, it is possible to have a favorite piece of jewelry, regardless if it is made from a precious metal such as gold or platinum or silver, that has been worn many times or consistently for years suddenly cause a reaction.
Nickel Free is Not Necessarily Allergy Free
Nickel free jewelry is also more expensive as it uses other higher priced metals in place of nickel. It should not be assumed that nickel free jewelry is actually allergy free. People can be allergic to any type of metal including brass, copper and very rarely gold or silver.