Daily Wire Tip Aug. 27: Silver and Nickel in Ear Wires

By on August 26, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
August 27, 2010


When making my earrings I had ordered Sterling Silver ear wires and lo and behold, they made everyone’s ears turn red and itch! Mine too! So in making my ear wires myself, which is better, surgical steel or stainless steel? And is there any way I can incorporate this wire into my pendant and jewelry designs?

-Ellen in Fayetteville, West Virginia


Humm, if the “sterling silver” ear wires you purchased cause an allergic reaction in absolutely everyone’s skin, it sounds like they were mislabeled. Sterling silver is labeled .925 and contains 92.5% pure silver to which (usually) 7.5% copper is added as the alloy that makes it hard enough to work with. Unfortunately copper causes allergic reactions for some people.

Ear wires that are silver plated may also be the culprits, as plated wire consists of a thin layer or “wash” of silver over a base metal that may be nickel. Believe it or not, both stainless and surgical steel, used to make jewelry, also contain a small amount of nickel (8%). For these folks, it is best to use a product that is described as “nickel free” (which unfortunately still contains a tiny bit of nickel, but not more than .05%).

An alternative to all of this was thought to be Niobium, however as more people are using this metal for body piercings, allergic reactions are being found as well. To find stainless steel ear wires, or niobium ear wires, do an Internet search using those exact words.

As far as using steel for pendant and other jewelry designs, sure!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 6:47 am

    I am a very allergic person and have very good results with titanium material.

  2. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 7:08 am

    To know for sure what you really have on your hands, get a silver tester. When I first started buying stuff, a lot of times from ebay, the sterling silver was not sterling at all! It was plated! Especially from overseas sellers. There are a few good ones, but only a few! I have even been sold fakes from right here in the good old US of A! Please, before you stop selling sterling silver, make sure you have all the facts! Also, for a very quick test, cut a piece of the earwire off and look at the center core, if you see any copper color at all, you can surely bet they are not sterling. Or you can file off the coating to see what is under the possibly plated wire. Good luck. I have never had a complaint with my sterling earwires, whether argentium or sterling, so I would think that maybe Dale is right on here!

  3. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 7:42 am

    hi there guys,
    i also purchased “925” ear wires that are stamped to and they are fake! plz beware all this “925” stamped jewlry & findings on ebay n from asian countries are only silver plated with the stamp so it sels for more! i found this the hard way to, i recomend to use argentium i have very sensitive skin and so do alot of my customers and we find this isnt like the so called ‘925″, or i went to the hardware and bought galvanised wire to try it out and this seems to be ok to , however its a little darker to conventional metals,also i find that selling real 375 gold hooks works well if you make the actual earring interchangeable so the customer only ever needs the one pair of gold hooks and wil never itch and the same with the silver buy them from your local jewler if u buy many u may get a discount :), i hope this helps and good luck you just gotta keep trying things til u find the 1! :)

  4. avatar

    Jess Wanless

    August 27, 2010 at 8:38 am

    Hi, I have used Titanium ear wires for folks who are not only allergic to nickel but also have metal intolerance. Titanium is hypo-allergenic.
    Titanium ear wires are a little more expensive than Niobium, but as Titanium cannot be welded but has to be hand tooled, Titanium ear posts are expensive.
    Titanium ear wires can be found on the internet, and I look for surgical grade Titanium ear wires before buying.

    I hope this helps,

  5. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Steel wire is usually a bit stiffer than Sterling, even if you can find “dead soft”.

    Often times, the less expensive the wire, the fewer choices you have for temper. Most Stainless wire I’ve seen is at least “half hard” if not “full hard”. In other words, only suitable for certain designs, and you have to be careful not to overwork it.

    On the other hand, if you can get it *here* they probably have dead soft wire. ;)

  6. avatar

    Tina Spergel

    August 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

    I have had a problem with earrings for a long, long time. It seems that the only thing I don’t get an allergic reaction to is solid gold.

  7. avatar

    Kelley Pounds

    August 27, 2010 at 9:29 am

    I have no problem wearing sterling silver ear wires or even brass ear wires, both of which I make myself. And so far copper doesn’t seem to bother me, either. But I don’t even work with nickel, which I’ve heard is also marketed as “German silver,” because it is those symptoms you describe that I get, and if my skin stays in contact with nickel too long, I develop a rash with blisters.

  8. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Sounds like she got silver plated instead of sterling. If you make your own I advise sterling wire. Most people will not get a reaction to sterling wires. I cannot wear any nickel, but I wear sterling fine. I cannot wear surgical steel or things marked hypo-allergenic either. AFter 5 years I have only had 1 person react to the sterling wires I make myself.

  9. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Another idea to prevent redness caused by allergic reaction to the earwires is to coat the wire. My one friend has this problem and she has always coated the earwires with clear nail polish. I’ve used car polish on occasion. Both work when you can not replace the earwire or if it’s already made and attached permanently to a earring.

  10. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I have a long 8″ double scar on my leg in testimony to the fact that surgical steel is hardened with nickel. The 5 screws and one large ‘L’- shaped piece had to be removed in a second surgery (thus the double scar) after my surgeon and I figured out what was wrong. This led him to figure out what was happening to another patient. The word ‘surgical’ is no guarantee that it works for everyone!

    Dale thank you for explaining why some things that say “nickel free” are intolerable. I find that other items are only coated or lacquered or something and after a few wears, they are useless as well.

    Ellen, remember that if the pendant is meant to hand in an open blouse collar or in the cleavage of low cut dress, it is still touching skin and can cause a reaction. (Think last week’s episode of Royal Pains “Whole Lotto Love” when the lotto winner’s wife bought the set of “gold” jewelry.)

  11. avatar

    Kathleen Bianchi

    August 27, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I use nothing but Sterling Silver earwires and have never had this problem. I’m curious as to where you purchased them. A friend of mine gave me what she thought was a sterling silver anklet, and my skin began to get irritated. I took it to a jeweler and he said it was sterling filled. I would contact whomever you bought your earwires from and request a refund.

  12. avatar

    Casey Willson

    August 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    My husband only used pure silver not sterling for all his jewelry work. He found few who were allergic.

    • avatar


      August 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

      Hi Casey – as you mention using ‘pure’ silver, which would be .999 and very soft – how would he make ear wires with it that would not bend?

  13. avatar


    August 27, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    I would look for Argentium at anywhere from 20 to 22 gauge, half hard, and make my own (I actually do…). 18 gauge works for some ear wires. Moat Argentium has little or no nickel, and is not an allergy problem.
    Some older formulations of Sterling have some nickel along with the copper, and many are allergic to nickel. I have been using Argentium for earwires, and I have no allergy problem, and no tarnish!

  14. avatar

    Mildred S.Schiff

    August 27, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    I have found argentium silver to be hypoallergenic as well as the other metals mentioned. In fact, I had a student who said she could not wear any silver or silver colored metal without immediate reaction wear a pair of argentium earwires for an evening and she had no reaction at all.

  15. avatar

    Tanja L. James

    August 28, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Concerning ,reaction to ear wires::: Long ago,I learned that I too was having an allergic reaction to MOST ear wires.
    A very old lady laughed and said” Just dip your ear wires ( only the part you put in the ear hole) in a tube of hydrocortisone cream or ointment. So I tried it and IT does Work,without hurting the wire . Now I tell everyone and they can wear what ever earrings they want or have. Also,it is okay to get the generic brand. I always pick the cream that has the Aloe plus moisturizers. That way they don’t dry the skin out. Hope this is useful to everyone…

    • avatar


      August 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      Great tip Tanja – thanks for sharing!

  16. avatar


    August 29, 2010 at 7:31 am

    I’ve had people ask about my earring wires many times as well.

    My “real job” is in a teaching hospital. So I asked one of the toxicology attendings about allergic reactions to metals. His answer was simply a person can be allergic to anything no matter how little of it is in a product. A person can always be allergy tested if this is causing them a real problem with their jewelry.

  17. avatar


    August 29, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Another possible reason that made everyones ears red and itch is the ear wire ends may have been very rough or sharp causing tiny scrapes in your ears which became irritated by the ear wires rubbing them. To solve this problem take the time to file the points on all ear wires to make them smooth and rounded. I personally like using a cup burr on the end of a rotary tool. You can also use a flat file but I feel the cup burr does a better job.

  18. avatar

    Draco Dubois Camacho

    August 29, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Actually, there are a lot of stainless steel wires locally sold here in the Philippines, especially in my own hometown, Iloilo City. These wires are not easy to locate since the sellers’ place for selling is a bit hidden, but believe me, they are of affordable prices and so easy to use. Maybe it’s now time to try some, stainless steel are really great.

  19. avatar


    September 2, 2010 at 12:01 am

    I bought a lot of sterling silver items from a couple of top rated sellers on Ebay only to find that they were all actually silver plated and none were actually sterling. They were all labeled wrong. Apparently nobody figured it out until after they already left their feedback ratings and reviews of these sellers. The sellers were both aware that they were selling misslabeled items and did not argue with me about getting a refund. They didn’t even ask for the items back. They both are located in China. I have dealt with good Chinese sellers before, but this has made me stop buying any silver from there.