Sparkly studs, gold hoops and drop earrings are all effortlessly chic. Red, irritated earlobes? Not as much. If you’re someone with sensitive skin, it’s best to not leave it up to chance when shopping for jewelry. Choosing the wrong pair can result in itchy inflammation or (eek!) a painful infection. The goal should be to make a statement with your earrings — not your swollen ears.
We tapped skin care and jewelry experts to learn what exactly causes these allergic reactions, how to avoid them and what materials and styles to look for in your next pair. We also scoured the internet for safe, stylish and affordable ear candy that's perfect for even the most sensitive ears.
What causes irritation from earrings?
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick explains that earlobe irritation is most often a result of allergic or contact dermatitis. “This can be related to an allergy to a specific material in the earring itself or an irritation from the earring rubbing against the skin,” she says.
While neither are ideal, Garshick notes that there’s a difference between an allergic reaction and an infection. “In general, an infection is more likely to be painful while an allergy is more likely to itch.”
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner adds that in the case of an infection the skin usually “feels warm and tender, and may have pus developing at the surface,” which isn’t as common with contact dermatitis.
When in doubt, consult a dermatologist for a personalized treatment plan.
What to look for and avoid in earrings for sensitive skin
So what’s the culprit of your irritated ears? Dr. Anna Chacon, a dermatologist based in South Florida, tells Shop TODAY nickel is the metal people are most commonly allergic to. “Prolonged exposure can raise the likelihood of allergy development at any age,” she says.
Consider this a great excuse to go jewelry shopping — and make sure to be extra discerning. Chacon suggests looking for earrings that are .925 sterling silver or at least 14-karat gold.
Ally Mataj, co-founder of Bonheur Jewelry, knows how critical it is to wear earrings made from gentle, hypoallergenic materials. Her top picks include surgical-grade stainless steel, titanium and platinum.
Garshick echoes these choices, but warns that “some gold-plated or silver-plated earrings may still contain nickel, so it’s always important to understand the full composition of the earring.”
And for someone who’s prone to eczema or allergies, the style of your earrings can matter just as much as the materials. Jackie Burke, founder of Tini Lux, recommends a pair of minimal studs that you can leave in 24/7. “This is really important because taking earrings in and out can often cause even more irritation for someone with sensitive ears.”
Mataj also suggests studs or "thin or hollow hoops to reduce the amount of metal that comes into direct contact with your skin.”
Affordable earrings for sensitive ears
One of the most affordable hypoallergenic earrings on the market, this stainless steel option is backed by dermatologists and customers alike. Garshick loves that they come with double-notched backs, keeping them secure in your ears.
According to Chacon, Rowan uses “high-quality, nickel-free materials to create its hypoallergenic earrings.” These cuffs are versatile and don’t require a piercing, so you’ll never have to deal with an unwanted reaction.
With this huggie hoop, you get not one but two tones, so you can choose to flaunt either the gold or silver side on any given day. Garshick says it’s great for sensitive skin because “it incorporates 14-karat gold and is rhodium-plated with brass.” You can even opt for just one hoop or get the set.
Designed specifically for those with sensitive skin and metal allergies, it’s no wonder Tini Lux made it onto of our list. While Garshick specifically called out these opal studs as a favorite, they’re currently sold out. Since the brand says everything they offer is nickel-free, these simple gold studs are another great option to consider.
Editor’s note: Although our expert Jackie Burke is the founder of Tini Lux, the decision to include these earrings in our roundup is because they were independently recommended by our dermatologist source.
These dainty diamond studs are a luxury staple, nickel-free and yet don’t don’t break the bank. One reviewer said, “The earrings are elegant and really sparkle…the size of the diamonds are just right for any occasion!"
When you don’t want to sacrifice style for safety, these 18-karat huggies are an excellent (and glamorous!) choice. According to the brand, all of their pieces are nickel-, lead-, cadmium- and phthalates-free.
What’s not to love about a pair of huggie earrings? They’re comfortable, multifunctional and go with every kind of look. These hoops are no exception. All Maison Miru pieces are hypoallergenic, and according to the brand, this pair is “the Little Black Dress of hoops.”
Garshick confirms that these sleek dome hoops are nickel-free and made with 18-karat gold vermeil. Shoppers refer to them as “lightweight,” “versatile” and “the perfect everyday earrings.”
Meet our experts
- Dr. Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist for MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery. She serves patients in Manhattan, New York and Clifton, New Jersey.
- Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, is an associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic & clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
- Dr. Anna H. Chacon, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and author from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
- Ally Mataj is the co-founder of Bonheur Jewelry, which provides pieces made with love and care using 18-karat gold, sterling silver and healing stones.
- Jackie Burke is the engineer-turned-entrepreneur behind the jewelry brand Tini Lux. She left her career as an engineer to found and lead Tini Lux after discovering the true reason for her earring reactions and realizing that there was a need in the market for truly skin-safe jewelry.