Bitter glitter: Jewelry may itch


Itchy? You might find the cause in your jewelry box.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., recently found that metals such as gold and nickel were among the Top 10 things most likely to cause allergic contact dermatitis. Also making the list were fragrances, a topical antibiotic and a cosmetics preservative.

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the immune system reacts to a perceived threat to the skin, says Dr. Stan Wesson, dermatology residency director at the University of Florida.

The initial contact with a substance might not cause an immediate reaction, but the body will have produced protective cells. “Now you’ve got a primed immune system,” Wesson says. Upon repeated exposure, “the cells say, ‘Aha, here’s our antigen!’ Then, they move to the lymph nodes and recruit and build T-cells that go to the site.” That results in inflammation, swelling and tiny blisters.

Treatment begins with identifying and removing exposure to the allergen. A doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream, oral antihistamines or colloidal oatmeal baths to lessen symptoms.

Although contact dermatitis reactions to plants such as poison ivy and poison oak have been common for years, potential allergens are introduced constantly in new products for use at work and home, Wesson says.

Here’s a look at the Mayo Clinic’s Top 10 list:

Nickel: A metal found in jewelry and clasps, as well as on buttons, bra hooks and zippers, and in such objects as cigarette lighters, pocketknives and paper clips.

Gold: The precious metal is blended with other metals to strengthen it. It’s most likely that a reaction to gold is caused by nickel, which can be present in white and 9-carat gold. Gold is used for jewelry as well as for dental fillings and crowns.

Balsam of Peru: This vanilla-cinnamon fragrance, derived from tree resin, is used in perfumes, cosmetics, skin lotions, shampoos and conditioners. It’s also used as flavoring in baked goods, colas and spices. Because of its healing properties, it is used in various medicinal products.

Thimerosal: The mercury compound is used in vaccines and local antiseptics.

Neomycin sulfate: This antibacterial is found in creams, lotions, eye medications, ear drops and some vaccinations.

Fragrance mix: Eight fragrances make up this standard mixture used in perfume, cologne, cosmetics, aftershave, antiseptic creams, lotions and toothpaste.

Formaldehyde: This widely used chemical is found in such things as fabric finishes, household cleaners, paint, paper products and a variety of toiletries.

Cobalt chloride: This metal is often used with nickel. It’s found in jewelry, tools and buttons, as well as in hair dyes.

Bacitracin: The topical antibiotic is used in skin and eye products.

Quaternium 15: The preservative is found in makeup, sunscreen, soap, latex paint, shampoos and disinfectants.

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