Straight dope on earrings "sensitive ears"

I’ve been wearing earrings again, as part of my resolution to Look More Like a Grown-Up. I’m remembering why I quit wearing earrings in the first place, which is that the irritate my earring-holes like nobody’s business.

They’re itchy-to-painful, with some discharge (yum!), and some bleeding–yikes! (But that might just be because I haven’t worn earrings in a while and they were a teeny bit grown-over at the surface.)

I don’t want to end up with amputed earlobes or something, so I’m trying to do some research on the problem and potential solutions.

I have heard that the root of the problem for most people with “sensitive” ears is an allergy to nickel, or rather, to the nickel salts that form due to contact between nickel, skin, bodily fluids, etc.

Is this the real deal? Or is there something else going on?

Also, some websites claim that surgical steel does not have nickel, but other sites say it does. Which is correct, and how closely is the content of “surgical” steel regulated? I’m guessing that there are strict rules about the composition of surgical tools, but there probably isn’t a lot of pressure on the FDA to crack down on the earring industry.

Am I definitely safe if I stick to all-gold or all-silver earrings, or can these be alloyed with nickel as well?

Lastly, is there any danger? If I persist in wearing earrings that irritate my earring-holes, am I going to end up with an open-wound-type situation, and do I run the risk of ending up with an infection?

I have that problem with some earrings.
Just buy the sensitive earrings they have and it’ll be fine. You may also want that bottle of stuff to put on your ears daily. it helps.

Surgical steel is indeed regulated (or at least well-defined), but it can indeed contain nickel; good earrings are made with nickel-free steel. There are several types of steel for different purposes.

Most people with this problem wear gold earrings; don’t bother with silver, it will give you problems too.

Former jewelry sales rep here…

Unless it says nickel-free, odds are high that it’s got some nickel in it, or can be contaminated with nickel. Also, watch out for ones that say “surgical steel post”, because the earring itself may have nickel in it, even if the post doesn’t. IME most surgical steel contains nickel of some type.

Most likely, the cheaper the earrings, the more likely they are to have nickel – not always, but usually.

Actually, I’ve heard that there is no such thing as surgical steel-- that it’s just a marketing gimmick.

When you’re wearing an earring (or some other piercing) again after some time without, you will get an increase in discharge (lymph, I believe), but it’s no biggie-- just wash daily.

Silver is way more reactive than gold, and likely to tarnish quickly. I’ve never had a problem with 10 karat gold (ie 10 parts in 24 pure), but you can get 14 karat that’s still fairly durable.

Have you tried clip-on or magnetic earrings?

Men shouldn’t be wearing earing, anyway. Next thing you know, they’ll be wearing eye shaodw, too…

Seems kinda silly to do that when I have the holes! I mean, putting an unnecessary hole in my body, much less two, isn’t a decision I would make today, probably, but I was pretty fixated on it when I was 10, and now that they’re there . . . Anyway, the holes basically consist of a tube of hard scar-tissue, now, so I suspect that anything squeezing the area would be uncomfortable. I should be alright if I can find the right kind of earrings to wear.

And, yoyo, congratulations, you have chosen an apt username.

Thanks all for the info . . . Still some conflicting opinions on the “surgical steel” question . . .

I can’t help it if my momma naemd me yoyo3500.

And, for the record, I certainly don’t have earings! And I don’t wear a dress, neither!

And for the record, I’m a woman, and if I weren’t, I wouldn’t give a flying fig for your opinion on earrings, eyeshadow, or anything else. Why don’t you run off to MPSIMS? This is a thread asking for factual information, not your opinions–or lame attempts at humor, whichever they are.

How old are your piercings, Podkayne? Are they from long ago and completely healed? Are you sure that the jewelry is surgical steel? Are the piercings in your earlobes or elsewhere on your ears?

My attempts at humor aren’t lame! They are quite vigorous and able!

You heard wrong. 316L surgical steel is exactly that-steel used in surgical implants, typically fracture plates, screws, and hip nails. It’s not as widely used as other alloys in surgical implantation nowadays as other more expensive alloys, but it is perfectly suitable for piercings in most cases.

That sounded a little rude on my part, such was not my intention. Apologies.

Hey, have I got the trick for you.

Titanium hoops. I have an alergy to normal earings, but I found a place that sells titanium hoop earings. Titanium is totally inert. I have never had a problem with them. I can even wear normal earrings for a few days (Halloween) and then put the titanium back in. If your were to wear gold during the day and titanium at night, I’m sure you would be fine.


Grade 316L stainless steel contains anywhere from 10-14% Nickel.

As a child I couldn’t wear anything but gold, but I can get away with other earrings now. I buy the sensitives, though. Anybody know why the sensitive earrings tend to be smaller than “normal” ones? I LIKE small earrings, so this is not a problem, but what if I liked huge ones but couldn’t find them?

I did recently start wearing earrings again after several months of not doing so and my ears were pretty damn sore for a few days. But now they’re fine.

Do a Google Search on “hypoallergenic stainless steel”. From one site:

Surgical Stainless Steel is a silver colour, it is very strong and should always stay highly polished. However, it is not totally hypoallergenic for some people. Surgical Steel contains nickel and there are quite a few people out there who are allergic to or have a sensitivity to nickel in jewellery. Surgical stainless steel is still used by many people for fresh piercings but many people now prefer to choose high quality Titanium jewellery if available for their new body piercings. However, when a piercing has fully healed and toughen up most people are able to wear Surgical Steel jewellery without a problem.

So, the bottom line is: Your earholes may be rather sensitive since they are new, so I’d let them heal, then break them in with something other than stainless steel (and stop immediately if your ears react). Then, try earrings that are labelled as “surgical stainless steel” or “hypoallergenic”. These will still contain a small amount of nickel, but the nickel is pretty much non-reactive and not too likely to cause you trouble. However, some people (and you may be one of them) are sensitive even to surgical and hypoallergenic grades, and they should avoid stainless altogether.

Never claimed it didn’t. I just meant surgical steel isn’t just a made up marketing ploy; for most people surgical steel is hypoallergenic and the nickel isn’t a problem. For people who can’t tolerate it, titanium or gold is a good substitute, although gold isn’t good for a new piercing. It’s too soft and can get nicks that bacteria can hide in.

Grr. Shoulda quoted. That was in response to cynic’s post.