Stainless Steel Vs Sterling Silver for Sensitive Ears?

Stainless Steel Vs Sterling Silver for Sensitive Ears? Pros or cons? Which one is better? If you want to know this, this post is for you!

If you have sensitive ears, you have to be extra careful about the kind of metals your earrings are made of; because there’s nothing worse than getting home to itchy ears or even having to leave remove the earrings a few hours after you head out because the itching and discomfort is intolerable.

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Today, we’ll take a look at two of the most common metals used in making earrings to help you decide if you should choose one or the other, or neither of them altogether. At the end of the day, you want to look good without struggling through pain and swelling in your earrings. So, stainless steel and sterling silver, which of these two metals is ideal for your sensitive ears? Are these metals hypoallergenic?


What are Hypoallergenic earrings?

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Hypoallergenic jewelry means that the material used to make the earrings is least likely to initiate an allergic reaction. Understanding whether the material used to make that jewelry is important because there isn’t a standard with which manufacturers label their products as hypoallergenic and it turns out that the jewelry piece is actually allergy-free.

Like you, we’ve come across earrings (and jewelry in general) that is labeled hypoallergenic or allergy-free only for us to end up with itchy ears after some time. Therefore, the only way for you to be sure that you are buying earrings that are ideal for your sensitive ears is by checking what the earrings are made of.

It’s also important to remember that in most cases, hypoallergenic jewelry refers to jewelry that’s free of nickel on its outer surface. So, be careful of coated stainless steel and sterling silver jewelry. The coating might be free of nickel, but the base metal full of nickel, among other allergens.


Why Sensitive Ears?

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Some people are genetically predisposed to metal allergies which manifest as sensitive ears. Often, these individuals are allergic to nickel (present in most cheap jewelry), and this allergy manifests as a nickel itch. Because of nickel allergies, most of us think that we are allergic to silver or gold while in essence, we are allergic to the nickel in the silver or gold.

But genetics isn’t the only thing to blame. You might develop sensitive ears is you don’t get your ears pierced professionally or with safe equipment.


Hypoallergenic Properties of Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver

Stainless Steel

High-quality stainless steel earrings made of surgical stainless steel are regarded as safe and hypoallergenic, and they could be used by individuals with sensitive skin.

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Stainless steel represents an alloy of steel that’s made of steel, iron, chromium, and in most cases, a small percentage of nickel. The nickel in stainless steel is supposed to be very little hence the use of surgical stainless steel in surgeries, but there are cases where the stainless steel has a high concentration of nickel, and this means a high risk of allergies.

Fortunately, you can tell whether the stainless steel you are buying has a low or high nickel content by checking its grade. 316L, XC45 and 430 stainless steel are mainly hypoallergenic since they have not more than 1% of nickel. On the other hand, 304 stainless has a high concentration of nickel, often exceeding 10%.

Therefore, you should avoid stainless steel jewelry made of 304 stainless steel if you have sensitive ears. You can tell whether you are buying good quality or poor-quality stainless steel by looking at the price – the hypoallergenic, high-quality stainless steel earrings cost more than the others.

Sterling Silver

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Sterling silver is not pure silver. Contrary to what you might have thought; it’s a silver alloy made of about 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% another metal, often copper. The other metal in sterling silver could also be nickel.

So, is sterling silver hypoallergenic? Well, it depends on the metal alloyed with silver. Sterling silver is not hypoallergenic for people allergic to copper if copper is mixed with pure silver, but it will be hypoallergenic if you are not sensitive to copper.

On the other hand, if the silver alloy is made pure silver and nickel, then those earrings are severely allergenic and should be avoided by individuals with sensitive skin.

Therefore, if you are unsure about which of these two metals will work for your sensitive ears, you might want to invest in the best quality stainless steel earrings; preferably the ones made of good quality surgical stainless steel.


The pros and cons of stainless steel for sensitive ears?

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  • It doesn’t tarnish
  • It doesn’t cause allergies unless it’s high in nickel
  • Corrosion-free meaning no risk of reaction by-products causing an allergic reaction
  • No need for rhodium plating
  • Low maintenance
  • Lightweight


  • Resizing is hard
  • In case of extreme allergies, you will react to stainless steel


The pros and cons of sterling silver for sensitive ears?

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  • It’s hypoallergenic if it doesn’t have nickel and if you not sensitive to copper
  • It’s beautiful
  • It’s affordable
  • Versatile and works with different outfits
  • Easily curated into different shapes and sizes; it can be resized


  • It tarnishes
  • It’s not hypoallergenic for persons with nickel and copper allergies
  • It scratches easily


Which one is better for sensitive ears? Stainless Steel or Sterling Silver?

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 We’ll have to go with stainless steel thanks to the low risk of allergies to wearers of high-quality stainless steel (surgical) earrings. In fact, stainless steel is the top-recommended jewelry material for individuals with sensitive ears.

Sterling silver, though beautiful and classic, has copper or nickel as the other component of the silver alloy and most people are allergic to nickel and even copper. Copper and nickel are not hypoallergenic materials and the wrong choice for sensitive ears.



If you have sensitive ears, be careful with the jewelry you buy. For example, ensure that the jewelry is free of nickel and copper. Stainless steel is generally hypoallergenic, especially if you are buying earrings made from surgical stainless steel. In essence, this metal is used for surgeries meaning that you could also use it in jewelry safely.

Because of the addition of copper or nickel in sterling silver, sterling silver is not hypoallergenic. Here is a detailed post: is sterling silver good for sensitive earrings?

If you want to read more posts, please to our home page for more. Or go to our jewelry metal category for more info.

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Hey! I finally find the Answer!

2 thoughts on “Stainless Steel Vs Sterling Silver for Sensitive Ears?”

  1. Nice article.

    I’ve been researching into stainless steel, mainly 304 and 316L . From my research, 304 contains between 8-10.5% nickel and 316L has 10-13% nickel but, the nickel is mixed with other metals (alloy) and not plated.

    In the EU (and UK) there is the EU Nickel Directive which states metal containing nickel cannot exceed “0.5 µg/cm2/week for products intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin”, such as jewelry.

    There have been several lab tests (documented online) using an alkaline solution (acidiphied artificial sweat) that conclude – “The following released levels of Ni from stainless steel in artificial sweat (pH 6.5) have been reported: (2) <0.03 µg/cm2 (1 week, grades AISI 304, 316L, and 430)".

    0.03 is well under the 0.5 of the EU Nickel Directive's max exposure amount and concludes that 304/316L stainless steel basically causes no allergic reaction to those with "normal" nickel sensitivity.

    304 and 316L is safe to use in jewelry, even according to the EU Nickel Directive (which the US, as far as I know, doesn't have such limitations/directives) but, that doesn't mean people with very high sensitivity to nickel will not be affected.

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