Can Costume Jewelry Be Toxic?

Melissa Melissa9Z at Zmho.net
Thu Jan 14 21:38:58 EST 1999

	I received a very nice Solstice gift recently, a beautiful Asian-made 
bracelet, about 2" wide, that appeared to have copper and some other metals 
woven into it. I proceeded to wear it for about a week, before noticing a gray 
substance rubbing off and staining the skin around my wrist. This didn't happen 
at first, but got worse, especially when I would sweat a little while wearing 
it. It made me a little nervous, because it was starting to stain my skin gray, 
for a day or so after taking it off. 

	So I decided to call the 800 number of the company that sells it, and 
ask exactly what the metal is, on the off chance that it might be something 
toxic, like lead. When this person  bought me the gift, she was under the 
impression it was silver ( I haven't looked at their catalog myself, so I 
don't know how it was presented ), but I've worn silver rings for many years 
and they certainly don't do this, or even oxidize much from my skin. 

	When I called, it was difficult to get the woman there to even answer 
my question. She beat around the bush, telling me that the bracelet is supposed 
to help the body by sending copper into the bloodstream, etc. The same 
"electromagnetic...electrical life currents..." silly new-age-sounding hype ( 
IMO ) as the little sheet that comes with the bracelet. But I pointed out that 
the only part of the bracelet that contacts my skin, is not the copper part on 
top, but the silvery part around my wrist, and this is what's rubbing off into 
my skin. I'm not interested in legend, superstition or snake oil here, I'm 
interested in science. I'm a rocket scientist. 

	After beating around the bush some more, she told me the bracelets are 
made "from whatever metal is available at the time". I asked if it could be 
made from lead then? She said absolutely not. Then she said; "let me see ( as 
if she was actually readng something, which I doubted ) ...this shipment says 
it's made of nickel". Bingo! So, not being familiar with the actual scientific 
effects of nickel on the body,  I did a quick search on "nickel" on the web, 
using Alta Vista's search engine and at amazon.com ( the world's largest book 
dealer ) , I found:

"Nickel and the Skin : Immunology and Toxicology by Howard I. Maibach, Torkil 
Menne (Editor) Our Price: $159.00

Hardcover (July 1989) CRC Pr; ISBN: 0849369762  Availability: This title 
usually ships within 4-6 weeks. Please note that titles occasionally go out of 
print or publishers run out of stock. We will notify you within 2-3 weeks if we 
have trouble obtaining this title. 

Be the first person to review this book!  Write an online review and share your 
thoughts with other readers!

Booknews, Inc. , December 1, 1989
Eczematous sensitivity to nickel is now the most common cause of allergic 
contact dermatitis throughout the industrialized world. Most contact is  
through costume jewelry, buttons, zip fasteners, earrings; occupationally  
provoked cases are few because of improved occupational hygiene, but early 
exposure via jewelry, etc. can predispose individuals for later industrial 
dermatitis. Topics treated here include: chemistry, analysis, and monitoring; 
human exposure and chemobiokinetics; carcinogenicity; alloys and coatings; 
epidemiology; drug interactions; orthopedic prostheses; dental treatment; 
social and demographic aspects. Acidic paper. Annotation copyright Book News, 
Inc. Portland, Or."

Then at the United Nations' World Health Organization web site 


Environmental Health Criteria, No. 108
1991, 383 pages [E, with summaries in F, S]
ISBN 92 4 157108 X; order no. 1160108
Sw.fr. 60.-/US $54.00; in developing countries: Sw.fr. 42.00 

Evaluates close to 900 studies in an effort to determine the role of various 
nickel compounds as environmental hazards and causes of human diseases, 
including cancer. A special effort is made to determine the specific exposure 
levels for nickel and nickel compounds that pose a threat to the environment, 
the general public, and workers exposed to nickel-containing dusts and fumes. 

A section on sources of exposure evaluates both natural and man-made releases 
into the environment, offering especially detailed information on emissions 
associated with the nickel industry, the combustion of fossil fuels, and the 
incineration of sewage sludge and waste. Exposure of the general population is 
noted to occur via inhaled air, ingestion of food and drinking-water, and 
dermal contact, particularly with jewelry and coins. 

Because most health hazards associated with occupational exposure have resulted 
from inhalation, a section devoted to kinetics and metabolism concentrates on 
mechanisms of deposition, retention, and clearance of nickel from the human 
respiratory tract. The most extensive section reviews the large body of data 
from experimental studies of the effects of short- and long-term exposures on 
the respiratory tract, endocrine system, cardiovascular system, immune system, 
skin and eye. Tests for mutagenicity, embryotoxicity, teratogenicity, and 
carcinogenicity are also critically reviewed, with particular attention given 
to possible mechanisms of nickel carcinogenicity. The final section assesses 
effects on the human respiratory system, kidney, cardiovascular system, skin 
and eye. Evaluation of the potential for carcinogenicity draws upon increased 
rates of nasal and lung cancer reported in several epidemiological studies of 
exposed workers. These studies provide evidence that inhalation of nickel dust 
and some soluble and insoluble nickel salts carries a risk of carcinogenicity." 

	Can someone with credentials please enlighten me about the 
possibilities of whether this grayish staining of my skin might be something 
that can get into my bloodstream and cause me serious harm? I really like the 
bracelet but obviously won't wear it if I have to risk cancer or toxicity from 

	And I imagine the company that sells them would like to know. I've 
already suggested that they be more careful in the future, about the metals 
involved. Jeez, I'd think for the price paid for this ( about $50 I'd think ) 
they could have used real silver, which is only about $5 an ounce, right? 
Combined with low cost Asian labor, why not?

	Is there anyone out there with metals toxicology/jewelry  experience 
that can speak authoritatively on this?

	Please feel free to CC me in email me about this, IF you can speak with 
some scientific authority on the subject.

- Melissa

To email me, remove the spam proofing capital letters on each side of the @
in my email address.

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