Finding the best earrings for sensitive ears can make a world of difference when it comes to final touches. But when your accessories game hits a painful snag, some avoid the hassle of earrings altogether. Makes sense: Ever shopped—and found—the perfect pair of earrings only to watch them turn your lobes into an itching, red, swollen mess? Zero fun. And the jewelry is often the culprit.
So, what is it that makes ears so sensitive (for some more than others)? We tapped experts to help us work through our sensitive-ear situation in hopes of flaunting piercings once again. Read on for their expert advice along with some of our top picks to snap up.
What Makes Ears Sensitive to Touch?
For starters, it’s a delicate area. The skin of the earlobes tends to be thinner, like the skin of the eyelid and lips—making them more prone to irritation or allergic reactions, says Shari Marchbein, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Plus, “the ears are particularly at risk for allergic reactions to jewelry because earrings are set directly against the skin and remain in place for extended periods,” adds New York-based board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D.
What you’re experiencing is likely allergic contact dermatitis, or ACD, which is “a form of eczema characterized by dry itchy pink or red patches on the skin caused by exposure to certain chemicals—in this case various metals found in jewelry,” explains Marchbein.
She cautions that anyone can develop an allergy or sensitivity to a skincare product or its ingredients at any time, even if they’ve used it in the past without issue. “That said, there tends to be a greater risk for those who suffer from dry sensitive skin, asthma, and allergies,” she says, “The results are reproducible and occur any time a predisposed or sensitive person comes into contact with the chemical or metal they are allergic to.”
What to Avoid in Earrings for Sensitive Ears
Put on your Sherlock hat here, because you first need to figure out what’s bothering you. Experts point out that various metals (including gold and cobalt) can cause a reaction. The proper way to assess a metal allergy is through a patch test, but there *are* certain materials that tend to pop up as being particularly problematic.
“The most common allergy experienced by jewelry wearers are nickel allergies. A lot of affordable jewelry pieces use nickel as the base metal—and with time, friction, and moisture, the skin may begin to feel sensitive,” cautions Zeichner. “Adhesives used to put costume jewelry together can be another source of allergic contact dermatitis.”
How to Choose Earrings for Sensitive Ears
Platinum and stainless steel tend to be less reactive, making them the best metals for hypoallergenic jewelry, says Marchbein. “These are also good options, along with plastic, for initial ear piercings, which can decrease the risk of developing ACD later on,” she explains.
Prefer gold danglers? Use 14-karat gold as your baseline when shopping for the best hypoallergenic earrings. “The higher the karat, the purer and less likely to cause a reaction. Tantalum is also hypoallergenic,” advises dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar.
The good news: This doesn’t have to result in a costly solution, since you can find high-quality, hypoallergenic earrings without the price tag of fine jewelry (unless you’re in for a splurge). From statement earrings to sparkly studs and chunky huggies—including a set of marble earrings that doubles as a wearable work of modern art—read on for a jewelry box‘s worth of the best earrings for sensitive ears that (finally!) look as good as they feel.