There is a very common belief amongst people with sensitive ears that gold earrings are the only earrings that are safe for sensitive ears. Most people with sensitive ears will say they only wear gold, or that they have a single pair of gold earrings that works for them so they don't try anything else.
Fortunately for your wallet, we're going to debunk that myth here.
Most metals are very reactive and therefore when they are in contact with your body for an extended period of time (like when you are wearing earrings), the body builds up an immunity to that metal. The result is a contact allergy to that material that occurs whenever it is present (and goes away when the material is removed). The symptoms of a contact allergy to metal include itching, swelling, pain, redness, blistering, and bleeding.
Pure gold is, in fact, a non-reactive metal. This means that pure gold will not react with your body and therefore it is unlikely that your body would develop an allergy to it. So in that sense, this myth is actually accurate. Pure gold is perfectly safe for people with sensitive ears.
Where this belief gets complicated though, is that gold is rarely used in its pure form for jewelry. Pure gold, or 24k gold, is very soft so it is not ideal for jewelry. 24k gold is also very expensive, so it's far out of the budget for most of us.
Most of time, gold jewelry is made with an alloy of gold like 14k gold or 18k gold. An alloy is a mix of two or more metals. These other metals are mixed in to make the jewelry more durable. 14k gold is actually only 58% gold, and 42% of one or more different metals. 18k gold is 75% gold, and 25% one or more different metals.
These different metals could be anything from nickel, to copper, to zinc. These are metals that are very reactive with the human body, and could be present in large quantities in gold jewelry. For this reason, anything less that 24k gold cannot be considered non-allergenic unless you know the alloyed metals and know that they are also non-reactive.
TLDR: In regards to gold earrings: Only pure, 24k gold is non-allergenic, and therefore guaranteed to be safe for sensitive ears. Anything less than 24k gold means that the gold has been mixed with other metals, and those metals are often very reactive metals that could cause your ears to react.
There is good news though! Even though gold earrings are not always safe for sensitive ears, there are other earrings that are (and they are MUCH less expensive!).
Titanium and niobium are both metals that are non-reactive with the human body. They are both considered 100% non-allergenic in their pure form. Titanium and niobium are much more affordable than gold, so you don't have to dip into savings to buy a simple pair of studs.
At Tini Lux, we make all of our earrings with either pure titanium or pure niobium. We believe everyone should be able to wear affordable jewelry without worrying about painful reactions.