Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Costume Jewellery - Pretty or Poisonous?

girl-in-hospitalBuying cheap costume jewellery may not cost a lot financially, but it’s health cost could be dangerously high.

A non-profit organisation in the US, The Ecology Center, ran tests on jewellery from 14 discount stores across the nation including Target and Walmart. 99 items were tested for dangerous metals including lead, chromium, nickel, mercury and cadmium. Tests were also conducted for chlorine, arsenic and brominated flame retardants.

You get what you pay for

It has long been the explanation that if you pay a little, you get exactly what you paid for. It seems however, that with some costume jewellery you may be getting a lot more than you bargained for.

Every piece of jewellery tested by The Ecology Center was under $10 in price. Over half the 99 items tested had high levels of one or more of these dangerous substances.

90% of the items had nickel and chromium which can cause allergic reactions.

27 items had more than the 300 ppm limit for lead content, the maximum allowed for children’s products.

10% of the items tested contained cadmium, a toxic metal that can cause cancer, renal, neurological, respiratory and reproductive diseases.

Transfer of Chemicals

Nickel and chromium are normally used to give a beautiful silvery shiny finish to costume jewellery. These can be absorbed through the skin and trigger allergic reactions in some people. Anti-bodies produced by your immune system react with the metal dissolving nickel from the jewellery. Your tissues swell and more anti-bodies are sent to fight the invader. Some more nickel dissolves…. what a nasty vicious circle. Nickel allergies can also be caused by surgical stainless steel.

Other chemicals like lead and cadmium are more likely to be dangerous when they are absorbed via the digestive system.

This isn’t as uncommon as you may think. How often have you seen someone deep in thought chewing on their necklace?


Many cheap charms for bracelets are made of pewter containing lead.

Originally pewter was made of 90% tin and 10% lead. This created many health concerns and the lead was replaced by copper and antimony in better quality pewter.

British Pewter is an alloy of about 90% tin and 10% copper and antimony.

Some manufacturers of pewter still use lead (primarily in underdeveloped countries) and manufacture bracelet charms by the millions. Often flea markets will sell these pewter charms and the vendor probably isn’t even aware of what they contain. With the surge in popularity of buying from eBay and Alibaba, market stall holders often source their products from China, where the health regulations are limited if not non-existent.

Lead is absorbed into the body and accumulates over time. Our bodies are very poor at removing lead from our blood and tissues and so lead tends to accumulate at increasing levels. The development of children can be badly affected by relatively low levels compared to what an adult can tolerate.

Lead has been recognised as an health issue for many years and has been removed from our fuels (1970’s – 1990’s) and paints (1997) for some time.


Other than the obvious dangers of using toxic materials in costume jewellery, consideration should be given to the quality of the manufacturing process.

It would be likely that a manufacturer who discounts the importance of their customers health are not going to adhere to best practices for producing jewellery that won’t just fall apart when you are wearing it.

This becomes all the more important when considering costume jewellery for children.

Decorations on a child’s bracelet may contain toxic materials and easily separate from the bracelet. Children happily put just about everything into their mouths, and so a double risk occurs.

Firstly there is the risk of choking on small parts which has unfortunately caused a large number of deaths in young children. Poorly constructed jewellery where parts easily come loose are a real danger to young lives.

If the child manages not to choke, but instead swallows a small bead that contains lead or cadmium, the health risk is still serious.

Please carefully examine jewellery with small parts and consider whether it is going to be a risk to your child.

Any metal jewellery that is really cheap is not going to be made of precious metals such as silver or gold that won’t cause you any health concerns.

Please alert any friends with small children about the dangers of poorly made costume jewellery, especially the risks involved with dangerous materials.

Photo credit: phil41dean via Foter.com / CC BY


Costume Jewellery - Pretty or Poisonous?

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