When I put out a call for blog ideas, a friend asked: what metals are safe for my baby? Lots of parents like to gift their infants and children with simple jewelry. And what child doesn’t like to play dress up with mommy’s baubles and make-up? How awful it would be to find that an item you wear with flair might cause harm to your little sweetpea. So I jumped at the chance to write about the various issues you might consider when choosing a piece of jewelry for your child.
First, sorry, but I’m not (now or likely ever) going to discuss when to pierce your little one’s ears. There has been a fair amount of controversy on this. Though my own ears were pierced at just a few weeks old, I would not presume to tell you when it’s best to do so for your own child. The Baby Center provides a brief, informative article on piercing your baby’s ears at a young age. Consult sites like this, along with your doctor, and decide what you’re comfortable with.
If/when you do choose to pierce your little one’s ears, or adorn him/her with other baubles, keep in mind that the primary dangers to children from jewelry are (a) choking hazards and (2) ingesting trace amounts of toxic substances—particularly: lead and cadmium. I’ll leave aside choking hazards, as you are likely aware of these separate and apart from jewelry. When considering the type of material your jewelry is made of, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be wary of brass items and costume jewelry. These items are more likely to contain trace amounts of lead or cadmium, which are toxic to children even in small amounts. These metals are not typically present in jewelry made from solid precious metals. Why use these metals at all? Lead makes pieces heavier, brightens colors, and can stabilize plastic. Cadmium makes pieces shiny and adds weight or mass to the items. This is not necessarily unreasonable, and these materials do not typically harm adults. As you might imagine, however, the hazards to children are similar to those from poisoning from lead paint, while cadmium exposure may also be carcinogenic.
- In addition to surgical steel typically used in the piercing process, solid sterling or argentium silver are typically safe for children assuming your child has no allergies to the metals. Sterling silver is standard for jewelry silver. It is an alloy of silver and another metal to strengthen/harden the silver, typically copper. There are other alloys on the market, the most common competitor being argentium silver, which is typically blended with geranium to prevent or retard tarnishing. Neither copper nor geranium have been shown to present health hazards for children in trace amounts.
- Solid gold and platinum are also typically safe for children, but be careful of gold plated and gold-fill items. Typically these items are made with a less expensive metal, like silver, and plated with a layer of gold (doubly-thick in the case of gold-fill items) via a chemical/electrical process. While these are fine choices when one is hoping to save on otherwise pricey items, they can provide a danger to young children. If the core metal is not safe for children—and not all metalsmiths use silver as the core—then the piece is not safe for children. Though rare, in the event that the plating fails or chips, your child may be exposed to any trace elements in the metal under that gold plating.
There’s one additional tidbit to keep in mind: your own jewelry. In most places, jewelry for adults does not fall under the same regulations as children’s jewelry, just like the way lead paint laws treat homes with/without children in residence differently. But, as with many other items on your person or around your home, things children touch tend to go into his/her mouth. While holding little Tommy or baby Sabina, your charm or necklace may become a teething ring. Since a large part of the danger comes from ingesting even trace amounts of toxic substances, when you are handling small children, your own jewelry should be child-safe as well.
Now that I have perhaps frightened you, on to the good news. Most states have strict laws on use of toxic substances in children’s jewelry, and the Federal government issued a ban on lead in children’s jewelry several years ago. In addition, there is a movement to establish and enforce international standards for materials in children’s jewelry. The State of California, for example, recently added more stringent, explicit cadmium jewelry regulations. Their website also offers a wealth of information on jewelry metals hazardous to children, including this short video, along with pages on impacts of lead in jewelry and cadmium in jewelry. So the likelihood of harm from children’s jewelry, particularly that produced and/or sold in the US, is becoming smaller and smaller.
Finally, I won’t join in the recent backlash against cheap jewelry. My own creations are handcrafted with care using precious metals, but well, we buy the things we like and everyone’s looking for a bargain. Plus, not all mass-produced jewelry is evil or awful. That’s a rant for another day. Just keep in mind that costume jewelry is often best suited for adults. Be aware of the materials with which your own jewelry is made, and be cognizant of any toxicity concerns or choking hazards. Often times items that are intended to look like precious metals or crystals even when they are not. These can be the worst offenders.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you prevent your child from wearing jewelry or playing dress up. But minimizing the risks is the key to peace of mind while your child plays. So, if you’re buying a shiny bauble for your infant, toddler, or even pre-teen, here’s my best advice:
- Buy items made with solid precious metals for your child, like solid silver or gold.
- Use silversmiths or metalsmiths or vendors you trust. Most metalworkers use pure materials, use silver in plating, or will do so on request.
- Ask before you buy. If the item doesn’t say “safe for children”, ask.
- Be aware of the materials used in costume jewelry, and watch your child’s use of it as you might any other toy.
Another caveat I should note is that although I’ve been making jewelry for several years, I’m not an expert on children’s jewelry specifically. Consider this a basic primer. Then, if you have lingering questions consult other resources, including: Kid Companions and Consumer Products Safety Commission on children’s jewelry, which also offers a searchable list on recalled items. If you’re looking for child-friendly jewelry, take a gander at Smart Mom Jewelry, which has a line of silicone jewelry called Teething Bling, Beadiful Baby Jewelry, or Chew Beads silicone jewelry.
Hope that’s helpful to all you moms out there. Feel free to write in other questions if you have any!