White gold jewelry can cause allergic reactions in some people. This is due to the fact that the majority of white gold jewelry is manufactured using alloys containing nickel as the bleaching agent and a percentage of the population is allergic to nickel. For these individuals, contact with nickel can result in dermatological problems that range from a mild skin rash to severe open sores and permanent scaring. In Europe, there are laws governing the use of nickel in jewelry. The European law is known as "The Nickel Directive" and states that no nickel can be used in a material that sits in an open wound, such as after piercing, until healing is complete.
What is a jewelry buyer to do when faced with this information? First of all relax, most people do not have severe reactions to nickel. And jewelers are starting to use alloys that contain less nickel to develop white gold jewelry.
Some nickel-free white gold alloys were originally developed in the 1920s using palladium as the primary bleaching agent. Palladium is part of the platinum group of metals. It is a steel-white metal, does not tarnish in air, and is the least dense and lowest melting of the platinum group metals. Palladium has very good corrosion and tarnish resistance, and it mixes well with gold, offering almost complete homogenization throughout the range of gold-palladium compositions. All these factors make it a good choice for white gold jewelry manufacturing. It also yields alloys with excellent mechanical properties superior in many respects to the nickel-whites which can be difficult to work with and contain pockets of gold and nickel because the two metals don't like to be mixed. Jewelry made from a palladium/gold alloy will not result in allergic reactions.
You might be asking: "If palladium is so much better than nickel to make white gold, why don't all jewelers use it?" The answer is cost. Palladium is a bit more expensive to use. The cost of an ounce of palladium is around $300 currently and consumers don't like paying higher prices for what appears to be the same jewelry product. However, once people know the facts about nickel white gold and the allergic risks it presents many are willing to pay a little more.
Another white metal on the horizon is 950 Palladium. Some jewelry manufacturers are making product from new palladium alloys that can be cast into jewelry. This is a wonderful metal because it is a bright white color, very similar to platinum, but has a much lower price. It is still relatively new so jewelers are still learning how to work best with this metal. Keep your eyes open though, because you will soon be seeing more of this product, especially with the cost of platinum currently above $1,000 an ounce.