How Budget Jewelry Could Be Messing with Your Health
The problems with cadmium and how you can avoid this cheap filler metal
What's the deal with cadmium showing up in jewelry?
Cadmium has some awesome properties as a metal. When it is added to other metals that are frequently used for jewelry (making it what is known as a metal alloy), it can increase the strength and durability of a piece of jewelry so it doesn't break as easily from the wear and tear of everyday life (2). Not to mention, cadmium is extremely cheap as far as metals go, and easy for industries to get their hands on (4). Because of this, cadmium is often found in children's jewelry, since using more expensive metals often makes the piece of children's jewelry a sky-high price (totally annoying for something that might get lost or forgotten after a couple rounds of play, right?) (2).
This isn't to say that it can't be found in adult jewelry. Cadmium has been found in jewelry from Ross, Nordstrom Rack and Papaya, in addition to Claire's and Limited Too (2,3). With so many great things about cadmium, it must have downside right? If you guessed yes, you're right, it does.
What should I be worried about?
In a nutshell, cadmium is not good for you! Even with very small amounts it can cause some pretty concerning health effects (1). Some health effects that scientists know for sure that are caused by cadmium are kidney, bone and lung damage (1). If you're exposed to cadmium for a long time (i.e. you've been wearing the same necklace for 10 years), it can cause cancer and harm to your reproductive system (2,4). Recently, there has been new research coming out that suggests that exposure to cadmium might even have some endocrine-disrupting effects (a.k.a. messing up the way your hormones are supposed to work in your body) (1).
If we know it's dangerous, why is it used in jewelry at all? Well, the problem is that since most states don't have regulations on cadmium usage in jewelry (with the exception of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, although it seems like there is little to no enforcement), we don't know which pieces of jewelry contain cadmium and which ones don't. The Center for Environmental Health found that in the pieces they tested from Ross, Nordstrom Rack, and the other stores mentioned above, many of the pieces were over 90 percent cadmium (2), so there's no way of knowing what you're getting!
How can we be exposed?
Since the negative health effects of cadmium generally requires chronic exposure, wearing jewelry is really a perfect route for exposure, since many people wear some sort of jewelry piece every day (2). Children are exposed to cadmium when they suck, chew, or even swallow jewelry (2). Another concern is that some will be absorbed through the skin. But by far, the biggest worry is for children, who might accidentally swallow small bits of cadmium when wearing or playing with jewelry (3). This is especially problematic since children absorb cadmium more easily than adults, and their organs are also smaller, meaning the organs get more easily overwhelmed by the amount of cadmium than compared to adult organs (1). For adults, the concern is mainly over dermal exposure, since they are way less likely to gnaw on a necklace (3).
If we can't tell what's in our jewelry, how can we stay away from cadmium?
There is not really a fool-proof method, but scientists recommend not purchasing jewelry that is cheap (3). Most likely, these pieces have cadmium added in order to lower the price point (3). What does this mean for you?
- Think quality over quantity. We recommend investing in pieces that are more versatile and can be worn with multiple outfits. And hey, added bonus, you're doing the earth a favor too, by being more sustainable!
- For children, look into alternatives to metal jewelry. Wooden or silicone beads and twine make for an excellent art day, and ensure that children have a beautiful necklace or bracelet to wear that doesn't contain cadmium. They will also be pretty excited when they get to say they made their own jewelry.
- If you're worried about a piece of jewelry you have, The Center for Environmental Health can test pieces for you. They offer free testing of items for lead and cadmium by appointment or mail-in.
Hey, jewelry making companies might be trying to keep their prices down by using cadmium, but now you're all set to make safer and more informed decisions the next time you go jewelry shopping!