Warning: 1 in 5 pieces of fashion jewelry may be damaging your health!
It is not the kind of message we love to share. We always think of companies taking their responsibilities and do no harm, but unfortunately, this is not the case. One in five pieces of tested fashion jewelry, in the Netherlands, has proven to contain a high to dangerously high amount of cadmium, lead or nickel. We have all the facts.
21% of cheap fashion jewelry is damaging your health
In 2015 the NVWA ( Nederlandse Voedsel en Warenautoriteit of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs) found out during a random control that 7 out of 10 fashion jewelry importers were selling jewelry that was damaging to our health and therefore considered dangerous. In 2016 this finding led to a further investigation of this particular kind of cheap fashion jewelry. The findings of this particular research have been published yesterday. You can find more about the topic on the Dutch Government site
Children and Young adults most at risk
What I find very harmful is that there isn’t one brand that stands out, but even the famous retailer HEMA has a dangerous piece of jewelry. HEMA is known for only carrying own brands. These are produced all over the world. A store like this is a trusted place to buy anything. Even though it should be clear to everyone that the jewelry investigated in the research is very cheap. But this kind of jewelry has also a particular clientele: especially children and young adults. An even more vulnerable group of people.
What are the true dangers?
The European regulation REACH has established very strict terms and conditions for the use of cadmium, lead, and nickel. Why? Because through our food and environment we are exposed to a larger extend to these metals, therefore it should be avoided to add more exposure to these metals through our jewelry. Cadmium is a cumulative poisonous element because they build up in the organs.This can be damaging for our kidneys. How does cadmium get in our body? By wearing the jewelry in contact with the skin or, like kids love to do sometimes, nibble or suck on it.
Lead can damage our fertility, It can also end up in the milk of a breastfeeding mother. Exposure to lead can lead to irreversible damage to the neurological systems causing effects on both behavior and development, especially for growing up children. Young kids have a habit of putting things in their mouth. If this contains lead, it is extremely dangerous.
Nickel leads to contact eczema which can be very annoying. I suffer this and can’t wear anything containing the slightest amount of nickel. Unfortunately, I have also a well made, beautiful silver ring, which causes this contact eczema too. This company winked at me at the time, saying they added something which made the layer of rhodium extremely durable. I have no idea why they did this and I still can’t wear the ring for more than an hour.
15% of the jewelry contained too much cadmium, 8% too much lead and 5% of the earrings contained too much nickel.
Which jewelry has been checked for health risks?
The jewelry was bought at places like H&M, Zara but also a more famous Dutch brand called Zinzi was tested.(N.B. these3 did not appear to have dangerous items) department stores, small fashion jewelry boutiques etc. The list can be found here, including pictures of the items. Products can be found on markets, your local fashion store, really...anywhere. And you won't be able to tell which one is ok and which one isn't. Simply also because items are bought in large amounts from many different suppliers, mostly based in the Far East. Some are ok, some not and perhaps even within one factory, some jewelry is ok and some isn't at all. But this can only happen when there are no strict regulations and protocols within such an establishment.
Should you be worried about buying cheap jewelry?
Yes and no. Like cheap fashion, conditions in factories might not always be optimal for the people working there. It is easy to imagine that a company that puts too much lead into the jewelry, will have fewer problems with safety overall. This might reflect very well on the people working there and you should always ask yourself if it is worth buying something cheap at Primark or H&M anyway. Movies like True Cost and others give a broader perspective on the area of cheaply made clothing and what impact this has on the planet, the people and our environment. Maybe you like to take even a moment to think about whether it is better to save a little and buy something just a little better made. In the end, it is easy to live without (cheap) (fashion)jewelry. It is not essential and not a necessity.
Don’t be a snob, but choose jewelry wisely
I am not saying this because I am a snob. I might be a snob, but I know very well what it is to live with not much money to spend on frivolous things too. I was also young once and I understand the longing to update a look with an earring, spending not even €5,- or $5,-. It’s natural in a world where we are constantly reminded of all we should want.
As a principle, I am always trying to avoid things like: ‘’5 things you must own this summer”’ The rebel in me awakens ;-)
Principles and values in jewelry and life
In jewelry, from the cheapest to the most expensive, it is a good thing to not be impulsive. Look at your own set of principles and values. If human rights or the wellbeing of the planet is something very dear to your heart, go to sites as the Responsible Jewelry Council and check out which brands are involved in getting a more sustainable supply chain. Check out smaller brands that work with sustainable gold or sustainable mined gemstones. Go for the values, the story behind a designer and a brand. Get a little (or a lot) involved and check out more about the industry, the story and so forth, when making a decision.
Note: We are currently waiting for an answer from the NVWA if they know about any research conducted in other countries.
Note: ALL jewelry that has been tested dangerous or highly dangerous is forbidden immediately. Should you own this jewelry, it is highly recommended to NOT wear this jewelry.
Want to read it all? You can find everything about this research here (mostly in Dutch, but how the testing was conducted is also available in English)
A few examples of the fashion jewelry tested highly dangerous. Sold under different names, but this kind of jewelry often gets various *brand* names in various stores and countries. These items are forbidden immediately.
More examples of tested jewelry containing lead, nickel and cadmium. All have been forbidden at once.More examples of dangerous fashion jewelry. The first are mentioned as: a considerable health risk, the last two are extremely dangerous Photo credit: all photo's including the one on the front page are by courtesy of the NVWA