Although she liked its design very much, college student Nguyen Thi My Le got rid of a necklace she had bought from a sidewalk shop as it turned black after three weeks and left itchy red spots on her neck.
News about made-in-China children's jewelry sold in the US market laced with cadmium - a highly toxic chemical - has Vietnamese consumers worried as the jewelry is popular in Vietnam, but sellers and buyers have no information on which products are toxic or about how toxic they really are.
Nguyen Thi Minh Thu, another student at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said her ears became itchy and swelled up when she wore Chinese earrings.
The jewelry is made in mainland China but shops label them as made in South Korea, Taiwan or Italy to sell them more easily, Thu said.
She said many such products are sold in front of the Ba Chieu Market in Binh Thanh District, at Tao Dan Park along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street and Thu Duc university village around the border of HCMC and Binh Duong Province.
Chinese jewelry at Ba Chieu and Ben Thanh markets sells for VND10,000-15,000 (US$0.54- 2.71) apiece, several times cheaper than similar ones made locally.
Some items look like crystal, and others are made of colored stones with glittering cover.
"Chinese jewelry has wide variety, unique designs and is cheap. But I only wear it when going out for special occasions as it causes allergies after some time," Thu said.
Thuy An, a student of HCMC Banking University, also said "We know Chinese jewelry affects our health so we just wear it once in a while for fun."
But Ngoc Uyen, a mother in Binh Duong, didn't know it. She let her 5-year-old daughter wear Chinese necklaces, rings and bracelets after getting them for the girl's birthday, but threw them away last month after the child felt uncomfortable and developed red spots on her skin.
A Chinese jewelry vendor on Nguyen Huu Than Street in District 6 said she does not know what the products are made of but is sure the color won't fade; while a shop assistant at the Ben Thanh Market said Chinese jewelry was waxed and plated, thus "very dangerous."
Many sellers on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street were not aware that US authorities early this week investigated several Chinese jewelry manufacturers suspected of using cadmium in various lines of children's jewelry.
One of them, who didn't reveal her name, still maintained that the jewelry was imported from the US, so even if they were made in China their safety has been guaranteed by the US authorities.
According to several media reports including that of Associated Press, retail giant WalMart has pulled bracelet and pendant jewelry lines from its stores while Chinese authorities have launched an investigation against several jewelry exporters suspected of exporting cadmium-laced jewelry to the US.
As local media have publicized the picture of a deer pendant that is highly toxic, "I know to avoid that item but I know nothing about other items," said Trang of HCMC's District 5.
Hoang Lam, deputy director of the city-based Quality Assurance and Testing Center 3 (QUATEST 3), said imported toys, especially those for children under age 3, must be tested for cadmium but such tests have not been required for jewelry items.
Prof. Le Van Cat of the Vietnam Chemistry Institute said cadmium, which is more precious than silver but not as much as gold, is only less toxic than lead and mercury.
According to scientists, inhaling cadmium can be dangerous and even fatal as the chemical is considered carcinogenic and harmful to the kidney and bones.
Cat said cadmium in jewelry would be safe in theory because a very little amount is used, but it can be dangerous when children hold it in their mouth.