Amber is, quite simply, tree resin which has fossilized over a very long period of time. However it is important to note that not all amber types are equal. Only amber from the Baltic region (the area where the countries Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, are located) contains a special compound called Succinic Acid. This compound is not present in any other types of amber.
Now when we say that the amber has fossilised over a long period of time, we mean a really really long period of time. Baltic amber comes from ancient forest resin and is approximately 44 million years old! Each little bead is like a piece of prehistoric history to adorn your body with.
As if this all wasn’t cool enough to begin with, Baltic amber also comes in a number of colours, ranging from milky white, to lemon yellow, to dark red, and even black This makes for a great range of colour preferences, and also allows for some really cool combinations to be made.
While many people wonder if there are differences between the different colours of Baltic amber, there is no information nor reason to believe that they vary in Succinic Acid content. The difference seems to only extend to visual appearances.
However keep in mind that some colours, such as pale milky white, are actually very rare. This means some colours do come at a premium price as compared to others.
Use of Baltic amber as a natural folk medicine dates back thousands of years. Amber extracts were used from the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece (c 400 BC) for a wide variety of ailments, with use continuing through the Middle Ages and up to the modern period. Ailments it was used for includes: teething and other pains; protection against disease; treatment for throat, ear, and eye disease; stomach ailments; and more.
The active ingredient for Baltic amber is a compound called Succinic Acid. While the name may sound confronting, it is not corrosive nor irritating for skin to contact. Baltic amber is composed of roughly 3-8% of this compound, which actually has a faint smell similar to pine. When worn as jewellery, the active ingredient is slowly secreted from the beads and enter the body through the skin. This means the wearer does not need to suck or chew on the jewellery, just wear it and look great in the process.
The US Food and Drug Administration have analysed Succinic Acid and have recognised it as being a safe food additive and dietary supplement. It is not known generally as being likely to cause any kind of allergic reaction from ingestion nor contact.
While Baltic amber has been used as a remedy for thousands of years, in this modern era it is preferred by many to have scientific studies which quantify the exact effectiveness of health care products. Unfortunately, while studies have been conducted to determine the product is safe and allergen free, to date there has been a distinct lack of studies to determine what health benefits Baltic amber may offer. This means that while Baltic amber has not been proven to be effective for treating any ailments, it also has not been dis-proven as an effective remedy either.
Currently all anyone has to work with is the testimonies and experiences of people who have tried it out for themselves.
Apart from the obvious differences for colour, Baltic amber jewellery suppliers also offer the choice between Raw and Polished amber. What this is referring to is if the beads are simply shaped and left as is (Raw), or if they are shaped and then buffed to produce a smoother appearance (Polished). In effect, Polished amber will appear more transparent and shiny, where as Raw will have a more frosted glass appearance. These differences do not extend to the actual feel of the beads, as both are smooth to touch, and in a blind test you probably won’t be able to tell them apart.
Another difference between Raw and Polished comes back to the Succinic Acid content. While there are no studies available to quantify any difference, it is speculated by some that the polishing process may reduce the amount of Succinic Acid which is available at the surface of the beads by rubbing it away. However it is known that both Raw and Polished still contain the compound, which can be confirmed by simply rubbing the jewellery and smelling the faint pine like scent.