Nickel allergy is very common, affecting 15% of American
women, and it's on the rise among both men and women
worldwide. Nickel is widely used because it adds
durability to softer metals. Although nickel can be
found in gold, silver, and even platinum, it's most
abundant in cheaper metals used in costume jewelry.
Nickel causes more allergic reactions than all other
Allergic contact dermatitis can result from exposure to
nickel in jewelry, buttons, zippers, eyeglasses, and any
other piece of metal that touches the skin. Allergic
contact dermatitis is a type of eczema, an itchy skin
rash that can lead to severe infections.
Nickel allergy develops only after exposure and often appears
late in life. "The allergy often only becomes active after a trauma
to the skin," says Dr. Alexander Fisher, MD, renowned expert on
contact dermatitis. "Many people develop a reaction in the earlobe,
which then makes them allergic anywhere on the body. That's why a
woman who has had no trouble wearing a gold ring suddenly can't wear
it after having her ears pierced."
To prevent this problem, ears should be pierced only with stainless
steel posts. Nickel is often present in stainless steel as well, but
it is normally bound so tightly that it does not make contact with
Once you're sensitized to nickel, the allergy typically lasts for
life. Hot weather often makes it more difficult to deal with nickel
allergy because sweat acts as a corrosive and facilitates direct
contact with the skin.
If you suffer from nickel allergy, avoidance of nickel is the only
way to prevent allergic contact dermatitis. In the past, you would
have to throw away all suspect jewelry, but now special coatings can be applied
to your favorite metal objects that block the direct contact between the skin and
Nickel is also found in many foods, and oral ingestion can lead to
eczema as well. While it is impossible to maintain a nickel-free
diet, certain foods have extremely high nickel contents; among them
are chocolate, canned vegetables, oatmeal, almonds, legumes, and
shellfish. Silver coins contain nickel, too, and many cashiers
develop nickel allergy.
Nickel is classified as an occupational hazard, and long-term
exposure to nickel fumes can lead to cancer and death. If you work
in a place where metal compounds are welded or cut, you should wear
a facemask and gloves to limit exposure.