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What items contain nickel?

Nickel Allergy

Nickel allergy affects about 10% of the people in the US. The rash often becomes evident when you get your ears pierced. In some people, it is causes headaches and other problems. There is no cure for nickel allergy.


What is nickel allergy?

Nickel is a common metal that is found in many metallic items, either electroplated or as an alloy and is used to make many things, including:

  • Costume jewelry (especially earrings, silver and white gold)
  • Eyeglasses
  • Apparel (clothing fasteners like snaps, zippers, and buttons)
  • Coins
  • Keys
  • Metal tools
  • Utensils
  • Instruments
  • Bathroom fixtures
  • Furniture parts
  • Batteries
  • Machinery parts
  • Nickel plating for metal alloys
  • Mobile phones

Nickel is one of the most common causes of an allergy that causes itchy and inflamed red skin and rashes. This kind of allergy is called an “allergic contact dermatitis,” sometimes called “eczema.”

Allergic contact dermatitis (a form of delayed allergy) occurs when skin that has become sensitive (allergic) to a substance, comes into contact with that substance. Symptoms may take as long as 72 hours or more after exposure to appear, usually at the site of nickel contact. There are also rare cases of immediate allergy to nickel appearing as a contact urticaria or hive-like reaction at the site of contact with the nickel-containing item.

There is another type of contact dermatitis called irritant contact dermatitis, which happens when skin is repeatedly exposed to a mild irritant, such as from detergents or frequent wet work. Symptoms of this type of cumulative irritant contact dermatitis are usually gradual in onset or can be immediate with severe exposures. Irritant contact dermatitis may predispose an individual to develop allergic contact dermatitis, for instance, to nickel.

Nickel allergy is something that some of us acquire after we are born. It is a common allergy that affects millions (about 10 percent or more) of the population in the U.S., where the most common underlying event is ear piercing. It is much more common in women than men. This may be because women are more likely to wear jewelry or have piercings.

Symptoms and Causes

What usually causes the nickel allergy rash to appear?

Sweat leaches nickel from many types of metal, especially stainless steel. This “free” nickel is then absorbed by the skin where it causes a rash. Tissue fluids are even more likely to dissolve nickel in jewelry, so the open wound from ear piercing is often a cause.

What are the symptoms of nickel allergy?

The symptoms of nickel allergy can be mild, or severe enough to be disabling. They include red skin, itching or burning sensations, blisters, cracked skin and, in severe cases, swelling and spread beyond the site(s) of initial contacts. A severe form of nickel allergy called systemic nickel allergy syndrome can also cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is nickel allergy diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your skin and talk to you about your medical history and what metals and other substances have contacted your skin. If the doctor suspects you have a nickel allergy, the next step might be a patch test. Tiny amounts of substances that might cause an allergic reaction, including nickel, are placed on your back and covered with patches that remain in place for 2 days. The patched test sites are then analyzed after two days, and again two or more days after that.

Management and Treatment

How are the symptoms of nickel allergy treated?

There is no “cure” for nickel allergy, but avoidance of contact with the inciting object(s) often results in clearing of the rash. Treatments for contact allergies include lotions and creams and other medications called topical corticosteroids that decrease inflammation. Antihistamines, medications that block a substance the immune system releases when it encounters something it is allergic to, can also be used. You might have to try different medications to see what works for you.

Systemic (usually oral or intramuscular) corticosteroids are occasionally used in short courses for severe spread of dermatitis. When other treatments have not helped, either because of spread of the contact allergy or association with other types of dermatitis such as atopic (endogenous) eczema (dermatitis), doctors sometimes use phototherapy – also called light therapy – which is the use of ultraviolet light on the skin. Phototherapy is a long process, and it can take months of steady treatments to produce an improvement.


How can nickel allergy be controlled?

If you are allergic to nickel, the best thing to do is to preferably avoid or decrease your exposure to nickel. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Choose jewelry that does not contain nickel.
  • Clothing fasteners like belt buckles and zippers are often made with nickel, but you can use plastic or plastic-coated ones instead.
  • The same goes for household items like kitchen tools, keys, razors and eyeglass frames: choose things that do not contain nickel.
  • Use a protective cover on electronic devices such as cell phones and laptop computers.
  • Some foods contain small amounts of nickel, so in some cases where the rash involves the hands or areas beyond direct contact with nickel-containing objects, a low-nickel avoidance food trial may be prescribed. This involves not eating foods that contain a lot of it. These include soy products, nuts, chocolate, legumes (such as peas, beans, and lentils), and oatmeal.
  • Wash any body part that you think might have come into contact with nickel.
  • You can buy testing kits that use a compound called dimethylglyoxime to test objects for nickel.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people who are allergic to nickel?

Nickel allergy is not life-threatening. But because there is no cure, avoiding its symptoms can be a life-long challenge. It might affect your work, if your work brings you into frequent contact with nickel. This can be true for cashiers, locksmiths, carpenters and metalworkers, for example.

Living With

When should you call a doctor about nickel allergy?

If you have a rash and you do not know why, make an appointment to see a doctor. If you know you are allergic to nickel, and the treatments you are using are not working, see a doctor. Rashes can become infected. Symptoms that indicate an urgent need for medical help include:

  • Rapidly spreading rash
  • Increasing redness
  • Fever
  • Rash around your eyes
  • Pain
  • Pus in the area of the rash


Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/04/2018.


  • American Academy of Dermatology. How to tell if a rash needs medical attention. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • European Center for Allergy Research Foundation. Nickel allergy. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • American Academy of Dermatology. Nickel allergy: How to avoid exposure and reduce symptoms. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • World Allergy Organization Journal. Systemic nickel allergy syndrome. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • Nickel Institute. Nickel allergic contact dermatitis. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Two Cents about Nickel. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • Ricciardi L, Arena A, Arena E, et al. S ystemic nickel allergy syndrome: epidemiological data from four Italian allergy units. ( Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2014;27(1):131-6. Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Nickel. ( Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • Sharma AD. Low nickel diet in dermatology. ( Indian J Dermatol. 2013;58(3):240. Accessed 7/5/2018.
  • Marks JG, Anderson BE and DeLeo VA: Contact & Occupational Dermatology. 4th edition. Jaypee Publishers, Philadelphia and New Dehli; pp 111-115.
  • Guin JD: Practical Contact Dermatitis, A handbook for the practitioner. McGraw Hill. New York. 1995; pp 271-293.

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Nickel is a metal that is mainly used in the production of stainless steel but can also be found in, for example, tools, metal parts on clothing and in jewellery. Nickel is the most common cause of contact allergy and eczema.

Nickel is a silver-white, very shiny, flexible and to some extent magnetic metal. It resists rust infestation and can withstand high temperatures, and therefore it has several important uses.

Where is nickel found?

More than 60% of all nickel produced worldwide is used for stainless steel production, but nickel is also found in rechargeable batteries, catalysts, coins, magnets and surface treatments.

Nickel can also be found in many different consumer goods used for everyday use such as jewellery, spectacle frames, watches, buttons, buckles, tools, keys and handles.

Risks associated with nickel

Nickel metal is an allergen in contact with the skin. Since nickel has many areas of use where it comes into prolonged or repeated contact with the skin, it can cause problems for those who are extra sensitive or already have an allergy to nickel.

Nickel in stainless steel is considered to be bound so tightly to the material that it does not pose a risk in case of skin contact. However, there is a risk of developing nickel allergy and contact eczema in case of skin contact with metal and alloy objects that emit nickel ions. Piercing in the ears and elsewhere on the body has often been considered the main cause of nickel allergy, but other objects can also cause nickel allergy and eczema in the user.

Nickel allergy is one of the most common causes of hand eczema and 30-40 percent of nickel allergy sufferers develop hand eczema. Contact dermatitis caused by nickel allergy is problematic in that the allergy is persistent. A person who becomes allergic to nickel and develops contact dermatitis will have problems for the rest of their life.

Nickel is also found in food. It is not considered to cause food allergy, but can worsen eczema in those who are already very sensitive to nickel

Protecting yourself against nickel

The best way to protect yourself is to avoid contact with metal containing nickel. Therefore, always ask when you buy an item containing metal whether it contains nickel.

It can be difficult for those who have already developed an allergy to protect themselves because nickel is present in so many different products and it is possible to react to very small amounts. One piece of advice is to remember not to have metal directly against the skin. You can avoid this, for example, by taping the metal button in your jeans, using a shirt under shirts with metal buttons and by using only genuine jewellery, in other words jewellery made solely of silver, gold or platinum. You can also buy a nickel test to test for whether a product releases nickel. Nickel tests are sold, for example, in pharmacies.

For those who do not have a developed allergy, do not expose yourself unnecessarily to nickel so that you develop an allergy. In relation to items that are worn for a long time, such as jewellery and spectacle frames, you should always ask in the store whether it contains nickel. It can sometimes be difficult to get answers, but if so, try to buy jewellery made of gold, silver or platinum instead. Nickel is not present in genuine silver. Sensitive persons can sometimes still experience allergic symptoms, but if so it is due to substances in the silver other than just nickel. Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and copper that nickel allergy sufferers can often use without experiencing problems.

Rules regarding restrictions on nickel usage

The EU has regulated the use of nickel in certain products to prevent nickel allergy and eczema. The rules apply to nickel emitted from products intended to be in prolonged contact with the skin, and include, for example, piercing jewellery and other jewellery, buckles, rivets, zippers, keys and metal marks in clothing.

To reduce the risk of nickel allergy, all newly manufactured Swedish coins are nickel-free since 2017. Nickel may not be used in cosmetics. There are, however, no rules governing nickel in power tools.

Everyday Items You Didn’t Know Contained Nickel

Everyday Items You Didn’t Know Contained Nickel

Everyday Items You Didn’t Know Contained Nickel

Bit Service is dedicated to continually helping our clients stay on top of what’s going on in the bit world, as well as generally in the mining industry. With more than five decades of experience in the industry and housing an expert staff who know their stuff, we love passing along insights and information to increase your awareness so that you can stay in the know.

In this spirit, we wanted to take some time to talk about nickel. First off, did you know that the mining industry in Manitoba is the second-largest resource industry in the province’s entire economy, with a total value of production estimated around $2.5 billion in 2020 and employing an impressive 5,700 people in the province? It’s true. And the mining of nickel makes up a hefty percentage of that value, with Manitoba reportedly being responsible for producing 7.1% of Canada’s nickel in 2019. On a global scale, Canada ranked fifth in the world for mine production of nickel that same year (2019).

So, why is this so important to you? Well, nickel and its compounds are essential elements in the manufacturing of countless products that we all rely on in our daily lives. You’d be surprised to learn just how many of our everyday use items contain this particular element.

Uses for Nickel

For instance, think of the last time you made use of a bathroom tap or showerhead, batteries, paid for something with coins, drove a car, called someone on a mobile phone, or even used cookware to bake—and then cutlery to eat—meals with. Well, you can thank nickel mining for that. Nickel, rarely used in its pure form, once mined, is combined with other metals (most often iron, chromium, and copper) to create alloys that are far more durable and resilient than regular metals. You can see nickel used as an alloying element in things like cast irons, steels, non-ferrous alloys, and more—meaning that the above-mentioned items are just the beginning of all that nickel makes possible.

Where Does Nickel Come From?

The fifth most abundant element on Earth, the majority of nickel can only be found far below the Earth’s surface—known as the core (a whopping 1,800 miles below the surface, in fact). There are two major types of ore deposits: magmatic sulfide deposits (found in Norilsk, Russia; Sudbury, Ontario, Canada; and Kambalda, Australia) and laterite deposits (found mainly in Cuba, New Caledonia, and Indonesia). In Canada specifically, the largest nickel deposits are found in the Thompson Nickel Belt in Manitoba, Ontario’s Sudbury Basin, and the Ungava Peninsula in Quebec.

Nickel Mining Process

All Canadian nickel mines are sulphide-type deposits, the majority of which are mined underground versus open cast. Once the ore is mined, it is sent to the concentrator to be crushed and to cause the sulphide minerals to be concentrated by flotation. The concentrate produced is then smelted to make nickel matte, which is sent to a refinery where all of the great and useful products we mentioned can then made from the resulting pellets, powders, etc., produced.

You have now officially received your crash course in all things nickel. If you’d like to hear more about Canada’s mining process and also discover how Bit Service can further serve you, contact us today to get started.

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