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.