Christmas Gifts: Give Only Nickel-Free Jewellery

Precious metals used in jewellery are often mixed with cheaper metals such as nickel. This makes jewellery more affordable for many people and a popular Christmas present under the tree.

However, nickel is the most common contact allergen in the world, and the frequent wearing of nickel-containing costume jewellery such as rings, earrings or body piercing jewellery promotes sensitisation to this earth metal. As a result, more and more people suffer from contact allergies. The good news is that by contact allergies can be prevented by avoiding jewellery containing nickel. So if you want to give your loved ones jewellery for Christmas, you should always choose nickel-free jewellery.

The EU nickel directive stipulates that nickel-containing products intended for direct and prolonged contact with the skin may release no more than 0.5 µg Ni/cm2/week. For post assemblies inserted into piercings, the rate of nickel release is restricted to no more than 0.2 µg/cm²/week. Research is currently underway to investigate whether these measures can reduce the prevalence of nickel allergy over the long term.

Tips for purchasing jewellery

  • Buy from a specialist retail shop. Confirm that the jewellery is 100% nickel free.
  • Be especially careful when buying jewellery in a foreign country. Regulations regarding nickel content may not be followed in certain countries.
  • 24-carat gold, platinum and titanium almost never cause any symptoms.
  • Children and adolescents who already have allergies should not wear earrings or, if it is absolutely necessary, should use starter earrings in titanium or platinum in order to reduce the risk of sensitisation to nickel.
  • 100% nickel-free material such as titanium should be used for body piercings. However, body piercings are not recommended from a dermatological standpoint due to potential complications.

How to test products for nickel content

If you are uncertain whether your jewellery contains nickel, you can test it yourself. You can get test strips from the pharmacy that allow you to conduct a quick test to determine whether a product releases a significant amount of nickel particles. The result is indicated by the colour reaction on the test strips. Minute amounts below the legal threshold cannot be detected by this quick test.

Sensitisation to nickel

Around 15.5% of adults and 12.35% of 13 to 17-year-old adolescents in Germany are sensitised to nickel. Women and girls generally have a higher risk than men of developing a nickel allergy. During their lifetime, 8% of German adults develop symptoms such as allergic eczema due to an allergy to nickel or another substance.

Nickel allergy symptoms

Typical signs of a nickel allergy are intense itching, burning or pain, redness, swelling, hives and weeping blisters at the contact site. Flaking or thickening of the skin may occur If the contact is chronic.

Sources:

  • Bergmann, K.C. et al. 2016. Current status of allergy prevalence in Germany. Position paper of the Environmental Medicine Commission of the Robert Koch Institute. Allergo J Int 25(6), 222-226.
  • Schnuch A. et al. 2012. Clinical epidemiology and prevention of contact allergies. The Information Network of Departments of Dermatology (IVDK) as a register and surveillance system. Bundesgesundheitsbl 55, 329–337.
  • Uter, W. et al. 2016. ESSCA results with nickel, cobalt and chromium, 2009-2012. Contact Dermatitis 75, 111-128.
  • Worm, M. et al. 2015. Kontaktallergien im Kindesalter [Contact Allergies in Childhood]. Der Hautarzt 66, 646-651.