Nickel allergy and jewelry

Over 15% of population of the European Union are affected with nickel-induced dermatitis. A group at high-risk of exposure to contact with nickel are 16-17 years old girls. It has been estimated about 30% of teenage girls are allergic to this metal in Poland [1-2]. The main reason is wearing cheap, uncertified jewelry which can get in street markets, freestanding jewelry booth in the shopping centers or underground station, and drug stores, including local artists.

The study of nickel content in earrings randomly purchased from stores and street markets in London, Warsaw [3], Stockholm [4] and Copenhagen [5] showed alarming data (Table 2). 18.4% and 15.1% of earrings purchased respectively in Warsaw and London released nickel in concentrations that may result in nickel allergy and dermatitis. In addition, positive results of DMG test (dimethylglyoxime test for detection of nickel and to determine the degree of its release) were much more frequent in earrings purchased from street markets – it was 36.7% of earrings from Warsaw and 38.7% from London. Stores having independent ownership and being not part of national or international chains (e.g. local accessory or clothing stores, freestanding booths in underground stations or malls, drug stores and local artists) were selling also dangerous earrings – positive DMG test was 39.7% from earrings purchased in Warsaw and 25.0% from earrings purchased in London. Similar results were seen in the research in Copenhagen – 14.7% of all tested earrings contained more nickel than allowed by the EU Nickel Directive. More than 50% of them were bought in street markets, and near one third (31%) in drug stores and freestanding jewelry booth. Best results were obtained in Stockholm, where only 3.7% of all earrings were dangerous. However, 25% of them were purchased from street markets.

Table 2. The release of nickel (DMG test) in earrings offered by various type of store [3-5]

Nickel allergy which reported among adults concerns mainly the occupational group such as hairdressers (27%), health care workers (24.9%), as well as receptionists and cashiers, who have a daily contact with nickel-containing items. Allergy symptoms occur usually on the skin of hands [6].

According to the GUS (Central Statistical Office of Poland) Polish Health Service employs over 400 000 people [7]. Hypersensitivity to the nickel in this occupational group is a result of contact with needles, pliers and other medical instruments. Moreover, the contact with water and chemicals intensify the release of this element and also leads to its faster absorption through macerated skin. It concerns mainly the nurses, cleaners, orderlies. There is also opinion that nickel may be in the nails tissue causing its permanent release [8].

[1] Garg et al., Br J Dermatol, 2013, 169, 854.

[2] Thyssen et al., Contact Dermatitis, 2011, 64, 121.

[3] Thyssen et al., JEADV, 2011, 25, 1021.

[4] Biesterbos et al., Contact Dermatitis, 2010, 63, 333.

[5] Thyssen et al., Sci Total Environ, 2009, 407, 5315.

[6] Thyssen, Contact Dermatitis, 2011, 65, 1.


[8] Kurpiewska, Liwkowicz, The role of skin protection preparations in the prevention of hand dermatitis of health care workers, CIOP-PIB, Warsaw 2009.