Scientist and author, Beth developed a nickel allergy as an adult. Here she shares her tips on how to test for, and avoid this allergen.
How to Test For Nickel at Home
An allergic reaction to nickel in jewelry, belt buckles, and zips, is surprisingly common. More than 15% of the population suffer skin sensitivity if this metal touches their skin. There is no known cure so the only solution is avoidance.
Earrings, bracelets, necklaces, cell-phone cases, zip and snap fastenings, as well as belt buckles may all contain hidden nickel. If you have this allergy you will react to nickel by developing an itchy rash or blister-like lesions. I use the Nickel Alert Test Kit to test all metal objects that I wear or are likely to come into contact with my skin. I have been very pleased with the results. This is my review of how well the product works.
How to Use the Nickel Alert Test Kit
The kit consists of a bottle of liquid and a Q-Tip or cotton swab. You simply squeeze a couple of drops of the chemical onto the swab. Rub the swab firmly onto the object being tested for 15 to 20 seconds. If the Q-Tip turns pink or purple, then there is nickel present in the metal. The test claims to be able to detect even very low concentrations of nickel, as low as 10 parts per million. If you want to see what a positive result looks like, test the liquid on a US nickel, dime, or quarter coin. All of these will turn the swab pink.
What Chemical is Used in this Kit?
The Nickel Alert Test Kit uses dimethylglyoxime (dmg) to conduct a spot test. It is the only retail kit at the time of writing that uses this chemical. There are other less effective testing solutions out there, but this one does the job quickly and effectively, and, in my opinion, is worth the slightly higher price.
How Many People Are Allergic to Nickel?
There have been many scientific studies to test the prevalence of this allergen. They have found that the incidence of nickel-itch varies between countries and age-groups. In general, people become sensitized to nickel the more they experience it in their daily lives. This means that it is more prevalent in developed countries, and more in adults than in children.
Nickel is present in many everyday items including jewelry, watches, cell phones, clothing, cleaning fluids, and spectacle frames. Figures vary, but in the US it is estimated that 15-20% of women and 1-2% of men have a nickel allergy.
Why Are Women More at Risk of Nickel Allergy?
Sensitivity to nickel is related to the amount of contact with the metal experienced over a lifetime. Women tend to wear more jewelry then men. They also do more cleaning than men and so come into contact with more cleaning fluids.
I discovered my allergy when I was cleaning a metal fire surround. The fire-blacking compound contained nickel and I developed an itchy rash on my wrists and arms. (My hands were protected by my wearing rubber gloves). Once sensitivity is triggered, any contact with the metal will reignite the contact dermatitis. For example, I can no longer wear a wrist watch as the back of the clock face gives me nickel-itch.
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What is a Nickel Allergy?
What Can You Test for With Nickel Alert?
If you have a nickel allergy, the best way to avoid symptoms is to avoid objects containing nickel. However, it’s not always obvious that nickel is present, and that’s the beauty of using the Nickel Alert Test Kit. It’s a quick and simple test that takes less than a minute to give meaningful results. I’ve used it to test earrings and necklaces, as well as swabbing zips and snap fasteners.
If you find the test difficult to use, and only get a black mark in the swab, try wiping the test site with vinegar first to clean it. Only one or two drops of the chemical are needed each time, so the bottle should last for over 100 uses.
Nickel Detection Kit Precautions
The Nickel Alert solution is flammable and should not be used near a naked flame. Keep it away from children and only use it in a well ventilated space.
The manufacturer claims that the test will not damage items, but I suggest you swab an inconspicuous place, just in case. Some people have reported that using the swab on white gold items coated with rhodium can leave a mark. I have never had a problem like this, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Is There a Cure for Nickel Allergy?
No, there is no cure for this type of contact dermatitis. Once you have become sensitized to nickel, that’s it. However, awareness of the problem is growing. A few manufacturers are advertising nickel-free products, although even these are worth testing before buying, just to be absolutely sure you’re not going to react.
The other option is to use nail polish to coat the metal and prevent it from coming into contact with your skin. How to Choose Earrings for Sensitive Pierced Ears gives some other suggestions of what to look for when buying jewelry to avoid allergic skin reactions.
Typical symptoms of a nickel allergy at the contact site are as follows.
- intense itching
- burning or pain
- weeping blisters
In most patients, symptoms occur only where the skin came into direct contact with the allergen. For example, the skin surface of the wrist from an allergy to a nickel-containing watch back.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.