Excerpts From: Academy Of Dermatology News Releases



New York, May 13, 1986 - Ear piercing can trigger metal allergies that make a person suddenly unable to wear many types of jewelry, or even metal buttons, snaps or zippers, an authority in the field of contact dermatitis said today at a seminar sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology. "The allergy often only becomes active after a trauma to the skin," said Doctor Fisher, M.D., clinical professor of the Department of Dermatology, New York University, and author of the text Contact Dermatitis. "Many people develop a reaction in the earlobe, which then makes them allergic anywhere on the body. That's why a woman who has had no trouble wearing a gold ring suddenly can't wear it after having her ears pierced."

A single metal - nickel - is responsible for most allergic reactions to jewelry and other metal objects. "Nickel allergies are very common, affecting 6 in every 100 people. Nickel is often present in quality gold, silver and even platinum objects, as well as cheaper metals used in costume jewelry," Dr. Fisher said. Allergies to gold and other metals are much more rare, although gold allergies can also develop after ear piercing. Dermatitis caused by gold lasts much longer than a nickel-induced rash, sometimes as long as a month. To prevent either problem, ears should be pierced only with a stainless steel needle and earrings with stainless steel posts should be worn while the earlobe heals. Although nickel often is present in stainless steel, it is bound so tightly that it does not make contact with the skin.

Metal allergies, or metal dermatitis, result in a rash that usually clears up within a few days of removing the jewelry, buttons, snaps, zippers, or other sources of metal from the skin. Cases of metal dermatitis increase in the hot-weather months because the condition often is triggered by perspiration. Nickel dissolves easily and the salt in perspiration corrodes the metal and releases the nickel, bringing it into contact with the skin. This explains why many people can tolerate certain types of metals in the winter and cannot wear them during spring or summer.

Skin discoloration, especially black and rust, also is a common problem. It usually is caused when the metal comes into contact with a substance on the skin, such as certain cosmetics or detergents. The discoloration is easily washed off.

Individuals who are allergic to nickel and want to continue
wearing jewelry should consider the following:
  • Pearls and precious stones do not cause dermatitis
  • Sometimes coating a piece of jewelry with clear nail polish will prevent dermatitis
  • White gold almost always has nickel in it

People who suspect they are allergic to nickel should discuss the problem with a dermatologist. If the allergy is confirmed, they might ask the dermatologist about the dimethylglyoxime test kit that determines the presence of nickel in metals. The kit includes a solution that is rubbed on the metal with a cotton swab. If the swab discolors, the metal contains nickel, and should not be worn.

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