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Why does a nickel allergy cause skin rashes?

A nickel allergy is a sensitivity to nickel, a metal commonly found in jewelry. The allergy is one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis. Nickel is often found in jewelry and equipment used for body piercings. If you have a nickel allergy, ask the piercer to use only nickel-free jewelry. Also ask them not to use a piercing gun, which can also contain nickel.

Dr. Audrey G. Kunin, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Nickel sulfate is considered foreign by the immune system—much like the body would react to a germ. When one of these foreign substances comes into contact with the skin, the body reacts, causing a rash termed an "allergic contact dermatitis." There are many causes of allergic contact dermatitis, but they share clinical similarities in the appearance of the rash. Inflammation leads to itching, redness, rough scaly areas, cracking and perhaps weeping or blistered skin.

Repeat performances of a nickel allergy often lead patients to seek dermatology advice. Patient work-up frequently includes the simple, painless and effective T.R.U.E. Test Patch. Testing identifies 23 of the most common causes of a contact dermatitis including nickel sulfate. While it's ideal to learn the source of an allergy, avoidance may be more difficult, particularly when nickel is found in such a wide variety of inanimate objects found in daily life.

Approximately 10 percent of Americans have an allergy to nickel. Certain occupations result in habitual nickel exposure, which increases the risk of developing a nickel allergy. These include metal factory workers, hairdressers, tailors and restaurant workers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.