Nickel allergy, symptoms and recommended cosmetics

Nickel allergy is an anomalous and abnormal reaction of the immune system following contact or ingestion of nickel that can be contained either in objects or foods.

Nickel, a metal used in artificial jewelery and for the production of objects of common use (coins, keys, metal tools, watches, bracelets, kitchen utensils), is also present in traces in many foods.
The symptoms of nickel skin allergy are those typical of allergic contact dermatitis and appear approximately 48 hours after exposure to nickel in the form of:

  • allergic eczema.
  • redness and itching.
  • presence of vesicles that evolve into crusts.
  • swelling of the skin and mucous membranes.

More rarely, following the ingestion of large quantities of nickel with food or water, gastrointestinal symptoms like the ones listed below may also occur:

  • nausea and vomit.
  • cramps and abdominal pain.
  • heartburn. abdominal swelling.
  • inappetence and asthenia.

Their diagnosis is based on anamnesis and physical examination, supported by some skin tests such as, for instance, the patch test .

Since there is no definitive cure for this form of allergy (it is rarely cured, even if it is possible to observe an evolution of the symptoms over time), the treatment is essentially based on avoiding any possible contact or exposure to nickel. Allergic symptoms can be relieved with the use of antihistamines and cortisone drugs.

Did you know that Nuvò snail slime cosmetics are Nickel Tested? Click here to discover them all!

Causes of allergy to nickel

Nickel allergy is quite common , probably due to the widespread presence of this metal in many everyday objects and in some foods. It is estimated that it may affect a prevalence of 5% of the population.
Nickel is a solid silvery metal, whose exposure to humans can occur in several ways:

  • Ingestion of food and water: different types of food contain nickel, and contamination can also occur through industrial waste that pollutes groundwater, as well as through pots and pans used to cook food.
  • Aerial Exposure: Air Pollution, Tobacco Smoke, Fossil Combustion Smoke.
  • Skin contact: It typically occurs in the area of ​​the body that has been in contact with  jewels, coins, shampoos, detergents, belt buckles, buttons, earrings etc.
  • Chronic haemodialysis: in patients with chronic renal failure due to the chelating action of albumin.

The cause of nickel allergy is to be found in a type IV delayed hypersensitivity reaction, during which nickel is recognized as a foreign substance that induces the immune system to react abnormally in case of contact.
Sensitization to nickel can occur as early as the first contact , or develop progressively with each subsequent exposure. It is not uncommon for the allergy to manifests itself in areas of the body not affected by direct contact, since the body tends to accumulate the metal and then manifest widespread reactions in other parts of the body.

Read also: How to treat scars with snail slime cream

Risk factors

Those most at risk of developing allergies are:

  • workers in the nickel and heavy metals industry.
  • female subjects (perhaps due to the greater diffusion of earrings).
  • atopic subjects and/or with other types of allergies.
  • patients with a family history of allergic diseases (grass, dust mites, ...).

Other risk factors may also be:

  • use of non-nickel-free piercings and earrings.
  • obesity (in women)


Nickel allergy produces skin symptoms a few days after contact with the substance. The typical symptoms of eczematous dermatitis mainly manifest themselves with:

  • skin redness and itching.
  • vesicles that can evolve into crusts.
  • swelling of the affected area.
  • scaly skin that cracks.
  • occasional ulcers and sores from scratching accompanied by pain and burning.
  • bacterial superinfection (rare).

These symptoms can last several days or even weeks if contact with nickel is not stopped. Sweating can speed up the onset of symptoms and amplify their extent.
In case of significant ingestion of nickel through food, the patient may also develop other symptoms (systemic allergy), especially of a gastrointestinal nature:

  • nausea and vomit.
  • cramps and abdominal pain.
  • stomach ache.
  • diarrhea or constipation.
  • abdominal swelling.
  • inappetence and asthenia.

We ofen realize for ourselves that we are allergic to nickel due to the appearance of localized itching in the area of ​​the body where there has been direct contact. However, to diagnose the allergy it is necessary to undergo the Patch Test, a simple examination that is carried out in the hospital.

Nickel allergy diagnosis

The diagnosis of nickel allergy begins with the anamnesis, a procedure that allows the doctor to reconstruct the patient's clinical history through a few questions:

  • Have the symptoms occurred before?
  • Do you wear jewellery or use items containing nickel?
  • Is the subject atopic and suffer from other allergies?
  • Is there a family history of nickel or other allergies?

Through the objective examination, the doctor carefully analyzes the symptoms and signs developed by the patient, through a careful analysis of the skin manifestations, correlating them to any contacts with nickel objects.
Diagnostic confirmation involves the execution of epicutaneous tests including the Patch-test : various plasters containing different substances are applied to the patient's back to check for sensitivity. After 48-72 hours these plasters are removed and any local skin allergic reactions are observed, which will make the test positive and confirm the diagnosis of nickel allergy.

Nickel allergy, foods to avoid

Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for nickel allergy, which is why the fundamental therapeutic trick is simply to avoid any possible contact with the metal.
Food is the major source of nickel exposure for the general population, particularly in foods of plant origin; the concentration actually present can however vary considerably from one place of cultivation to another, by virtue of the different content of the metal in the soil (but also of the seasonality and the part of the plant consumed).
For this reason, it is difficult to draw up a complete list of foods that contain it, even if those considered to be at greatest risk are:

  • some cereals and pseudocereals (wheat, rye, oats, millet, buckwheat)
  • tea
  • baking powder
  • soy products
  • legumes (red beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, and chickpeas)
  • nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts)
  • canned foods
  • some drinks (beer and red wine)
  • fish (mackerel, tuna, herring) and shellfish
  • seeds (sunflower, flax)
  • fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, onions, carrots)

To alleviate the main symptoms and consequently improve the quality of one's life, it is possible to use antihistamine drugs or, in more serious cases, cortisone.
The risk of anaphylactic shock in case of nickel allergy is extremely low.

Nickel allergy, natural purification

nickel allergy purification

Useful tips that alleviate allergy to nickel and other heavy metals (called chelation ), without medical therapy are:

  • Increase the consumption of foods of organic origin (both animal and vegetable) always taking care to check the origin of these foods instead of relying only on the packaging.
  • Choose simple foods of certified origin, avoiding industrial ones, full of additives, dyes, preservatives or other non-natural substances According to some research, algae, such as spirulina or chlorella algae and aloe vera are useful natural chelators to purify the body, just like foods such as garlic and spices such as coriander (leaves), turmeric, black pepper and ginger: even better if these three are used together. As for the intake of these foods, it is good to pay attention in case of hyperthyroidism.
  • With regard to both cooking food and the tools used in the kitchen, avoid using aluminum or PFOA non-stick pans.
  • Pay attention to the choice of fragrances for the environment and car air fresheners: no to the industrial ones, yes to natural incense and essential oils.
  • Do not abuse drugs

Nickel allergy and “Nickel Tested” products

As seen above avoiding contact altogether ,and therefore nickel allergy, is a very difficult operation.

Traces of nickel can be found in cosmetics due to processing residues. In certain concentrations, these traces can cause allergic reactions in particularly sensitive individuals. Nickel can be found in face, hand and body creams, lotions, cleansing products and make-up products.

Since these traces are due to processing, there are no totally nickel-free cosmetics on the market. The wording "nickel free" that can be found on the label of many cosmetics is not exact: the correct wording is "nickel tested", followed by the maximum concentration threshold of nickel inside the cosmetic.

The reaction threshold for sensitive individuals is usually between 3 and 5 parts per million (ppm) and allergic reactions at concentrations lower than one part per million can be excluded . The recommended tolerance limit in cosmetics for allergy sufferers is therefore one part per million.

When buying a cosmetic, in addition to verifying that it carries the wording "nickel free" or "nickel tested", we should also check if the quantity of nickel contained in the cosmetic is specified and, in case of nickel allergy, choose products that have a lower threshold than one part per million, indicated as Nickel Tested < 1 ppm.

Avoid nickel in jewellery

To avoid nickel allergy in the jewellery field, non-allergenic metals are recommended. Today, gold and silver alloys are almost entirely nickel-free or have a low nickel content. Unfortunately, cheap and poor quality jewellery can contain nickel in high quantities, without excluding other heavy metals responsible for allergies, such as cadmium, lead and cobalt. In the case of metals, the correct wording to look for is "nickel free", according to the European Directive.

Nickel allergy and Nuvò Cosmetic

Our company is very sensitive to the health of the snails involved in production, in individuals and in the environment, both the one in which it operates and the external one. For this reason, among the various certifications, many of our Nuvò Cosmetic snail slime products are Nickel Tested, placing the company controls at the highest level allowed to date by science and technology.

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