Nickel is a metal that causes one of today’s most typical skin allergies. One tenth of the population is allergic to it, mainly due to repeated exposure to high doses. Nickel can be found in larger quantities, for example in telephones, coins, zippers, spectacle frames, buckles, buttons, scissors or keys. However, it most often enters our body through jewelry. An allergic reaction is manifested by redness, swelling, rash or pimples, which usually appear within two days of wearing a nickel-containing piece of jewelry. The reason why it is added to jewelry is its low price and the properties it gives to jewelry.
What jewelry can we find nickel in?
Nickel is not just a problem of cheap jewelry from China but can also be found in jewelry made of precious metals.
In gold-plated or silver-plated jewelry, nickel is used as a barrier between base copper-containing metal and precious metal. The reason is to prevent the diffusion of copper atoms into gilding/ silvering, which would cause blackening and damage to the jewelry. In this case, nickel can be replaced, for example, by palladium, which is several times more expensive. Even if the jewelry is wrapped in a layer of gold, it may come off after a certain period of wearing and the skin will come into contact with the nickel layer.
However, nickel can also be found in gold or silver jewelry. Since neither silver nor gold is used for jewelry in its pure form, it may happen that part of the alloy metal is nickel. For 925 silver jewelry, the remaining 7.5% metal should be copper, but even that cannot be relied on. Allergy to silver is most likely an allergy to the nickel contained in silver.
For example, in gold, nickel can often be found in 14k or 18k white gold to add white in combination with zinc and silver. Today, palladium is more often added to white gold, but this is not the rule, as the color of this gold is grayer, and the jewel is significantly more expensive. But follow the rule that if it is not stated that white gold does not contain nickel, it is likely that you will find it there. Also, it is not that important how much nickel the jewelry contains but how much of nickel is released into the skin.
How do I know if the jewelry contains nickel?
If I decided to buy jewelry, both the manufacturer and the seller should be able to tell me what metals the jewelry contains. For example, if we buy gold-plated pieces in Europe, they should meet EU standards that regulate how much nickel is released into the body, thus preventing the development of further allergies, but this will not help us much if we already have an allergy. Manufacturers are not required to state whether jewelry contains nickel. However, if the jewelry does not contain nickel, the seller may state this in his jewelry and thus gain a market advantage.
If I have already bought a piece of jewelry and I want to find out if it contains nickel, there is a non-destructive method by which we can test the piece. Chemical dimethylglyoxime is used, but it also reacts to the presence of palladium, so it is not that useful as palladium is safe replacement for nickel. It can be bought in form of nickel test papers or test drops. With this method, you can test the jewelry before you buy, if the seller allows it. We must not forget that in the case of gold-plated, silver-plated or rhodium-plated jewelry, nickel can be hidden under this layer. Even silver jewelry is additionally silver-plated to create a flawless look.
What about jewelry that contains nickel
It can be a piece of noble or base metal, which we like too much to get rid of. In this case, there are several options:
Gold-plating/ silver-plating / rhodium plating.
Gold, silver or brass jewelry can be gilded, silvered or rhodium plated. In the case of non-ferrous metal jewelry, it should be noted that they should not use nickel but palladium as a base layer. At the same time, the previous gilding with nickel should be removed during the gilding process, so we would not have to worry that we will be exposed to nickel again even after the top layer has been worn off. If we want the jewelry gilding to last for a long time, we can agree with goldsmith on a thicker layer of gilding.
A domestic way to prevent nickel from coming into contact with the skin is to paint the part of the jewelry a lacquer, for example a nail polish. The varnish also wears off after a certain time, so it is necessary to apply it regularly.
Nickel should not be a scarecrow that will scare us at night. It is found in many foods and is even essential for our lives. However, it is true that today we receive it in excessive amounts, which over time can manifest as skin dermatitis and allergies that unnecessarily complicate our lives. This is one of the reasons why it is good to know from whom and what jewelry we buy.