Nickel Frequently Asked Questions

 

Advice or information on compliance issues does not carry any legal authority and does not replace the provisions of the legal regulations, only the regulations as interpreted by the courts have the force of law.

Why is nickel a problem?
How does nickel sensitisation happen?
How do I know if I have nickel allergic contact dermatitis?
How long does nickel sensitisation last?
How is nickel allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) treated?
Can nickel allergy cause anaphylactic shock?
Why are more women affected than men?
Why test for Nickel?
What is migration and how is it measured?
Why are there 2 tests for Nickel Release?
What should be tested?
What is prolonged contact with the skin?
Can I just use the Swab test for Due Diligence?
Should I do a separate 1811 Test as well as the 1811 & 12472 Set?
Does the Directive mean I can't use Nickel?
Does the Directive apply to Mobile Phones?
Does the Directive apply to Belts?
Does the Directive apply to Brooches?
What is a Post Assembly?
Does the 0.2 micrograms per square centimetre per week limit only apply to piercing post assemblies used during the period of healing of the wound caused by piercing?
Is it permissible for piercing post assemblies to be plated with a non-nickel coating?
What is Nickel Silver?


Why is nickel a problem?

Nickel can cause allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). Signs of ACD range from dryness, chapping and inflammation of the skin to eczema and blisters.

Nickel sensitivity affects approximately 10% of women and 1% of men in western countries. It is not an inherited condition but is related to direct and prolonged skin contact with the substance. Nickel ACD was first noticed in industries where soluble forms of nickel came into contact with workers' skin, e.g. electroplating and battery manufacture.

Nickel sensitivity outside of occupational industries was first noticed in people who had skin contact with clothing buckles, zips and clasps that had been nickel-plated. ACD has increased with the use of nickel-plated jewellery and particularly with the practice of body-piercing.

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How does nickel sensitisation happen?

When an item containing nickel comes into direct and prolonged contact with the skin, sweat can act on it to release nickel ions. Sensitisation can take between one and three weeks of such contact. The quantity of nickel ions required to induce it varies with individuals. Skin condition, other allergies, gender and age can all be factors. Some nickel-sensitised people may develop ACD with further exposure.

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How do I know if I have nickel allergic contact dermatitis?

The symptoms of an allergic reaction to nickel can include skin dryness, chapping, eczema, blisters and inflammation at the site of the exposure to items releasing a sufficient amount of solubilized nickel ions. To be sure that the symptoms are caused by an allergy and to determine the cause of the allergy, a dermatologist should be consulted. A review of exposures and clinical history should be conducted, possibly accompanied by a skin allergy test to confirm whether the allergen is nickel if the exposures and reactions are consistent with nickel allergic contact dermatitis.

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How long does nickel sensitisation last?

Nickel sensitisation lasts for life. However, some nickel-sensitised people display no symptoms (such as allergic skin rashes), either because they are minimally exposed or because relatively high amounts of nickel ions are required in them to cause ACD.

Short-term contact with nickel-releasing items such as keys, coins and tools is unlikely to lead to nickel allergy in non-sensitised people or cause ACD in those who are nickel sensitised.

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How is nickel allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) treated?

Simply avoiding direct and prolonged exposure to nickel-releasing materials is often a sufficient remedy. ACD may also be treated with anti-inflammatory topical skin creams or ointments, e.g. cortisone-based skin moisturisers.

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Can nickel allergy cause anaphylactic shock?

No. Nickel allergy cannot cause anaphylaxis. This is because it is a Type 4 "delayed reaction allergy". Unlike some other allergens (Type 1,2 and 3) nickel allergy is not life-threatening and cannot trigger anaphylactic shock.

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Why are more women affected than men?

Research is not conclusive at this point but it is thought that this may be due to the fact that women wear more jewellery and have more piercings than men and therefore have less exposure to nickel-releasing items.

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Why test for Nickel?

Nickel has been shown to be the most common cause of skin contact allergy in Europe. European Directive 94/27/EC was made UK Law in 2000 and specifies the upper limit for nickel release in articles which have direct and prolonged contact with the skin - such as Jewellery, fashion accessories, and metal adornments for apparel. Failure to comply with the Directive is a criminal offence.

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What is migration and how is it measured?

Migration is the measure of release of a substance from the surface of an object, usually into a liquid, over a period of time. For the purposes of testing under EN 1811, the media used is an artificial sweat solution which simulates human sweat. This standard requires a post assembly of known surface area to be immersed into a known volume of artificial sweat solution for a period of 1 week.

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Why are there 2 tests for Nickel Release?

The DMG Swab Test was the initial regulatory test for the Danish and German Legislation. This became the basis for PREN12471 - The Scanning Nickel Release Test. However, it was considered to unreliable when used as a basis of prosecution not the least because it only gave a simple yes/no answer. The Commission asked for a quantitative method of testing which developed into the EN1811 Nickel Release and EN12472 Wear Test set of tests. The disadvantage with these tests is that they typically take 10 days to complete and are expensive when related to the cost of the item being tested, while industry needs a quick and cheap method of testing. Thus the DMG Swab Test was enhanced to allow industry to determine if items are likely to fail the nickel release threshold.

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What should be tested?

Although the 'Nickel Directive' 94/27/EC is clearly intended for items of Jewellery, watches and similar articles including fashion accessories worn close to the skin. It should not be forgotten that the first large scale sensitisation problems were associated with Nickel items in clothing. It is therefore necessary in showing due diligence under the various consumer protection legislation to test any metal items that the manufacturer or importer believes will come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin, for example. jeans studs, metal eyelets poppers on babies garments, belts, buckles on ladies shoes.

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What is prolonged contact with the skin?

Prolonged contact with the skin is defined as contact with the skin to articles containing nickel of potentially more than

  • 10 minutes on three or more occasions within two weeks, or
  • 30 minutes on one or more occasions within two weeks.
The skin contact time of 10 minutes applies when there are three or more occasions of skin contacts within a two-week time period. The skin contact time of 30 minutes applies when there is at least one occasion within a two-week time period.

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Can I just use the Swab test for Due Diligence?

It is doubtful for the majority of Importers and manufacturers. The answer will have to wait until case law is made.

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Should I do a separate 1811 Test as well as the 1811 & 12472 Set?

Yes - Items have been found that pass the EN1811 Nickel Release Test after the EN12472 Wear Test but fail both the PREN12471 DMG Swab Test and the EN1811 Nickel Release Test on its own. This was due to surface contamination on the item which was worn off by the EN12472 Wear Test.

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Does the Directive mean I can't use Nickel?

The 'Nickel Directive' 94/27/EC does not ban the use of nickel per se. For the majority of items it only restricts the release of nickel ions from the item. Alloys that contain nickel that don't corrode, i.e. some stainless steels, don't release nickel ions and so may be used. It is also possible to barrier the release of nickel ions by using coatings and providing the barrier lasts for the equivalent of two years use that is also acceptable.

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Does the Directive apply to Mobile Phones?

It has emerged that some mobile telephones contain nickel in surface material and that consumers are at risk of developing eczema through skin contact with the mobile telephone. As mobile telephones are clearly intended to come into direct contact with the skin, and as they are used on a daily basis often for prolonged periods of time, it is considered that mobile telephones fulfil the condition of "direct and prolonged contact with the skin". Therefore mobile telephones are covered by the Directive.

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Does the Directive apply to Belts?

It is the suppliers responsibility to decide whether any metal pieces on the belt will come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin.

For example belts designed to be worn through belt loops over the top of clothing are unlikely to come into contact with the skin unless there is a large and/or ornate buckle, and the target market for the belt is men with large beer belly's or pregnant women and thus may not need to comply.

Belts with rivets that are designed to be worn at an angle over the skin and clothing obviously would have to comply.

A belt that is designed not to come into contact with the skin but is, however, normally worn in such manner that the metal pieces on the belt will come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin, may need to comply. However, there may be an element of consumer abuse available as a defence but this cannot be relied upon as an absolute defence.

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Does the Directive apply to Brooches?

The only part of a brooch that could normally come in direct and prolonged contact with the skin is the brooch pin. This would normally not happen on a heavy brooch or kilt pin as these items are expected to be warn on an outer garment with an other layer of cloth between the skin and the pin. It becomes more complicated on a light brooch as these may be worn with the pin touching the skin in which case the directive would apply to the brooch pin only

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What is a Post Assembly?

The post assembly is the part of the product designed for insertion into the hole through the body (either during or after the period of healing of the wound) caused by piercing, plus any faces that hold the piece in and against the hole through the body (such as the ball or butterfly).

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Does the 0.2 micrograms per square centimetre per week limit only apply to piercing post assemblies used during the period of healing of the wound caused by piercing?

No, the limit applies to all piercing post assemblies, whether they are used during or after the period of healing of the wound caused by piercing.

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Is it permissible for piercing post assemblies to be plated with a non-nickel coating?

Yes. Such post assemblies must comply with the 0.2 micrograms per square centimetre per week limit for nickel release as determined by the reference test method EN 1811

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What is Nickel Silver?

Nickel Silver (also known as German Silver) is the generic name for any of a range of non-precious bright silvery-grey metal alloys, composed of copper, nickel and zinc. Despite its name it contains no silver.

Nickel Silver gets its name because its colour matches that of silver reasonably, and because it was used as a low status substitute for silver in the 19th century. It is widely used for the commercial production of industrial components, housewares, flatware and cutlery, and as the metal substrate for silver-plated goods. The term EPNS stands for Electro-Plated Nickel Silver.

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Last Updated 9th November 2017
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