The best strategy to prevent developing nickel allergy is to avoid prolonged exposure to items containing nickel, especially jewelry. If you already have a nickel allergy, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid contact with the metal.

However, it's not always easy to avoid nickel because it's present in so many products. Home test kits are available to check for nickel in metal items. The following tips may help you avoid nickel exposure:

Wear hypoallergenic jewelry

Purchase jewelry that's made of materials that aren't likely to cause allergic reactions. Look for jewelry made from such metals as nickel-free stainless steel, surgical-grade stainless steel, titanium, 18-karat yellow gold, or nickel-free 14-karat yellow gold, sterling silver, copper and platinum. Avoid jewelry with nickel, as well as cobalt and white gold, which may contain nickel and trigger allergic reactions. Surgical-grade stainless steel may contain some nickel, but it's generally considered hypoallergenic for most people.

Get rid of jewelry that contains nickel or has caused an allergic reaction. Be sure that your earring backings also are made of hypoallergenic materials.

Choose a piercing studio carefully

Tattoo and body piercing studio regulations differ from state to state. Contact your state or local health department to find out what rules apply to your area and be certain to choose a reputable studio with licensed piercers.

Visit a studio before getting a piercing to make sure that the piercer:

  • Provides a clean, tidy, professional environment
  • Uses sterile, nickel-free or surgical-grade stainless steel needles in sealed packages
  • Sells only hypoallergenic jewelry and can provide documentation of metal content
  • Doesn't use a piercing gun, which may not be sterile or nickel-free and may cause other complications, such as a bacterial infection

Use substitute materials

Look for safer substitutes for common nickel-containing items:

  • Watchbands made of leather, cloth or plastic
  • Zippers or clothing fasteners made of plastic or coated metals
  • Plastic or titanium eyeglass frames

Create a barrier

If you have to be exposed to nickel at work, creating a barrier between you and the nickel may help. If your hands have to touch nickel, wearing gloves may help. Try covering buttons, snaps, zippers or tool handles with duct tape. Clear nail polish on jewelry may help, but may have to be reapplied often.

March 13, 2013