Q: I’m 22 and recently had my belly button pierced, and then the area broke out into a nasty, itchy rash. My doctor suspects a nickel allergy and advised me to remove the ring. How do I know if nickel is the issue, and would a silver ring or another metal be safe to wear?
Dr. Skotnicki: Most reactions to cheap metals that touch the skin are to either nickel or cobalt released from the metal object. As well, most people become sensitized to nickel through body piercing. To tell if you’re allergic, you can test the jewelry for nickel. If it contains it, that is likely what is triggering your rash, as this common allergy affects an estimated 40 million North Americans.
A nickel spot test can be purchased online. Simply put a drop of the test solution on a cotton swab and rub the metal.
If the swab turns pink, nickel is being released. In someone with the allergy, the immune system will react to the presence of more than 5 parts per million (ppm) of nickel.
You can use the following metals safely: silver, 24-carat gold (less than 24-carat may contain nickel) and platinum. Stainless steel is an alloy of metals that could release some nickel.
Don’t be fooled by jewelry labeled “hypoallergenic.” Instead look for items that say “nickel-free.” Also, piercing rings from Europe would be safe – since Europe has strict nickel standards.
Send your sensitive skin questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more helpful skin information, see Drsandyskotnicki.comSubmit a Question View all posts by this medical expert.