Nickel allergies and metal sensitivities are one of the most common allergies. We, as piercers, see the effects of this allergy on a regular basis. It is an allergy that greatly affects one’s ability to properly heal body piercings, as well as to maintain them in a healthy manner. A study was recently released at the annual of the American Contact Dermatitis Society which found that the risk of nickel and cobalt sensitivity increases in tandem with the number of body piercings. In other words, the more piercings you have, the more likely you are to develop nickel or cobalt sensitivities as a whole.
The study involved nearly 9,400 patch tested patients. From the data collected, they found that younger patients were more affected than older patients, and females were more likely to be affected than males. With that said, it was surprisingly found that when looking directly at body piercing as a cause of the allergy, even in ear lobes, the allergy was more common in males.
Since nickel is one of the most common allergens for patch tested patients, and—as stated above—body piercing has been directly correlated with the development of said allergy, it only makes sense that piercers should be very aware of the quality of metal they are putting into the piercings they deal with. Nickel is tightly bound up in many forms of stainless steel, especially those simply labeled surgical stainless steel, and once the allergy has developed one will see a marked sensitivity to the metal and need to avoid it. This means using jewelry that is nickel or cobalt free. However, there are many suitable nickel free options.
The only quality recommended for use by the APP for steel is that it is certified to meet ASTM or ISO standards for surgical implant application, specifically ASTM F138 or ISO 5832-1. Surgical steel can be made of a variety of alloys many of which are present in lower quality body jewelry and only a few specific grades are proven biocompatible (The Association of Professional Piercers has developed these standards based on the most up-to-date studies, such as that above as well as the historical data available.) An alternative to steel is titanium, and while it is an excellent alternative, one must still look for surgical implant grade specifically (Ti6Al4V ELI)—that is ASTM F136 or ISO 5832-2 compliant or commercially pure titanium at ASTM F67 compliant. There are also other options such as glass available for both new and healed piercings as well. For more information about APP approved body jewelry, please see the Jewelry for Initial Piercings or Jewelry for Healed Piercings brochures.
For more information about the study, click here.