A fashionable approach to nickel allergy

July 1, 2004

Because nickel allergy, which affects children of all ages, can cause severe contact dermatitis, it is important to identify sources of nickel on clothing and accessories.

Because nickel allergy, which affects children of all ages, can cause severe contact dermatitis, it is important to identify sources of nickel on clothing and accessories. Nickel is used in all types of fasteners, from snaps and buttons on denim outfits and designer jeans, to buckles on sandals and belts, to fancy button covers and cuff links on tuxedos. It is also a common component of jewelry.

Once a nickel allergy is diagnosed and treatment is begun, the child should avoid all contact with nickel-containing products and the family should take time to inspect all clothing and accessories for metal fasteners or decorations. Then the parents should apply a protective layer of clear nail polish to all nickel-containing jewelry or metallic objects on clothing. I recommend five coats of polish, allowing each coat to dry for five or 10 minutes before applying the next one. The nail polish does not come off in the wash—so the job stays done. Over the years, this measure has allowed many of my patients to wear their favorite designer jeans, sandals, and other nickel-containing clothing and jewelry without developing a rash.

Martha Waite, MD
Holden, Mass.