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Piercing jewelry takes the blame for nickel allergies
like cars might be blamed for traffic accidents.

Dr. Matthew Zirwas reports that nickel allergies in the US are likely incorrectly attributed to jewelry metals (e.g. nickel in jewelry for pierced ears). There is evidence he says that the diet and other factors may be major contributors and that "nickel" allergies come and go relative to the ingested foods we eat.  "Healthy" type foods like oatmeal, whole grains, nuts, soy contain trace amounts that build up in the body over time. Change your diet.  (See below) Dr. Matthew Zirwas

Because Finland has an environmental nickel problem they were able to persuade the EU authorities to ban 316L in the EU because nickel is an ingredient in stainless steel and require the use of Titanium for initial piercings. This is sad because the nickel in the bulk material never contacts the skin at all, at any time.  316L stainless steel is incorrectly blamed.


To help properly regard the nickel content in stainless steel I would to  make an analogy. Analogies are not meant as proof but as an aid to understand the process.

When you touch the human body you touch the skin, not what is beneath the skin, the muscles, blood, dermis etc. Another element in all stainless steels is Chromium. Llike skin it coats every inch of the bulk stainless steel.Everywhere it has contact with oxygen (in air or liquid) it imparts the shiny appearance and is so resistant to corrosion it has long been used for medical implants within the body. Uhlig writes in Corrosion that all metals deteriorate in a liquid environment, but some metals are strongly resistant and a chromium layer is one of the best defenses against corrosion. Chromium is mixed in the steel and is everywhere including the surface. When you touch your kitchen faucets you only contact the chromium oxide surface film, not the nickel in the metal which is why there are no claims of getting nickel allergy from faucets. Piercing Jewelry is inappropriately blamed. You can't get nickel from 316L by contact. You can't rub the surface away. When it is damaged it quickly forms the protective chromium layer by drawing oxygen from the surrounding air or liquid, just like epidermal cells proliferate on their own and repairs the deficit of the skin.

The only reports of nickel coming from stainless steel is of medically implanted devices, such as at the crevice point of a screw holding a plate to a bone that the liquid environment is depleted of oxygen. It happens with medical implants, not piercing jewelry.

For Stainless Steel you are not touching the iron, nickel or manganese below the surface you are touching an outer surface layer which is made of chromium oxides not the bulk material below the chromium layer.  Like skin when damaged the Chromium "grows" back and protects the insides of your body. SS is a process analogous to the body. When oxygen in air or liquid contacts a SS product the oxygen immediately bonds with the chromium that is on the surface creating chromium oxides everywhere, a thin layer that resists liquid or air corrosion.

As long as oxygen is present (washing, moving, exposing to air) your 316L piercing jewelry will never leach allergy producing nickel. The shiny surface will last virtually forever. The faucets in your home are made with Stainless Steel that contain nickel and if regularly cleaned never rust. Consider that nickel-sensitive people do not break out in a rash when they touch a stainless steel fork, or railings ubiquitously made of SS.

Even the CDC on line Toxic look at Nickel is guilty of this confusion by arguing that

1) Nickel causes allergies.
2) Stainless Steel contains nickel.
3) Therefore SS body jewelry causes allergies

The difference is that in the application-use as body jewelry there never is corrosion of the metal with an inability to replenish the chromium outer layer with oxygen because it is regularly washed and moved around creating the opportunity to be exposed to oxygen in the air or in water.

It is not fair for the CDC to publish statements that leads people to  conclude they can develop an allergy from the nickel if they use 316L body piercing jewelry.

I have written extensively on this subject at because some suppliers and lobby groups have been doing their very best to convince unwary consumers and health departments to require the use of F138 316LVM and ban 316L. 

Wes Wood


"As people try to eat healthier, they’re actually eating more nickel,”says Dr. Matthew Zirwas, a dermatologist at Ohio State who hasseen a gradual increase in nickel food allergies over the past five years.

…For people who have puzzling rashes and have had reactions to metal items such as earrings, belt buckles or watches, Zirwas suggests they pay attention to their diets. In addition to avoiding foods that are high in nickel,

Dr. Zirwas tells patients to

 take vitamin C with every meal because it will bind to the nickel in

 the food and prevent absorption….It can be really hard to figure

 out that the nickel in their diet is the source…Nickel is one of the

 most common metals in our environment. It naturally occurs as a

 mineral in soil and in drinking water. Nickel is commonly used as a

 protective coating for other metals and it is used in coins, glass,

ceramics, magnets and batteries.

 Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center, Rash of Nickel Food Allergies linked to a Healthier Diet, March 1, 2012