Piercing Problems?

May 1999

Precious Metals & Bench:News

Piercing Problems?

The use of nickel in pierced earrings can sensitize wearers

Scientists in Finland have discovered that body piercing (including ear piercing) is probably the cause of a steep rise in allergies to nickel in the Western world, says the January issue of New Scientist, a European magazine.

Nickel is used in some gold alloys but is more of a problem in costume and bridge jewelry. However, exposure even to the small amount of nickel in some fine jewelry can cause lifelong sensitivity. This suggests you should help customers avoid jewelry and findings with nickel.

The study was conducted by Antti Pönkä and Asta Ekman of the Helsinki City Centre for the Environment. They tested 66 ear studs and earring backs imported from Germany, Sweden, Britain and the U.S. They all contained amounts of nickel well below European Union limits.

In the first test –; which most government agencies use – the researchers swabbed an earring with a solution containing ammonia and dimethylglyocime, which should produce red if the metal contains nickel. None of the earrings tested positive. When they performed a variation of this test, in which the earrings were exposed to artificial sweat for up to a week, nine pieces tested positive. And when they used a different method, atomic absorption spectrometry, 25 were found to exceed EU limits. Pönkä says the swab test has been giving misleading results.

A directive outlining allowable levels of nickel in the EU was written in 1994 but won't go into effect in all member states until agreed-upon tests are published officially, possibly this year, says David Jarvis at the Sheffield Assay Office, which carries out Britain's emissions testing on nickel.

Adhering to limits won't be easy. "There's such a wide range of jewelry – it's difficult for importers to ensure they meet those requirements," says Stephen Carter of LGC, an independent lab in south London. "The best way to solve it is not to use nickel."

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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