Legality of Nickel in Jewelry
As we covered in our previous blog post, irritated skin - or allergic contact dermatitis - is the manifestation of an allergic response caused by contact with a specific substance. Jewelry is one of the most common causes of this condition, and more specifically jewelry with the presence of nickel.
THE SCOPE OF THE ISSUE
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the population is allergic to nickel. It may take repeated or prolonged exposure to items containing nickel to see symptoms of the allergy. However, once it’s developed, you'll always be sensitive to the metal and must go out of your way to avoid contact.
THE NICKEL DIRECTIVE
10 to 20 percent is a large portion of the population, and certainly large enough that the problem should be addressed. In the EU, this is exactly the case! In 1994, the European Union passed the “Nickel Directive”, which regulated the use of nickel in jewelry and other products that come into contact with the skin.
This was done in an effort to proactively reduce the amount of contact people had with nickel, in order to stop the development of allergic contact dermatitis in the first place. The Nickel Directive imposes limits on the amount of nickel that may be used in jewelry and other products intended for direct and prolonged contact with the skin.
The initial terms of the Nickel Directive legislation passed in 1994 have since been amended. However, in the European Union, there still do exist official nickel limits.
The current limit of nickel for products intended for direct skin contact: 0.5 µg/cm2/week.
The current limit of nickel for products intended for pierced ears and other pierced parts of the human body: 0.2 µg/cm2/week.
IN ENGLISH PLEASE...?
What exactly do these numbers and symbols mean? Let’s break it down:
- µg | microgram - In the metric system, a microgram is a unit of mass equal to one millionth of a gram.
- Km / Cm² | Kilogram per Square Centimeter Pressure Unit - a pressure unit and the metric equivalent of pounds per square inch.
- Week - Measurement of time.
These numbers aren’t easy for the average person to grasp or comprehend. Additionally, how would the average consumer have any idea the amount of nickel in a product they were deciding to purchase? Luckily the Nickel Directive came with a testing method to be used in examining and approving products - EN 1811. This involves placing the object in an artificial sweat solution for one week, then measuring nickel by atomic absorption spectroscopy (the absorption of light by free metallic ions).
If a product’s nickel contents are below the threshold laid out by the Nickel Directive for its specified use, it’s legally allowed to be sold within the European Union. This ensures consumer safety and safe products for purchase. It has since been adopted by the U.K. as well! Legislation such as the Nickel Directive should act as a global standard to address the issue. However, this is not the case in the United States.
THE (STARTLING RESULTS)
While some individual states have regulations for nickel in consumer products, such as California's Prop 65, the United States has no federal legislation regulating the amount of nickel in jewelry products. Minus extremely high quality jewelry such as gold and sterling silver, most cheaper and costume jewelry can be marked “Nickel-Free”. Yet, these statements have not been evaluated or scientifically verified by a government body, such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Furthermore, “Nickel-Free” products may still contain nickel. While there are trustworthy jewelry manufacturers that can be taken for their “Nickel-Free” word, there are many imported jewelry products produced outside the U.K and EU that are sold in the United States. Often times, their acceptable nickel threshold is significantly lower than the Nickel Directive, or non-existent.
It’s important for consumers to have access to all necessary product information, ensuring transparency and safety. Sadly, the United States has seemingly fallen behind in regulating consumer products within the jewelry marketplace. Before purchasing a new piece, do your research! There are many vendors who carry quality products you can rely on.