Do you find yourself, either occasionally or continually, suffering from random patches of dry, red or itchy skin, little skin blisters or even swelling? If so you could be suffering from a nickel sensitivity or allergy.
As a condition, metal allergy (which is primarily to nickel) has been recognised for well over 50 years. In Europe at least it has been partially controlled by legislation that limits the amount of nickel that can be included in any metal item that is to come into contact with the skin or be inserted into parts of the body. (They must have a rate of nickel release less than or equal to 0.5 micrograms per square centimetre, per week.) But according to a 2017 Danish study, that still leaves between 11% and 20% of women and children and 5% of men reacting to nickel or other metals. And with the ever growing popularity of piercings (and tattoos) this proportion is likely to increase.
This information is just a fraction of what is to be found in Alex Gazzola’s new Metal Allergy Guide, an encylopaedic overview of the condition itself, where you are likely to encounter metals to which you might react – and what you can do to protect yourself or mitigate the effects.
What is metal allergy and how would you know that you were allergic?
Alex looks first at the metals that can cause allergy, the risk factors and the symptoms and conditions they are likely to trigger. The majority of these are skin related although metal allergy can also result in non-skin related symptoms such as fatigue, fibromylagia, depression, gastrointestinal and respiratory issues. A chapter on testing not only details the tests available but gives top tips for getting the best out of your tests and dealing with the diagnosis.
Identifying the allergens
It is one thing to discover that you are allergic, but another to identify the source of your exposure. For most people it is jewellery but it can also be clothing (studs or buckles), leather (because of the way it is processed), gadgets and technology (your mobile phone) and cosmetics and personal care products. This last is a minefield not only because of the potential for metal contamination but because it is often very hard to establish exactly what is in many of the products, especially make up. But Alex leads you by the hand with comprehensive details of what to look for and how to find it.
Avoiding exposure or finding safe alternatives
And having identified your exposure, what do you do about it? Total avoidance (not wearing jewellery, not wearing make up, not shaving if you are a man) may be too drastic a route for many, so what are the alternatives?
Barriers of various sorts are examined and then there is a long section on what you might be able to use instead. Suggested suppliers are given for nickel free jewellery, clothing, technology, vaping and kitchen products followed by a lengthy chapter on finding safe personal care products. Alex’s ten years as director of the Freefrom SkinCare Awards has given him unrivalled insight into the world of ‘freefrom’ skincare products and how much faith can be put in their ‘freefrom’ and hypoallergenic claims, so you could not find a better guide. He includes advice on shaving (a bit or a horror for anyone with a skin issue) and tattooing – although, ‘given the diversity of pigments typically involved in tattooing, each of which may contain an array of minerals and other potentially allergenic or even arguably toxic chemicals’ he would much rather you did not contemplate it at all.
Treatments and low-metal diets
There is a short chapter on the treatments that you might be offered or might decide to try at home and a rather longer one on low metal diets.
There are metals, including nickel, in all foods and our bodies need a certain amount of different metals to function efficiently. If you can keep your metal allergy under control by avoidance or substituting alternative products then there is probably no need to worry about your diet. However, if it remains obdurate then looking at your diet is certainly an option.
There are a number of relatively simple things you can do (such as not eating too many tinned foods or using ceramic, glass or non stick cookware instead of metal) which may do the trick. If that is not enough you can look at a low nickel diet although, since there is little agreement on the level of nickel in most foods, this is not that simple. However, Alex does lay out a skeleton plan and also examines the links that there could be between metal allergy and other digestive disorders.
The psycholgical effects of coping with an allergy, to metal or to anything else, have only recently started to be recognised – but they can be significant. Skin problems in particular can cause great embarrassment and stress often leading to depression and isolation. But there are techniques that can help: relaxation and deep breathing, exercise, good sleep, understanding your allergy, positive thinking. A supportive family and good friends are also hugely helpful – although Alex acknowledges that not all friends will be supportive and suggests that along with your allergens you avoid friends who simply do not ‘get’ allergy. On line support groups and talking therapies such a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can also be very useful.
The book ends with a great list of resources both in the US and the UK, a table of alloys and a glossary of the chemical symbols and numbers that you may need to familiarise yourself with if you are to track down your own personal allergens.
A really excellent reference work for anyone who thinks they might be sensitive to nickel or to any other metal. Alex tackles a complex subject comprehensively, yet manages to make it both understandable and readable! As far as I know, the only book currently available on metal allergy. How fortunate that it is such a good one.
The Metal Allergy Guide by Alex Gazzola – buy here at Amazon – excellent value at £9.49.