Dermatitis & nickel

Presented on the 16th July 2017 to the St Vincent's Hospital Department of Dermatology at the Skin and Cancer foundation Australia

Dermatitis also called Eczema is an inflammation of the skin, causing it to become red and itchy, sometimes blisters can appear and the skin can become dry and flaky.

Nickel associated dermatitis is estimated to effect at least 10% of the population, with numbers set to increase alongside the increasing popularity of body piercings. Piercings are a common trigger for nickel dermatitis. Nickel associated dermatitis effects women more prevalently than men, as culturally, women tend to have more piercings than men.

People who suffer nickel dermatitis not only have dermatitis where they encounter nickel; belts, watches, jewelry, etc. but also other areas on the body due to systemic nickel.

Nickel becomes systemic when it is absorbed through food and drink in the diet. Low nickel diets are commonly prescribed to help combat nickel dermatitis. Nickel can be found in most foods, it is very difficult to avoid. Plant foods contain more nickel than animal foods.

The level of nickel in food can vary due to:

  • Soil quality
  • Use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides
  • Season/geo-location
  • Machine processing
  • Hydrogenation of foods (nickel is used as a catalyst for solidifying plant fats)
  • Cooking acidic foods in stainless steel
  • Canned foods
  • Unfiltered water

Nickel is absorbed into plants through the soil, then the content of nickel is further increased due to food processing and manufacturing that further leeches nickel into the food. Water can absorb nickel through pipes, so filtered water is recommended.

Each individual responds differently to a low nickel diet due to individual factors such as intestinal health, absorption in the gut, iron status and variations in diet. Stopping the exposure to and absorption of nickel is the most effective treatment of nickel associated dermatitis.

Iron deficiency increases the absorption of nickel. When the body is iron deficient, it up-regulates the absorption of metals in the gut via the divalent metal transporter. In the absence of available iron, nickel is absorbed; where it then is systemically distributed throughout the body. Vitamin C increases iron absorption by helping the iron turn into a more easily absorbed from.

Nickel can also be absorbed through gaps in the gut wall, commonly called ‘leaky gut syndrome’. Diet and some medications can increase these gaps in the gut, allowing excess nickel to pass through into the body regardless of absorption transporters. Healing a leaky gut is an important step in reducing nickel absorption.


  • Eat a diet high in Iron and Vitamin C
  • Look after your gut health
  • Avoid environmental contributors to nickel
  • Reduce high nickel foods
  • Avoid nickel containing accessories

High Vitamin C and Iron rich foods:

  • Shellfish
  • red and white meat
  • liver
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans and lentils
  • dark leafy green vegetables
  • black currants
  • citrus fruits
  • caulifower
  • tomato
  • strawberries
  • broccoli
  • melon
  • capsicum
  • mustard greens
  • zucchini
  • spinach
  • fennel

High Nickel Foods:

  • whole wheat
  • whole grain
  • rye
  • oat
  • millet
  • buckwheat
  • cocoa
  • chocolate
  • tea
  • gelatin
  • baking powder
  • soy products
  • red kidney beans
  • legumes: peas, lentils, peanut, soya beans and chickpeas
  • dried fruits
  • canned foods
  • canned beverages
  • strong licorice
  • vitamins containing nickel
  • beer
  • red wine
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • herring and shellfish
  • seeds: sunflower, linseeds, hazelnuts, walnuts
  • tomatoes
  • onion
  • raw carrots
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