Do we need to worry?
In order to answer this question, let’s take a look at what
nickel allergy is.
An allergy to nickel is one of the most common causes of
allergic contact dermatitis. If you suffer from this
allergy, it will cause an extremely itchy rash that appears
when a substance containing nickel comes into contact with
your skin for any length of time.
Nickel allergy is most commonly found in connection with
wearing earrings, jewelry with metal clasps, the riveted
buttons on jeans, watch strap buckles and metal frames on
This allergy can affect any one of any age. You may be fine
with nickel for years and then suddenly develop an allergy
to it – or it may take just one exposure to it. For some
people, even holding coins in their hand for a few minutes
can bring out the itchy rash. Similarly, holding the handle
of a pot or pan while cooking would bring you up in an
allergic rash if that handle contained a high level of
nickel. Once you have the allergy, you will always have it,
so avoidance is the only ‘cure’.
Contact Dermatitis is generally treated by avoidance of the
substance which causes the allergy. Once the rash is there,
it can be eased with very sparing application of topical
Allergen of the Year!!
Nickel has the dubious honor of having been awarded the
title ‘Allergen of the Year’ for 2008. This was bestowed
upon it by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. A recent
article by Kathryn Zug MD and Rachel Kornick MD of Dartmouth
Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire says
"...the rising incidence of nickel allergy in the United
States and elsewhere, high nickel sensitization rates
documented in children, and a resurgent issue of biomedical
device complication (specifically, nickel allergy) due to
metal, to dismiss nickel's importance and relevance to
public health and skin disease would be a mistake."
Dr Deal Edell, an American physician who hosts his own
syndicated radio talk show, agrees with Zug and Kornick. He
says "...people who know they're allergic to nickel should
avoid preparing food in stainless steel, and opt instead for
enameled steel for stovetop cooking and Pyrex glassware for
baking and microwave use. And to play it safe, those of you
without nickel allergies should probably stay away from
stainless steel for cooking very acidic foods, like tomato
sauce, or for deep frying, whose high temperatures can draw
more nickel into your food."
So if I have a nickel allergy, should I use nickel-free
There has been a lot of worry lately about whether it is
safe to use stainless steel cookware because it contains
both chromium and nickel. It is true that both of these
substances are poisonous at high levels. However, the amount
that may enter food that is being cooked in stainless steel
cookware is extremely tiny and should not be anywhere near
enough to cause health issues. However, if your hands are
affected by holding metal handles, look for a range that has
silicon covered or wood handles.
Why does stainless steel contain nickel and chromium?
Chromium contains a chemical that reacts with elements in
the air to form a layer of protection over the entire
surface of the cookware. This layer helps the pan to resist
corrosion, repel stains and helps to prevent the formation
To be called stainless steel, the alloy must contain a
minimum of 11% chromium. Any percentage higher than 11%
means that the protective layer will be thicker and if it
becomes damaged, it will repair itself more quickly.
The number 18 refers to the chromium content, so an 18/10
pan will contain 18% chromium.
The second number refers to the percentage of nickel in the
cookware. Nickel adds to the protective layer started by the
chromium. It also makes the cookware shiny – so the higher
the second number, the more nickel it will contain and the
shinier it will be.
When less expensive is better!
Nickel is not added to other less expensive stainless steel
items such as mixing bowls, cheap cookware, stockpots etc.
This is why they are not as shiny as their more expensive
counterparts. It is also why they are much more prone to
developing rust. However, if you are worried about using
cookware containing nickel, then these less expensive 18/0
items are the ones for you!
Is there any other nickel free cookware?
Yes – a company called Silit make a nickel free range called
Silargan® which is suitable for all stovetops.
Alternatively, you could consider enamel coated cast iron
wear, glass ware or hard anodized aluminum coated with
Ask your Doctor
There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to show that using
stainless steel containing nickel has any negative effect on
the health of people with a known nickel allergy – apart
from possible contact dermatitis of the hand from holding a
However, a quick tour of online forums shows that many
people are very concerned about both nickel and chromium in
stainless steel. If you are really worried about this, it is
best to consult your Doctor or a Dermatologist.
Where Can I Buy Nickel Free Cookware?
One of the better brands of nickel free cookware is Silit.
You can view the complete range at Amazon.