Nickel Directive

Here’s what you need to know about the Nickel Directive

The nickel directive was a European Union directive which regulated the use of nickel in jewellery and other such ornaments and products which come in contact with the skin. Currently it is only being followed in the Europe and not in other countries. The directive was enacted on the 20th of July 1999 and it became part of the law in the European Union on the 20th of January, 2000. Even so, the term ‘nickel directive’ is still used to refer to the restrictions on nickel usage.

The directive came into existence due to the fears associated with the allergies and chemical reactions associated with nickel, in order to reduce the problems and dangers caused by it. Around 10% of the population in the Western Europe and North America is sensitive to nickel. Nickel allergy is more common in women as compared to men. Initial problems occur from ear studs and body piercings.

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Initial sensitization frequently occurs from jewellery such as ear studs and other body piercings and nickel allergy is more prevalent among women than men. Once sensitized, an individual can develop contact dermatitis from shorter term contact with nickel-containing products: this is a particular problem given the use of nickel in coinage, such as the European one- and two-euro coins and the Canadian five-cent piece. This led to moves by two European countries to prevent the initial sensitization of jewelry wearers by limiting the use of nickel in piercing studs and other products which are in prolonged contact with the skin, and then to the European Union Nickel Directive in 1994.

The Nickel Directive imposes limits on the amount of nickel that may be released from jewelry and other products intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin. These limits, known as migration limits, are:

0.2 µg/cm2/week for post assemblies which are inserted into pierced ears and other pierced parts of the human body;

0.5 µg/cm2/week for other products intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin.

Nickel release is measured by a test method known as EN 1811, which involves placing the object in an artificial sweat solution for one week, then measuring nickel by atomic absorption spectroscopy or any other appropriate technique (e.g. ICP-MS). Other, equivalent test methods may also be accepted. Wear and corrosion can be simulated by a method known as EN 12472.

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