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  • Writer's pictureJuliette Aiyana, L.Ac. MTCM

Skin Rashes: Low Nickel Diet & Nickel Contact Allergy

Nickel, a common trace metal found in various foods, can trigger skin rashes and irritation in those sensitive to it.

Nickel is commonly found in everyday metals such as household kitchen cookware, jewelry, belt buckles, and watches. In my clinical practice, I have seen people whose nickel allergy were triggered or worsened atopic eczema rashes, contact allergy rashes, psoriasis and dyshidrotic/pompholyx eczema which is characterized by tiny, painful, fluid filled blisters that appear on the fingers, palms and the soles of feet. While it's impossible to completely eliminate nickel from our diets, choosing foods with lower nickel concentrations and avoiding nickel containing household goods, jewelry and other everyday metals can help reduce daily intake and minimize the risk of skin reactions. It is also important to protect and nourish the skin barrier to minimize and control eczema. My free e-book teaches how to do that.


Nickel Can Cause Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis, also known as contact allergy, is a type of skin irritation caused by an allergic reaction to something touching the skin, called an allergen. This reaction happens 48 to 72 hours after contact with the allergen. It involves special cells in the immune system called CD4+ T-lymphocytes, which release chemicals that activate the immune system and lead to allergic contact dermatitis.


Nickel in Everyday Metals

Nickel is a commonly used metal in jewelry, watches, cell phones, earbuds, hair pins, bra hooks, eyeglasses frames, razors, hypodermic needles latches on bags, key rings, cabinet handles, paper clips, belt buckles and rivets on clothing which might trigger a contact allergy. Acupuncture needles also contain nickel but the good news is that your acupuncturist can substitute with gold needles if requested in advance so they can special order them for you. 


Nickel in Cookware & Utensils

Nickel can also leach from cookware such as aluminum pots and pans, or utensils into the food you eat. Ceramic coated, 18/10 stainless steel, cast iron or glass cookware are safer options. Consider not using the first water flow from the tap in the morning for drinking or cooking, as nickel may accumulate overnight.


Low Nickel Diet

Research confirms the benefits of a low nickel diet in managing nickel related eczema. While a low nickel diet may not completely clear dermatitis, it can reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups. Before embarking on a low nickel diet, and giving up foods like chocolate, get patch tested by an allergist so that you don’t embark on a diet that you may not need. During a patch test, doctors put tiny amounts of possible allergens, like nickel, on your skin and cover them with small patches. These patches stay on your skin for two days before the doctor takes them off. After removing the patches, the doctor looks for any reactions on your skin. They check to see if there are any signs of irritation, which could indicate an allergic reaction to the substances tested, like nickel.


Ways to Prevent Your Body from Absorbing Nickel:

Take a vitamin C supplement with each meal. Other foods which slow absorption of nickel are orange juice, coffee, and milk. Eat a high-iron diet and/or take an iron supplement because nickel absorption can be increased if you have an iron deficiency. 


Quick Reference Lists of Foods Higher and Lower in Nickel:

There are a good amount of foods that are low in nickel so unlike many other food elimination diets, a low nickel diet is easier to maintain and won’t leave you feeling under-nourished. Nickel levels in foods can vary by location and even between different batches of the same food. Seasons can affect the nickel content of plant-based foods, with higher levels in spring and autumn but lower levels in midsummer. Different parts of the same plant may contain varying amounts of nickel, with leaves typically having more than stems and roots, and older leaves containing more than younger ones. There are lots of cookbooks and websites with recipes to help inspire your meals.


Foods with Moderate to High Nickel Content to Avoid:


Grains:

Whole wheat bread

Multigrain cereals

Wheat bran

Wheat germ

Whole wheat pasta

Oats

Buckwheat

Rye

Millet


Vegetables:

Beans

Lentils

Peas

Soy products (tofu, soy sauce, soybeans)

Sprouts

Brussels sprouts

Asparagus

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Raw Spinach

Canned vegetables

Red kidney beans

Chickpeas

Cabbage

Corn

Mushrooms

Onions

Carrots

Cassava/Yucca

Peanuts


Fruits:

Canned fruit cocktail

Bananas

Canned fruits

Tomatoes

Raisins

Rhubarb

Raspberry

Dried fruit

Figs


Fish:

Shellfish

Herring

Mackerel

Tuna

Processed meats with fillers or coatings

Canned meats and fish


Beverages:

Tea

Chocolate milk

Beer

Red wine

Dairy replacement drinks, yogurt, cheeses made from soy and nuts. Coconut milk levels are all over the place so watch for reactions to various brands when deciding for yourself.


Other Sources of Dietary Nickel to Avoid:

Chocolate and cocoa powder (especially dark chocolate)

All nuts (walnuts, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, soy nuts)

Seeds (sunflower seeds, sesame seeds) some seeds have a moderate amount of nickel so not everyone will react. 

Licorice

Baking powder

Gelatin

Marzipan

Margarine

Commercial salad dressings

Vitamins containing nickel

Canned foods in general


Foods With Lower Nickel Content:


Grains:

White bread

White rice

Plain pasta

Cornflakes, rice krispies, 

Rice cakes, rice crackers

Corn tortillas and other corn products


Vegetables:

Potatoes 

Lettuce

Bell peppers

Zucchini

Green beans

Squash

Sweet potatoes

Celery

Avocado

Radishes

Turnips

Carrots

Beats


Fruits:

Apples

Oranges

Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries)

Watermelon

Honeydew melon

Cantaloupe

Grapes

Peaches

Plums

Pears

Kiwi


Meats & Fish:

Chicken

Turkey

Beef

Pork

Lamb

Fish (except for high-nickel varieties like shellfish, herring, mackerel, and tuna)


Dairy:

Milk

Cheese (except for aged varieties)

Yogurt

Cottage cheese


Other:

Eggs

Butter

Olive oil

Coconut oil

Herbs and spices (fresh or dried)

Honey

Maple syrup

Remember to choose fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible for the lowest nickel content.  



If you are searching for more holistic methods to resolving eczema rashes, Chinese herbal medicine might be the right fit for you

Consulting with a licensed practitioner of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, such as myself can provide personalized guidance for effective treatment tailored to specific needs. Consultations include enough time to really understand your health, figure out what's causing your symptoms, and work out a plan for your long-term well-being. Plus, you can connect with me easily through video visits, no matter where you are. Herbs and supplements are mailed to you.



Image of Juliette Aiyana smiling

Juliette Aiyana, is an internationally respected specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and natural holistic health. She is a nationally board-certified and New York State-licensed acupuncturist with a Master's Degree in TCM. She is professional member of the National Eczema Association and trained in identifying skin disease in richly pigmented skin. Practicing since 2001, she specializes in treating chronic, stubborn and mystery diseases, including dermatology, autoimmune disorders, allergies, digestive disorders, chronic fatigue, viral diseases, menstrual and pelvic health, and more. She is dedicated to identifying the root cause of diseases, and empowering people to reclaim agency over their health. Juliette’s health consultations are available virtually via Zoom to people in the US and CA.


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