Eczema Chic: Nickel Allergy, Makeup Brushes, and Other Personal Products

Makeup brush wrapped with black electrical tape
What is THIS?

OK, it’s an eyeshadow brush with black electrical tape from the hardware store wrapped around the ferrule (the metal part).

You may be asking why I did this to a perfectly nice (not to mention expensive) brush.

My dermatologist made me do it.

I’m allergic to nickel, and I use mineral eyeshadow.  (Update 2016: I’m still OK with my mineral eyeshadow, but many with nickel allergy may not be able to tolerate ingredients like mica and titanium dioxide. It’s good to patch test first  or look for products that have been nickel-tested.) Particles in mineral makeup can abrade the ferrule of the brush, and if the ferrule is plated with nickel, nickel particles can be released. So, sometimes skin irritation might not come from nickel in the product itself, but rather nickel from the brush. The electrical tape protects the ferrule from abrasion.

Speaking of eyes, many eyelash curlers contain nickel. I use plastic travel curlers like  this one from Sephora to get around this.

Not all brushes have nickel in their ferrules. When I tested my brushes with one of my nickel tester swabs (a swab that turns pink in the presence of nickel), the drugstore ones were fine (CVS Essence of Beauty and EcoTools), while the more expensive brands (Mac, Louise Young, and Trish McEvoy) all tested positive. The Louise Young ones made the swab turn bright pink — fuchsia, in fact. For some reason, high-end brush makers like to plate ferrules with nickel.

Had I known this earlier, of course, I could have saved some serious cash. (But no.)

Nickel is the most frequent cause of allergic contact dermatitis in industrialized countries. An estimated 5–10 percent of the general population of the industrialized world and 10–20 percent of young women in developed countries) are allergic to it. It was voted Allergen of the Year in 2008 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society, yet it’s everywhere: metal buttons on jeans, keys, belt buckles, tools, coins, rivets, costume jewelry, metal knobs on cabinets, door handles, locks, zippers, eyeglass frames, nail clippers, cell phones, computers, white gold: The list is endless. Nickel is also found in food, and some people with severe nickel allergies follow a low-nickel diet. Nickel allergies can develop quickly or from repeated exposures to the metal over years.

Many people are allergic to nickel and don’t know it. If you get rashes or ear infections from cheap necklaces or earrings, you could be allergic to nickel.

If you think you might be sensitive to nickel and want to test your jewelry or personal care items, you can purchase nickel detector tests here or here.

And to find a dermatologist who does allergic patch testing, go here and click on “Find a Physician.”

Published by

Miss Diagnoses

Hi! I'm Vicki. My blog is called "Miss Diagnoses" because I have too many diagnoses and because my Lyme disease was misdiagnosed for many years. In addition to being a professional patient, I'm a compulsive reader and doodler. Sadly, my writing and drawing are limited by repetitive strain injury and neuropathy; I use assistive technology, but I can't post as often as I'd like. I'm also an allergic, chemically sensitive shopaholic, always on the hunt for less toxic beauty products. You can find me on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Twitter: @miss_diagnoses Pinterest and Facebook: @MissDiagnoses

29 thoughts on “Eczema Chic: Nickel Allergy, Makeup Brushes, and Other Personal Products

    1. Ha, you should see my cotton shirt collection and my recycled plastic “silverware” … LOL. I always feel at home when I read your blog. There are a lot of blogs for my other conditions, but I felt so alone with ACD until I found you. I know only one other person who has it, and I always email her your PG posts, because she is allergic to that. The razor petition is a great idea … fight the good fight. 🙂

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  1. Thanks for the info on nickel (and of course the follow). I’ve never noticed it with anything else but a few years back I started to break out on either side of my nose near the bridge. It was finally concluded I was allergic to the nickel in my glasses. For separate reasons I can’t wear the “plastic” glasses. It makes picking out glasses a lot easier. I tell the person helping me to point to the wall of hundreds of choices and narrow it down to the stainless steel or titanium frames — there are usually 3. 😀

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  2. Oh man, three? Well, that does make it easy, at least. I can wear the plastic ones, and it took me five visits to pick out a good shape. By visit number four, the store clerks were giving each other looks when I walked in. I don’t know why they still put nickel in metal frames … it’s a ridiculously common allergy. If you ever want to get a nickel tester kit, the Athena Allergy gives you more for your money. But you might have to do it outside or with a mask because it smells, so it might not be worth it to get a tester if you only reacted to the one pair of glasses. Here it is anyway: https://www.athenaallergy.com/FAQs-on-nickel-allergy-Nickel-Alert-Nickel-Guard.html

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    1. Sorry you are having problems with sunscreen! Are you positive you are reacting to the nickel? I’m only asking because there are so many chemicals in sunscreens and some only cause a reaction when they come into contact with the sun.

      That being said, the following sunscreens are from my safe-products list I got when I was patch-tested.

      Vanicream SPF 30 or 50+
      Elta MD Pure SPF 47
      VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Face and Body Shield SPF 60
      VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Face Cover 30 and 45
      LBD Sun Protection for Women-3, La Bella Donna

      I use the first two, the Vanicream and the Elta. My doctor suggests doing an informal patch test on yourself for all new products, which is to apply the product on the inside of the elbow for two weeks. If you miss a day, start again. It is a pain but is really helpful.

      Good luck and I hope one of these works out for you! Let me know!

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  3. You need to check out Eye Care Cosmetics based in the UK. Just google “Butterflies Eye Care Cosmetics nickel free”. They make nickel-free makeup (mascara too!), as well as makeup brushes with no nickel in the metal part!

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      1. Thanks! I haven’t tried them yet because I have food sensitivities to some of the fruits they use. I don’t know how that would translate in an eye makeup. It might not be an issue. I have been using a mineral brand (Alima) without reacting although some colors have iron oxides. That’s just me though.

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  4. Great post! I just got diagnosed with a nickel allergy (I was getting reactions to eye make up) and I was told to avoid make up with iron oxides because they can contain nickel.

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      1. You are very lucky. So far I have found this mascara has given me the least amount of allergic reactions. http://www.laroche-posay.com/products-treatments/Respectissime/Sensitive-Eyes-r50.aspx
        I have using the Ultra Doux one. It is nickel controlled according to the company. I tried mascara by almay, tarte (which was on my gold & nickel allergy free report from my allergist) and they still bothered my eyes. I then tried 100% Pure mascara and my eyes hated that one too. So far this is the only one my eyes don’t completely hate. Only downside is it is only sold in Europe so I need to order it online.

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  5. I have a horrible nickel allergy. I stopped waring makeup after I was diagnosed with a nickel allergy. Even though I no longer wear makeup and switched to a moisturizer without nickel I still have to wear steroid cream or my eyes will breakout in a painful rash. The allergist prescribed a low dose steroid oil that is no longer preventing my eye breakouts. I don’t what know what to do, I would love to wear makeup but first I need to find out what I am is doing that is causing these breakouts. Does anyone any have thoughts on what I can be doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you touching metal and then touching your face? The particles can transfer. Do you have a nickel detection kit? You can get one at nonickel.com: http://nonickel-com.theshoppad.com/#/ Also, there is the low nickel diet. There are a lot of versions, but you can find a good one on athenaallergy.com: http://athenaallergy.com/pages/the-nickel-allergy-diet. Maybe try the make up from 100% Pure or Eyecare Cosmetics that people mentioned above. I haven’t tried those because I don’t react to my mineral makeup (Alima Pure), but you might want to give them a shot.
      Be really careful with the steroid creams. I got steroid-induced rosacea from them, and in some cases they can cause eye damage.
      Did your dermatologist give you a list of safe products to use? Maybe you need a different cream for your eyes.

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      1. Thanks, I don’t want to use steroid creams but I just don’t know what to do. I will try to use victim c and change my diet next. I have done the nickel tests and it not seem like come in contact with too much nickel. Guess the next step will have to be another trip to the Dr . I don’t want to cause myself eye damage on top of everything else. I also ordered the makeup from the UK but won’t start it till fix whatever is my causing my current breakout. I am crossing my fingers it is my diet..I also like red wine so I guess will have to stop drinking as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for this post. My allregy has always occured around the lip area. It’s taken me 2 years, numerous painful reactions and tons of money on skin & makeup products trying to single out the culprit via elimination.

    Have just had patch testing done and nickel is one. I’m also a cosmetician so makeup is big in my job, it will be interesting to find out which brands are ok to use.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did the dermatologist who did your patch test give you a list of safe lipstick products? My list recommends CoverGirl Continuous Color lipstick, but I have since switched to the type of brands you find in health food stores. FYI, I never react badly to EccoBella … not yet, anyway! Also, with that brand the actual lipstick tube is not made of metal so you don’t have to test it.

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    2. I feel the absolute same as you, I’m an Esthetician so its so frustrating that I react to the majority of make ups I’ve tried in the last couple years. I never had an issue with anything before, until I finished my 6 month accutane journey, I guess less acne means reacting to make up, go figure!
      I had a patch done recently as well, finally found out that I’m extremely allergic to nickel, now I’m trying to find make up that is nickel free, so if you find anything, please let me know!
      I’m so glad I found this post just now.

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  7. Hey there!

    I was just diagnosed with a nickel allergy and am currently having a reaction on my eyes. My dermatologist told me the only thing I needed to stay away from is my metal eyelash curler, and shimmery eyeshadow. The more I read though, the more I think this may not be true. I also have been avoiding metals and the reaction hasn’t fully gone away.

    This post was super helpful– I am going to check out eye care cosmetics and 100% pure for everything from eyeliner to foundation. Have you had any luck with these brands?

    I also heard Clinique as well. Do you know anything about if this is true?

    Thank you!
    Taylor

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  8. Hey there!

    I was just diagnosed with a nickel allergy and am currently having a reaction on my eyes. My dermatologist told me the only thing I needed to stay away from is my metal eyelash curler, and shimmery eyeshadow. The more I read though, the more I think this may not be true. I also have been avoiding metals and the reaction hasn’t fully gone away.

    This post was super helpful– I am going to check out eye care cosmetics and 100% pure for everything from eyeliner to foundation. Have you had any luck with these brands?

    I also heard Clinique as well. Do you know anything about if this is true?

    Thank you!
    Taylor

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  9. Would you recommend taping my makeup brushes or would putting nail polish on the metal part work as well? And if I have a nickel allergy, does that mean I will develop a reaction to surgical equipment?

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    1. I haven’t tried nail polish but was thinking it might chip. Re: surgical equipment–it’s difficult to say. I haven’t reacted to it because it isn’t in contact with my body for very long. It would be great if you could get the equipment to test with a nickel tester like Nickel Alert.

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