Nickel release from nickel-plated metals and stainless steels

P Haudrechy, J Foussereau, B Mantout, B Baroux
Contact Dermatitis 1994, 31 (4): 249-55
Nickel release from nickel-plated metals often induces allergic contact dermatitis, but, for nickel-containing stainless steels, the effect is not well-known. In this paper, AISI 304, 316L, 303 and 430 type stainless steels, nickel and nickel-plated materials were investigated. 4 tests were performed: patch tests, leaching experiments, dimethylglyoxime (DMG) spot tests and electrochemical tests. Patch tests showed that 96% of the patients were intolerant to Ni-plated samples, and 14% to a high-sulfur stainless steel (303), while nickel-containing stainless steels with a low sulfur content elicited no reactions. Leaching experiments confirmed the patch tests: in acidic artificial sweat, Ni-plated samples released about 100 micrograms/cm2/week of nickel, while low-sulfur stainless steels released less than 0.03 microgram/cm2/week of nickel, and AISI 303 about 1.5 micrograms/cm2/week. Attention is drawn to the irrelevance of the DMG spot test, which reveals Ni present in the metal bulk but not its dissolution rate. Electrochemical experiments showed that 304 and 316 grades remain passive in the environments tested, while Ni-plated steels and AISI 303 can suffer significant cation dissolution. Thus, Ni-containing 304 and 316 steels should not induce contact dermatitis, while 303 should be avoided. A reliable nitric acid spot test is proposed to distinguish this grade from other stainless steels.

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