Nickel and gadgets: A rash connection?

Allergic reactions to nickel in some gadgets have been noticed for a while. Now, a medical journal report suggests a possible link between rashes and exposure to nickel in Apple's iPads.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Allergic reaction? CNET

Everything that touches us affects us in one way or another.

When it comes to itching, we might blame it on washing powder, strange chemicals, something we ate, or even something that took a bite out of us.

Dermatologists have, for some time, examined a connection between the presence of nickel -- a common metal allergen -- in some gadgets and allergic reactions.

A 2013 study published last year identified cell phones as the source of such allergies. The study, by various immunologists, said that nickel and cobalt were found in flip phones and BlackBerrys. However, no nickel was found in iPhones. The reasearch cites more than 20 case studies that suggest rashes detected near the ears and cheeks, and, less commonly, on thighs and even breasts could be linked to nickel in cellphones.

Research from Denmark also discovered some relationship between cell phones and laptops and dermatitis.

There's reportedly a new contributor, though, to the pantheon of itchy rash-causers: the iPad.

A report published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics suggests some cases of allergic contact dermatitis in children are being caused specifically by nickel exposure coming from Apple's iPads.

An 11-year-old boy was treated at a San Diego hospital for an itchy rash on his body that was hitherto unexplained, according to the Pediatrics report. In his case, tests by dermatologists showed that he was allergic to nickel and that the emergence of the rash coincided with his parents' purchase of an iPad in 2010.

The iPad was tested and found to contain nickel with dimethylglyoxime.

The Pediatrics report's co-author, dermatologist Sharon Jacob from UC San Diego, said that nickel allergies now affected 25 percent of children, 8 percent more than a decade ago. In the San Diego case, the boy reportedly got better after putting his iPad in a case.

It's unclear how widespread such a problem might be. The report describes other products that seem to affect children: "Nickel-releasing clothing fasteners, ear piercings, and nickel-containing dental work. In addition, significant nickel release has also been associated with laptop computers, cellphones, razors, wind-up toys, and video-game controllers."

The medical report goes on to explain that although allergic contact dermatitis has been associated previously with laptops and phones, it had not previously been associated with the iPad.

The report recommends: "Measures may need to be taken to reduce the skin-to-device contact either by using a case or cover or simply applying duct tape to create a barrier. Patients should be instructed to test the case or cover for nickel before purchase and to select one that is nickel-free."

Jacob and her co-author Shehla Admani say that not all covers work. The report suggests using the Smart Case rather than just a Smart Cover, as the latter still leaves the back of the iPad exposed.

It's unclear how many Apple products or other gadgets contain nickel. I have contacted Apple for comment and will update the post when there's further information.

(Via the Associated Press)

Updated at 7:08 p.m. PT: Apple offered this statement: "We have found that allergies like the one reported in this case are extremely rare. Apple products are made from the highest quality materials and meet the same strict standards set for jewelry by both the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission and their counterparts in Europe. We rigorously test our products to make sure they are safe for all our customers."

However, Jacob told me: "I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. We don't know how many people have been affected by electronics exposures." She added: "The detection of nickel allergy is definitely on the rise in children (more and more reports coming out). The fact that we are seeing new sources being revealed demonstrates that we are in dire need of a nickel directive (legislature) like they have in Europe."

She said she had tried to contact manufacturers, but had never received a response.