Unfortunately, some folks have valid reasons for avoiding exercise equipment – nickel allergy and the resulting rash. Recent attention drawn to the Fitbit Force has people talking! This fitness tracker, designed to be worn 24/7 to track activity and sleep, contains materials that are causing significant allergy reactions. The company owners of Fitbit have been quick to respond asking customers to contact them for refunds or replacements. But what about other fitness trackers? And what about the gym equipment?
While it is likely that only highly sensitive nickel allergy sufferers would find gym equipment a concern, there are reports that heart rate monitor clips and weight pins have caused an allergic reaction to some. Nickel is the culprit in most of the metal allergy problems found in daily life. Some exercise equipment is electroplated with nickel, but much of the equipment is protected by padding that should create an effective barrier to protect the skin.
It is important for anyone who has experienced the symptoms of nickel allergy to be aware that exercise can aggravate those itchy rashes. More accurately, it is the perspiration from a good workout that allows the nickel salts to readily be absorbed by the skin. The scientific explanation goes something like this: when exercising, most people perspire. The perspiration causes the breakdown of nickel ions which can easily penetrate the skin and thus cause the nickel allergy rash in sensitive individuals. Nickel allergy symptoms can range from itchy, red rashes to weeping lesions with a painful burning sensation.
The nickel found in the surgical stainless steel of the Fitbit Force appears to be the cause of the allergic reaction, according to Fitbit company owners. Many people have heard that surgical stainless steel does not pose a nickel allergy risk. This confusion is understandable as the stainless steel product is only as good as the method and controls used at the location of the manufacturing plant. The European Union has issued directives for nickel in stainless steel to specifically alleviate the problems of nickel allergy. In Europe, stainless steel must contain less than .05% nickel ion migration. At this level, there should be no resulting sensitivity. However, other countries may not be as rigid with the manufacture of stainless steel. Surgical stainless steel, correctly produced under rigorous guidelines, results in a product with any nickel being so tightly bound that it will not leach out and contact the skin.
We asked Michael Dow, nickel allergy expert, for his opinion about nickel in fitness equipment. An exercise enthusiast himself, he wants to protect those whose fitness efforts are causing allergy woes. Dow, co-owner of NoNickel.com, states that avoidance and protection are key to eliminating nickel allergy rashes. The first step should be determining the source of the nickel, then providing a barrier between that nickel and the skin.
In many cases, the process of detecting nickel and protecting the skin is simple. For example, some fitness trackers have exposed metal parts that can be readily tested for nickel with a dimethylglyoxime (dmg spot test). Nickel Alert™, an easy to use dmg test, is safe for testing any type of metal. Nickel Alert was developed as the first pre-mixed and pre-measured dmg test offered for public sale by NoNickel parent company, Athena Allergy, in 2008. Its formula allows for the detection of nickel at a level as low 10 parts per million, a threshold below which only a few individuals with highly pronounced nickel sensitivity would experience a reaction. Nickel Alert would accurately resolve any lingering questions about the presence of nickel in exercise equipment, including fitness trackers.
If nickel is found present in the metal, the next step is protecting the skin from that metal. Nickel Guard™ is a lacquer that has been clinically recognized by a major medical university for providing the most effective barrier protection against nickel. Again, in the case of the fitness trackers, Nickel Guard can be safely applied by painting several thin layers of this protective sealer to any non-movable parts. Nickel Guard will eventually wear off through use, but can be easily re-applied as needed. With this barrier in place, users will not suffer the effects of nickel allergy even while wearing the products through moist conditions.
Both Athena Allergy and NoNickel.com offer these products, sold separately, or as a kit appropriately named Nickel Solution™. In addition to these problem solvers, Dow’s companies offer nickel free products that have been tested to assure they are nickel free and therefore, free of any resulting nickel allergy rash. These products include those likely to create problems for nickel allergy sufferers including belt buckles, nickel free belts, and hypoallergenic jewelry. Nickel free buttons and rivets are also available and can be used to replace those buttons and rivets on jeans that frequently cause itchy reactions.
While there may be a few valid excuses for avoiding a healthy exercise regimen, nickel allergy should not be one of them. The use of nickel detection and protection formulas can allow nickel allergy sufferers to enjoy a fuller life, free of debilitating nickel allergy rash.