Nickel release from stainless steels

Contact Dermatitis. 1997 Sep;37(3):113-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.1997.tb00314.x.


In 1994, a study of nickel release and allergic contact dermatitis from nickel-plated metals and stainless steels was published in this journal. It was shown that low-sulfur stainless steel grades like AISI 304, 316L or 430 (S < or = 0.007%) release less than 0.03 microgram/cm2/week of nickel in acid artificial sweat and elicit no reactions in patients already sensitized to nickel. In contrast, nickel-plated samples release around 100 micrograms/cm2/week of Ni and high-sulfur stainless steel (AISI 303-S approximately 0.3%) releases about 1.5 micrograms/cm2/week in this acid artificial sweat. Applied on patients sensitized to nickel, these metals elicit positive reactions in 96% and 14%, respectively, of the patients. The main conclusion was that low-sulfur stainless steels like AISI 304, 316L or 430, even when containing Ni, should not elicit nickel contact dermatitis, while metals having a mean corrosion resistance like a high-sulfur stainless steel (AISI 303) or nickel-plated steel should be avoided. The determining characteristic was in fact the corrosion resistance in chloride media, which, for stainless steels, is connected, among other factors, to the sulfur content. Thus, a question remained concerning the grades with an intermediate sulfur content, around 0.03%, which were not studied. They are the object of the study presented in this paper. 3 tests were performed: leaching experiments, dimethylglyoxime and HNO3 spot tests, and clinical patch tests; however, only stainless steels were tested: a low-sulfur AISI 304 and AISI 303 as references and 3 grades with a sulfur content around 0.03%: AISI 304L, AISI 304L added with Ca, AISI 304L+Cu. Leaching experiments showed that the 4 non-resulfurised grades released less than 0.5 microgram/cm2/week in acid sweat while the reulfurized AISI 303 released around or more than 0.5 microgram/cm2/week. This is explained by the poorer corrosion resistance of the resulfurized grade. Yet all these grades had the same reaction to the DMG test (negative result), which shows again its lack of sensitivity. In contrast, the HNO3 spot test distinguished AISI 303 from the non-resulfurized grades. Clinical patch tests again showed that some patients (4%) were intolerant to AISI 303, while none were intolerant to the other grades. Thus, this study confirms that non-resulfurized stainless steels (S < or = 0.03%) like Ni-containing 304 and 304L should not elicit Ni contact dermatitis, while the resulfurized grades (S > 0.1%) should be avoided.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nickel / adverse effects*
  • Nickel / metabolism*
  • Nitric Acid
  • Oximes
  • Patch Tests
  • Pharmaceutical Solutions / metabolism
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stainless Steel / adverse effects*
  • Stainless Steel / chemistry*
  • Stainless Steel / classification
  • Sweat / chemistry
  • Sweat / physiology


  • Oximes
  • Pharmaceutical Solutions
  • Stainless Steel
  • dimethylglyoxime
  • Nitric Acid
  • Nickel