A Nanotech Cream May Prevent Nickel Allergies

A newly developed nanoparticle cream could hold the cure for nickel allergies and skin irritation from metal jewelery.



Approximately 10% of the population has a nickel allergy that causes skin irritation when they wear inexpensive metal jewelery or handle coins for an extended period of time. This allergy--properly called "nickel-induced dermatitis”--has traditionally had limited treatment options. Many of these treatment options also caused pain and discomfort as well. However, a new paper claims that nanotechnology can be used to make nickel allergies a thing of the past. Cheap costume jewelery for everyone!

A team at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital claims that nanoparticles containing calcium could successfully counteract nickel allergies. When applied to human skin, calcium-containing nanoparticles appear to successfully absorb nickel--which has the side effect of stopping skin irritation before it appears. Meanwhile, the skin is unable to absorb the nanoparticles themselves. The nanoparticle cream is then designed to be washed off after use.

The Boston team's paper was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Animal testing conducted by the scientists indicates that the cream will work for humans as well. The “cream” is technically a glycerine emollient that contains nanoparticles of either calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate. The nanoparticles capture nickel ions by cation exchange and prevent them from being absorbed by the skin.

According to Jeffrey Karp, one of the scientists who worked on the project:

There have been approaches to developing creams with agents that bind the nickel before it can penetrate the skin, but these are not effective in most patients and can even be toxic when the agents themselves penetrate the skin, as most do […] People also sometimes coat their jewelry with nail polish to create a barrier between the skin and nickel ions, but this won't prevent all exposures, such as handling coins or wearing a watch."

Another scientist working on the project, Praveen Kumar Cvemula, added “we expect that a person could simply apply the cream just as they would hand cream.”

The Nature Nanotechnology paper only tested the efficiency of using a nanotechnology-based cream for treating nickel-induced dermatitis; there are no commercial plans to market a cream as of yet—nor government approval. However, the team has patented their work.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

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