Brown researchers published a study in January that found a connection between cell phones and facial rashes. The study was published in Canadian Medical Association Journal and conducted by a PLME student John Luo '09 and Dr. Lionel Bercovitch P'00 P'02 P'08 a dermatologist at Health Services and the Alpert Medical School. After a patient was found to have an allergic reaction to the free nickel in his cell phone, the researchers went on to test 22 other cell phones and found free nickel in 10 of them. Free nickel is nickel that comes off the cell phone easily, especially when it comes in contact with sweat.
"The people most at risk are those who get rashes from earrings or belt buckles," said Bercovitch, but he added a very inexpensive test can be bought online to check if your cell phone contains nickel without damaging the phone. Students unsure if they are allergic to nickel can contact Health Services for more information, Bercovitch said.
Nickel allergies affect about 20 percent of women, but significantly fewer men since piercings are one of the greatest causes of exposure to the metal, according to Bercovitch.
The American Contact Dermatitis Society named nickel the Allergen of the Year for 2008 and the EU already has restrictions on the amount of free nickel that can be used in a product, he said. The U.S. currently has no such regulations.
When asked about regulations for free nickel, Bercovitch said "I wouldn't be surprised if eventually you see nickel disappearing as a voluntary action on the part of the industry," but he said he does not think it will be regulated by any government organization.
Bercovitch said phone companies should allow users to return phones with the allergen if they have a doctor's note indicating they are allergic to nickel. Without the note, he said, everyone could say they were allergic and trade in their phone for a different model.