What About Alcohol & Nickel Allergies?

Photo by k u on Unsplash.

Who doesn’t love chilling with a cocktail when catching up with good friends or to celebrate a big accomplishment? Drinking alcohol (responsibly of course) is fun and relaxing. 

Did you know the heavy metal nickel is sometimes directly added to beer as a foaming agent? Neither did I until one of you told me! Frankly I don’t know to what extent nickel is in beer or if it’s found overwhelmingly in one particular beer style over another. There’s more research than I expected about nickel being added during the production process.

Over the last couple years I stopped drinking my favorite beer, hefeweizen. I do use a food journal and try my best to track my reactions and it seemed like every time I drank hefeweizen beer my body’s reactions worsen over time. After consuming a couple beers, the following morning I’d wake up with large eczema welts on my inner elbows and a bloated belly. 

Could a reason why there might be nickel in beer also be from how beer is stored? The majority of commercial beer is stored in stainless steel beer barrels or kegs. Stainless steel can leach nickel into the food, especially when heated, such as during the fermentation process in stainless steel conicals. 

What about nickel and other alcoholic beverages? The amount of nickel in beers and wines can range widely, yet many reliable resources about the low nickel diet, such as Penn State Hershey Dermatology – Low Nickel Diet and Dr. Ashimav Deb Sharma’s research both state beer and wine often contain high amounts of nickel. Also hard liquors and wines can contain sulfates, wheat, or nuts. In the US, labeling laws are only technically required for certain types of wines and gluten-free beers. The majority of alcoholic beverages do not have a list of ingredients on their label, making it really difficult to know exactly what you’re drinking. 

The fact that the ingredients in alcohol don’t have to be disclosed, discourages my desire to drink alcohol. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I knew exactly what was in my beverage. Hidden allergens in alcohol such as gluten, soy and nuts, which are also higher in nickel, can cause us to unknowingly react. Wine, including some cheap champagne, has always caused my body to release more histamines. Within an hour of drinking wine I can’t stop itching, especially on my neck. So I also avoid drinking wine. Occasionally I’ll enjoy an expensive bottle of champagne, with little to no sulfites. However, low sulfite wines can be tricky to find and there’s really no way for wines to technically be sulfite free.

My drink of choice is a lemon drop martini or a fruity blended margarita. I’ll enjoy an alcoholic beverage 1-2 times a month, probably more in the summer than winter. 

I love having a great time sober. My spouse and I like to joke that we’re “suburban partyin” when we experiment cooking from scratch and craft on the weekends. More and more I choose to order a mocktail over a cocktail. It’s half the price and can be more fun when I don’t have to worry about my eczema.  Recently a large Canadian study has shown that women’s physical and mental health improve when they don’t drink alcohol.

Drinking alcohol isn’t worth the expense, hassle or risk of having a skin reaction the following day. What about you? Do you still drink alcohol? Does your body react when you drink alcohol? I would love to hear your experience in the comment section below.

  1. Hi Christy,

    I have been diagnosed with nickel allergy the summer of 2019. I currently work in the drinks industry and I have to agree that, after a night out with colleagues tasting and drinking alcoholic beverages, patches on my hands and body would be notably swollen on the following day. I have noticed that the itchiness in those areas increases exponentially and therefore causing myself to scratch it uncontrollably.
    It is sad for me to say as wine and spirits are my passion, but I have noticed that wines that have a higher price, due to the high quality and less chemicals used to achieve consistency and flavour, do not create such intense reaction. I believe that the chemicals used in lower end wines contains metals and certainly nickel. Bordeaux wines, even if expensive, they have to control pests in the vineyards and they have to use a copper base pesticide that eventually will end on the final product.
    Thank you for creating this blog it helps me a lot with controlling my allergy.

    1. Hi Matteo,

      Thanks for your comment and expert knowledge about to alcohol industry. It’s always nice when others experiences validate your own. 

      It would be very challenging to be newly diagnosed and your job/passion unfortunately fuel your nickel allergy. Its nice to learn higher quality wines most likely contain higher quality ingredients. 

      However I didn’t even think about the pesticide in their growth and production process unlike when I purchase food. It’s another reminder to consider all the little things that can influence this unique allergy!

      Warm regards,

  2. Hello Christy,

    I have contact nickel allergy but also have had chronic eczema all my life. Must stay away from beer and red wine but increasingly foods such as canned fish. Can’t believe it has taken me until 36 to work it out – so much damage… Comforting site.


    1. Hi Mitchell,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. It took me quite a long time to draw the connection between alcohol and my nickel allergy. My reactions have also worsened over time when I drink wine or beer, so I primarily avoid them.
      Warm regards,

  3. Hi Christy, I have no nickel allergy but I am a bartender and I want to take care of my customers. You talk about beer, but with alcohol like whiskey, for example, it is not in contact with stainless steel barrels. First there is the distillation with copper stills, and the distillation eliminates all impurities, then the product is aged in oak barrels. so I don’t think there could be nickel contamination, except in the final part if you add water to lower the alcohol content. do you find my words logical?

    1. Hi Carlo,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing your expertise as a bartender. Your comment makes sense. Whole grains are generally higher in nickel, which is why beer is probably higher in nickel than distilled alcohol. I’m not really sure about whiskey, as I rarely drink whiskey. It appears most whiskeys contain barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Generally barley contains a medium amount of nickel, both corn and rye are lower in nickel and white wheat flour is lower in nickel than whole grain wheat. So those with severe nickel allergies may be able to tolerate whiskey.
      Sometimes the glass wear can also be problematic, as many of us can’t tolerate stainless steel. It’s worse for warm/hot beverages, such as to-go containers. Also I heard some can’t tolerate and/or sip beverages from those Moscow mull mugs, as it will cause their lips to react. 

      1. Hello Christy. I really liked your text. I was diagnosed with a nickel allergy as well. You wrote that whole grains contain nickel. This is new to me. Could you please explain how this is possible? Thank you very much in advance.

  4. Thank you for this site. I am just coming to accept that I have a nickel allergy. I knew that earrings with nickel bothered me but I didn’t realize that the food you eat could be a problem as well I don’t understand why in the last 4 years I am now being affected. I had a test done and the doctor told me that I had the allergy. I have facial breakouts and on my inner and outer arms. I am wondering though, would margaritas be high in nickel? Are all alcohol off-limits. I’m saddened to see that red wine is a problem.a

    1. Hi Judy,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. Many of us, including myself, didn’t know about how nickel allergies can become systemic and reactive when certain foods high in nickel are consumed.It is definitely a process. Using a food journal is a great tool to identifying whether you can tolerate foods or alcohol. Really it’s helpful to identify what you can or are willing to tolerate.
      Warm regards,

  5. I get the breakouts in my inner elbows too. Whats up with that? I wonder why there. I get other places but in my left elbow is uh oh what nickel did I have.

    1. Hi Stacie,
      Thanks for your comment. Many folks with the type of eczema called atopic dermatitis tend to experience rashes on the inner elbow area, behind the knees, on their hands, face, neck or other areas where they may sweat. They don’t necessarily have to be allergic to nickel either. I am not sure why these areas are most affected. The National Eczema Association might be a good resource to learn why.
      Warm regards,

  6. Yay! Finally found out the reason for my many issues. I just found out I have severe nickel allergy at 65 . Boy! A lifetime of being the “Rash Queen” and attributing it to nerves. It has gotten so bad that my hands are always swollen and purple, my knees as well. I sometimes had a vodka and seven up and figured it was the vodka. My face would be so red. Sometimes it was so bad I felt my eyes burning. I also have many food allergies. Barley, rye, fish, sesame, coconut, eggs, etc. I’m so glad I found this site. The doctor was vague. Thank you.

    1. Hi Michelle,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you finally figured it out what is causing your rash and nerve issues. I’m also glad my website has been helpful for you!
      Warm regards,

  7. Hi Christy and Everyone,
    Just yesterday I had a lightbulb moment. I’m surprised that it took me this long, because I have been to many BC wineries and have watched the winemaking process, i.e. seeing the wine stored in the huge stainless steel vats. I recently figured out that I have a nickel allergy which caused severe blistering on the bottom of my foot and the palm of my hand which I am still battling to heal. At that point I realized that these were caused by my stainless steel cups that I used to drink almost every beverage — to keep my water nice and cold or my coffee nice and hot — even to keep my white wine super chilled, which I love. So I ditched those cups and things improved. Yet I am currently very rashy on my neck and inner elbows. I am used to that because I have chronic eczema and we are in the middle of a dry Canadian prairie winter. FINALLY I have put two and two together and have realized that wine and beer are indeed stored and processed in those huge stainless steel vats! Lightbulb! Now sadly I realized that I may have to stop drinking wine and beer if I want to heal. This will be tough. In any case, I just found this site today and I am grateful for it. Has anyone else had the feet and hand blistering due to nickel?

    1. Hi Yvonne,
      Thanks for our comment. Glad you recognized the stainless steel to-go mugs/cups could be exacerbating your nickel allergy. It takes time to see all the nickel in our lives and become aware of cookware and other everyday items that it would be best for us to avoid. I’ve not experienced blisters on my hands or feet, but that is a very common side effect of dyshidrotic eczema, which is commonly caused by having a nickel allergy.
      Warm regards,

  8. Hi
    I’ve had uncontrolled eczema all my life and have only in the last few years learnt that i am allergic to nickel and am only now finding out that there is a resemblance between stuff im feeling after a weekend of drinking. I am also dairy intolerant which i am now starting to adjust to, but now that there is nickel in oat and soya im struggling to find any replacement. Thank you for this advice its really teaching me that maybe its stuff that im putting in me that is causing such bad eczema. Is there any advice you would give me going forward on treatments, its took alot of research to get me to this point so any pointers or anything you could teach me would be gladly appreciated

    1. Hi Adam,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. I use Rice Dream Rice Milk as a dairy free milk alternative, even though it has brown rice it doesn’t cause me any issues. The best treatment is working to avoid nickel which is quite a challenge. If you haven’t read it already, my story is a great place to start and my FAQ post.
      Warm regards,

  9. Christie,
    I found your article about the connection between nickel allergy (systemic) and alcohol, I finally have some answers. Thank you so much. I will give you a bit of background; Last year on March 1,2021, I had a stent inserted into my left leg. I had a very bad reaction and after many months of research, countless visits to 14 different doctors and finally after 5 months, I was found to have a severe systemic nickel allergy by way of a dermatologist doing a patch test on my back, if only to convince the vascular surgeon that I have an allergy to nickel,, it was not foreign to me because about 50 years ago I had my ears pierced and had a very bad reaction. If the doctor had only asked me if I had any allergy to metal, I could have avoided the devastating effects of this allergy. Try to get doctors to ask “Do you have any allergies to metal? I could have avoided all of this. Thank you for your help. If there is anything that I can do to help get the message out, please contact me.

    1. Hi Lucy,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing your story. It’s unfortunate that nickel continues to be a common element used in medical devices and as you experienced, the results can cause a lot of pain and havoc on people’s lives to the point some may develop life long systemic nickel allergies. It’s wonderful you finally got a diagnosis and solution. If only more doctors and providers were more aware of severe nickel allergies.
      Warm regards,

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