Can you Get Cancer from Leather Handbags and Shoes? Allergies from Jewellery?

Can you Get Cancer from Leather Handbags and Shoes? Allergies from Jewellery? – The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit or BVL) has identified Excessive Chromium 6 and Nickel Levels in  items made from leather and some pieces jewellery.  

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Model with hand bag from reputable supplier
Young Lady carrying out a ‘hands-on’ investigation into a hand bag from a reputable supplier

The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) addresses the management of risks and coordinates monitoring for the Federal States (Bundesländer) of tobacco products, cosmetics and other goods which either come directly into contact with people or with food intended for human consumption. Under the heading of goods they include leather articles like handbags, shoes and gloves as well as jewellery and items used in body piercings.

160108 Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit (BVL) Entrance Berlin
Entrance to the Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit (BVL) in Berlin

Since 2014 the BVL has been investigating the levels of the carcinogen Chromium 6 in leather products and the amounts of allergen Nickel being taken up by the human body from jewellery and body piercing products. These are risk areas considered by the BVL to be of particular concern to human heath due to the linkage of chromium 6 with cancer and the potential for nickel to elicit serious contact allergies. I explained more about allergic contact dermatitis and its various causes in my recent article on this subject which described how I became an unwilling guinea pig to an allergy caused by laundry additives. Click on the title below if you would like to read this article and see some rather unpleasant photos (of my affected body parts):

Poison in your Washing Machine: Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Laundry Detergents, Softeners, Conditioners and Whiteners

Allergenic Nickel in Jewellery and Clothing Accessories

The BVL published its latest research results in a German report on the 23rd November 2015. The report presented the findings of its investigation into whether products were exceeding the permitted maximum levels of Nickel which can be absorbed into the human body. It highlighted that jewellery articles on sale in Germany continue to exceed the permitted levels of this serious allergen. Nickel causes contact allergies when the nickel ion enters the human body – the potential to enter the body increases when the item containing the nickel is frequently or constantly being worn like a ring, an ear ring or other piercing item.

Baby with Multiple Ear Piercings
Baby with Multiple Ear Piercings

Highlights from the BVL study of nickel uptake from jewellery/accessories:

  • 556 Samples were tested
  • 17.4 percent of the earrings and other piercings tested exceeded the permitted maximum limits (Nickel uptake of 0,35 µg/cm²/week)
  • 4.9 percent of jewellery, fasteners, accessories exceeded the permitted limits (0,88 µg/cm²/week)
  • There had been no improvement in results since an earlier study in 2008

The results indicated that it is not simply the cheapest fashion items that lead to a serious risk of an allergic reaction. An item made from 18-carat white gold for example can contain 20% nickel as an alloy. Such items of jewellery or wrist watch casings can cause allergic skin contact reactions in about 1 in 8 people. The problem with nickel is made worse if the body’s immune system is sensitized to the metal through pronounced exposure. Once sensitized even a low level exposure can lead to a severe allergic reaction. Some samples tested by the BVG had levels of nickel which were 10 times the permitted maximum level.

Example of a white gold wedding ring and a diamond engagement ring
Example of a white gold wedding ring and a diamond engagement ring

Cancer Causing and Allergenic Chromium 6 in Leather

The investigation by the DVG also uncovered continuing high levels of another nasty contaminant – chromium 6 (or hexavalent chromium) – in leather products. They summarised their results as follows:

  • 386 Samples were tested
  • 16 Percent had chromium 6 concentrations exceeding the maximum permitted limit (3 mg/kg)
  • Main culprits were leather gloves (33% exceeded) , bags (25%), work clothes (23%) and footwear (13%)
  • 12 percent of samples of products produced in Germany exceeded the permitted level. For products produced in China this increased to 33%.

In addition to causing allergic reactions chromium has also been identified as a carcinogen. The form of chromium investigated by the BVG is the highly dangerous 6 or hexavalent form of the chemical. Some forms of chromium used in processing leather are relatively harmless but even these can be converted to the 6 form if appropriate precautions are not taken during the tanning process. In addition to causing severe skin contact allergies chromium 6 in high concentrations is a very toxic chemical and known genotoxic carcinogen. In leather chromium 6 compounds are sometimes used to produce a red or pink colouration.

How confident are you that the shoes you are buying do not contain excessive levels of chromium VI?
How confident are you that the shoes you are buying do not contain excessive levels of chromium 6?

These days we purchase many of our fashion items on-line and sometimes the origins of such goods are unclear. In addition, imported goods may not follow the strict product content requirements demanded by our local legislation. One way we can try to use our consumer power to reduce these risks is to require suppliers to confirm in writing that their goods fully conform with local laws and regulations concerning levels of chromium 6 (for leather) and nickel (jewellery, clasps, piercings, buttons, wrist watch cases). Good luck!

Chris Duggleby

To see the original report from the BVL (written in German) please use the link below:

Lederprodukte enthalten weiterhin zu viel Chrom VI

A lady creating using clothing which ehnances the visibility of her leather shoesl wearing leather shoes from reputable supplier
A lady creatively using clothing to enhance the visibility of her leather shoes (from a reputable supplier)

Chris Duggleby started his scientific career studying Bacteriology, Virology and Immunology at the Manchester University Medical School. From there he went on to spend over 35 in the chemicals and oil industries which included setting up a polymers research and development group in Geneva, Switzerland for a major international chemicals company. Following an MBA from Warwick University he went on to lead a number of international manufacturing and marketing operations in the Chemicals, Plastics and Oil industries. His work involved living and working in Europe, Asia, the USA, the Middle East, and Russia. More recently he was invited to take on a senior leadership position in the Audit Department of the BP International Oil Group. Here he used his global change and risk management experience to help the group reshape its management structures and processes following a major environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He has now retired to focus on writing about risk management and producing music in his studios near London, in the Alps and Cape Town. If you are interested in risk management check out his or (management of change) sites.

If you found this article interesting please consider taking a look at some of my other recent reports on similar subjects.

Just click on the titles below:

…starting with some more serious stuff…

19th January 2016 – ZIKA Virus Epidemic – Health Warning – Pregnant Women Should Postpone Travel To Affected Areas – Including Brazil

17th January 2016 – Bubonic Plague SpecialLice – Hosts for The Black Death Bug

13th January 2016 –  Kill Head Lice In A Day With The Newly Developed Plasma Nitcomb From The German Fraunhofer Institute

13th December 2015 Health Risk – Potential Carcinogens Found in Advent Calendar Chocolates – German Investigation

26th July 2015 Poison in your Washing Machine: Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Laundry Detergents, Softeners, Conditioners and Whiteners

25th October 2015: Health Risks: Food allergy prevention – Latest research ‘feed infants early with allergenic food

17th October 2015: Health Risk: Vitamin and antioxidant supplements help cancer cells become malignant – latest research from Texas

31st May 2015: German Concern about Potentially Carcinogenic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Cosmetics  

11th May 2014: Product Development Risk: New Air Conditioning Coolant Gas Produces Carbonyl Difluoride (Highly Toxic – Related to WW1 Gas Phosgene) in Vehicle Fires

16th April 2014: Ethical Pricing: Same Drug – For Leukaemia 21 Euro (Now Withdrawn) – For Multiple Sclerosis 888 Euro

6th April 2014: Product Quality Risk: Shoes Sold On-line By Zalando Recalled Due To Chromium 6 Contamination – Known Allergen And Carcinogen

29th December 2012: Spreading diarrhea and vomit through the washing machine– The Norovirus propagator in our kitchen

and here are some fun reports…

21st June 2015: Bio-undies: Guilt free Passion with ‘Easy Emma’ and ‘Loose Harry’and Getting Rid of Garden Snails with Rent-a-Duck

4th March 2015: Hamburg Reeperbahn (St. Pauli): Germans install walls that urinate on passers-by

19th April 2014: German Police Catch Hedgehogs Testing Home Made Crash Helmets in Saarbrücken

17th April 2014: Niche On-line Dating Services (Specialities: Herpes, Thrush and Genital Warts)

18th March 2014: Germany and Finland Joint Investigation: New Case of Sexual Cannibalism Including Self-mutilation (Castration) During Intercourse.

18th August 2012: How Bavarians and Austrians use their middle finger – Fingerhakeln: a men-only sport (did Arnold Schwarzenegger start training this way?).

You can also find some of my more humorous reports in the Alpine Press section of this site using the link here.


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