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What Is Belt Buckle Rash?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Belt buckle rash is a condition where the skin reacts to the metals in a belt buckle, usually nickel but other metals may be indicated too. It’s a form of contact dermatitis, signifying allergies to certain forms of metal. People with belt buckle rash or belt buckle allergy often get a raised rash where the belt buckle on belts remains in contact with the skin, such as right at, below, or above the belly button. The rash is irritating, red, raised, may have puffy or watery blisters, and can cause skin to break if prolonged exposure to the offending metal continues.

The most common cause of belt buckle rash is nickel present in the buckles. Nickel is fairly standard in most metal belts made in the US, but in some European countries its use has been outlawed because it is among the top ten irritants that can cause contact dermatitis. Women may be diagnosed with nickel allergy more frequently than men; yet there are plenty of men who have sensitivities to nickel. Belt buckle rash is often more commonly found in men and boys is because they tend to wear belts more often, and frequently wear them every day. Thus nickel allergy may be first noted in men as a rash where the belt touches the skin.

Parents who have looked for belts for younger boys who suffer from belt buckle rash know just how hard it is to find any type of belt that doesn’t have at least some nickel. Younger boys may be able to wear pants non-belted, especially if they have partial elastic or total elastic, which helps keep pants up. There are a few belts manufactured that don’t contain nickel, and these can be worth looking for if belt buckle rash emerges. However, many face the challenge of what to do (especially since you often have to order belts online) in the interim while you’re waiting for a nickel-free belt to arrive.

Some people with minor irritation may be able to get by with always keeping shirts tucked in to avoid metal contact with skin, though this may be an unreasonable standard especially as applied to young children. Coating the belt buckle with clear nail polish may help too, though you’ll have to apply coats fairly frequently as the clear nail polish will chip. You can also take fabric, tape, or leather and cover the belt buckle to avoid metal contact with skin.

Best choices to completely eliminate belt buckle allergy are to purchase belt buckles that are made of stainless steel or other hypoallergenic metals, or to purchase belt buckles that are covered. There are a few Internet sites that offer nickel free products. Unless the skin is broken or appears infected, and as long as the rash begins to resolve after changing belts, this condition tends not to require immediate medical attention.

However, sometimes people will have what they think is belt buckle allergy. A rash beginning near the belly that does not resolve and begins to spread down the stomach to the legs may be a fungal infection called tinea cruris. This does require medical treatment. If a few days of not wearing the offending metal don’t seem to be improving the rash, you should seek medical advice.

Another problem with nickel allergy is that it may not be limited to belt buckles. Metal rivets on pants, or even zippers that come into contact with skin can create similar allergies if a person is allergic to nickel. It can help to cover rivets, metal buttons, or zippers with a piece of fabric to avoid metal to skin contact, since many metal notions on clothing do contain nickel. Also, some people may be allergic to other metals present in buttons, buckles, zippers or rivets. Once again, if the allergy doesn’t seem to be resolving after contact to nickel has been minimized, you should check with a doctor to be evaluated for possible allergic reaction to other metals, and to rule out other conditions that may mimic belt buckle rash.

Why Do I Have a Rash on the Inside of My Belt? 

Red, itchy, irritated skin where a belt buckle touches the skin is a form of contact dermatitis that’s commonly called belt buckle rash. 

While it’s annoying and alarming to see the skin in the center of your belly red and splotchy, it’s not a cause for alarm. Keep reading to find out more about what could be belt buckle rash. 

What Causes Belt Buckle Rash? 

If your skin is breaking out in an itchy rash where your belt buckle touches it, chances are it’s belt buckle rash. This form of contact dermatitis is caused by a nickel allergy.

Nickel is found in all types of items, ranging from earrings to eyeglasses and, yes, belt buckles. For those who develop a nickel allergy, prolonged exposure to a nickel belt buckle will cause a rash. Once you develop a nickel allergy, you’ll need to avoid contact with the metal. 

If your belt buckle is touching your skin, you should also look at how your belt and slacks fit. A bit larger waistband and belt could also fix the problem. 

Why Did I Develop a Nickel Allergy? 

No one knows exactly why or how someone develops a nickel allergy, but there are risk factors for this sensitivity. They include: 

Body Piercings 

Having pierced ears or other piercings make you more vulnerable to nickel sensitivity because nickel is commonly used in earrings and jewelry. 

Metal Working 

If you are exposed to nickel at work, you are at a higher risk of developing an allergy because of prolonged exposure. 

Being a Woman 

Females have a greater chance of developing nickel allergies. Scientists think this may be because women tend to have more body piercings.

Family History 

If other people in your family have nickel allergies, you are more likely to have them.

Other Metal Allergies 

People who are allergic to contact with other metals are more likely to be allergic to nickel too.

Belt Buckle Rash Treatment

The best treatment for a nickel allergy is to keep the metal from touching your skin. Over-the-counter rash creams such as a 1-percent hydrocortisone cream will help you bear the rash symptoms. See your doctor if you experience signs of infection such as pus in the area, redness, warmth, or pain. 

Preventing Nickel Rashes

A belt buckle rash will make you wish you had prevented contact with nickel. If you think you have a nickel allergy, take these steps to avoid getting a red, itchy rash. 

Wear Hypoallergenic Jewelry 

Wearing jewelry that contains nickel can make you at risk of developing a nickel allergy. Surgical-grade stainless steel may contain some nickel but is hypoallergenic for most people. Titanium and 18-karat yellow gold are safe choices.

Be Careful With Piercings 

Ask your piercing studio if they use nickel-free or surgical-grade stainless steel needles in their piercings. They should only sell hypoallergenic jewelry.

Wear Substitutes for Nickel 

Nickel can be hard to avoid since it is used in so many products. Look for substitute materials such as leather, cloth, or plastic watch bands and plastic eyeglass frames. 

Create a Barrier Between You and Nickel 

Keeping your belt buckle from touching your skin is one way to avoid getting belt buckle rash, or wear a belt with a coated buckle. Coatings such as NIckel Guard or clear nail polish offer a clear barrier for buckles, buttons, snaps, and zippers.

What Else Could It Be? 

Other skin conditions can mimic belt buckle rash or contact dermatitis. If you have what looks like a belt buckle rash but were not wearing a belt, consider these possibilities: 

Red Bug Bites 

Red bugs are nearly microscopic, but their bites aren’t. These bugs leave itchy, red spots where they burrow under the skin around close-fitting clothing such as waistbands. Blisters in other spots such as around socks indicate red bug bites. Over-the-counter products can make these blisters more bearable. 

Heat Rash

Also known as prickly heat, a heat rash occurs when perspiration is trapped under the skin instead of escaping through the pores of the skin. Heat rash can heal on its own, but topical ointments and staying out of the sun can help.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon959036 — On Jul 01, 2014

Just wear underwear and pants with the belt.

By anon953041 — On May 23, 2014

For those who suffer from this and need to know how get the rash under control, use lotrimin cream or any anti fungal cream. It may not be a fungus that you have, but it is proven to work.

By anon321692 — On Feb 23, 2013

Well what is used to treat the rash?

By anon320816 — On Feb 19, 2013

I have the same issue! It took me a few google searches to realize it was just the nickel giving me rashes like some of my earrings have. There is a product online that kind of coats everything so your skin doesn't touch the metal.

By anon306498 — On Nov 30, 2012

Titanium is nickel free, whereas surgical steel and stainless steel are nickel safe, i.e., the nickel is bound tightly in the metal alloy and does not react to the skin.

I challenge anyone to say they have had an allergic reaction to stainless steel? Basically, they wouldn't reinforce buildings with it if it was going to rust away!

By anon306497 — On Nov 30, 2012

You can buy Titanium belts and buckles on Amazon now. Well, at least in the UK, anyway.

By kevturbo — On Jun 19, 2012

316L grade surgical steel is the best alloy, and is the standard metal for body piercing jewelry. Otherwise, titanium is regarded as the best pure metal. It should be grade 1 -5 though, as 6 and above contain other metals.

By anon215037 — On Sep 16, 2011

what is used to get the rash under control besides not wearing a belt?

By anon143352 — On Jan 15, 2011

I have terrible nickel allergy and so do my children (I guess it is inheritable). We have learned to live with it. We wear very little jewelry and keep a test kit with us. We buy our belts at nickel-free sources online.

By anon136464 — On Dec 22, 2010

There is another alternative. velcro waist belts are available in markets and almost all online stores. These belts don't have a buckle at all.

By anon133885 — On Dec 12, 2010

i get a rash from my belt buckle and my wedding band as well. also, when i wear a watch, i get a rash on my wrist. is there some kind of solution out there that will help?

By anon100752 — On Jul 31, 2010

Very good information! Both of my sons and I suffer from this rash. The dermatologist said it was probably a nickel allergy and we should avoid nickel. She was right, but she could've given us more info and some advice. I'm thankful to the author of this article.

By anon98806 — On Jul 24, 2010

Buckle rash is scarring to the back of a guitar caused by the guitar coming in contact with the player's belt buckle.

By anon56926 — On Dec 18, 2009

I spoke with my doctor about this, and she said the stainless steel can still react with your skin, because the binding in the nickel may not be tight enough(how she phrased it).

This also applies to piercings, which is why tattoo shops only use surgical stainless, which has to have the nickel 'bound' to a degree that it won't affect you.

My experience is that surgical stainless doesn't affect me, whereas most common grade stainless will. Not only the belt buckle affects me, but the button on the inside of jeans does too, so I just took to wearing tank undershirts all the time. *sigh

By anon50922 — On Nov 02, 2009

While it is true that stainless steel does contain nickel, this is a different situation.

The nickel in stainless steel is an alloying element. The nickel that causes the reaction is actually a plating on the outside of the buckle material. I have to wear non-nickel buckles because I get the rash. Stainless works for me.

By anon37855 — On Jul 22, 2009

Stainless steel usually contains nickel, so steer clear of that too.

By anon36806 — On Jul 14, 2009

good show!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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