By Jan. 20, 2000 all the member governments of the European Union must abide by Directive 94/27, which regulates the use of nickel in metal alloy products that come into contact with the skin, but its application to eyewear frames is not clear yet.

The new European directive concerns not only eyewear frames but also jewelry items such as bracelets and necklaces. The presence of excessive doses of nickel on these items can cause allergic reactions, particularly on more sensitive and delicate skins, when worn over long periods of time.

Each member state now has to enact its own legislation on the issue. The new European norm is applicable immediately for certification purposes, although a 6-month transition period has been established to allow manufacturers to adapt their production processes and to get rid of existing inventories. However, it turns out that the testing procedures defined by the new European directive are difficult to apply to eye frames, as they involve abrasive action that can actually destroy the frames as well as the lenses themselves.

Certottica, the Italian institute that certififies optical products, has proven this effect and has thus developed an alternative method, specifically designed for eyewear products, which it says measures precisely the quantity of nickel released during use of the frame. The problem pinpointed by Certottica has been confirmed by numerous international certification organizations, including ISO, which asked the European Commission last April to define a specific procedure for eyewear frames, and requested permission in the meantime to use the Italian procedure.

European regulations allow member states to demand lower degrees of implementation of the European norm, thus authorizing them in principle to base them on different procedures. The European Parliament, which has been asked to take a stance on the matter, may ultimately ask the Commission to introduce an amendment to its technical norms by excluding eyewear frames from the list of items covered by the directive.