Guitar string allergy

Are you experiencing a hand rash that is worse on your fretting hand than on your strumming hand? Are you also prone to other allergies, such as asthma or hay fever? If so there is a possibility that you have an allergy to your guitar strings.

Recently published case reports describe a musician’s dermatitis (skin rash) affecting the hand, which was the result of nickel contact from guitar strings. Here is the description of a typical case:
 

“A 17-year-old adolescent boy presented with a 1-year history of a rash on the hands, worse on the left. He was atopic [predisposed to allergies]. On clinical examination he had chronic eczematous changes on his palms and fingers, more severe on the left hand. Patch testing revealed a strong reaction to nickel and also to cobalt and chromate. He had played the electric guitar over the previous 5 years and his guitar strings were nickel-coated. He is right-handed and reported that his left hand contacted the strings much more than the right, which held a plectrum. After these findings he decided to change to playing the drums, resulting in resolution of the dermatitis.”

This is another case
 

“A 38-year-old, right-handed man was referred with a 12-month history of an erythematous, scaly rash on the right thumb (Fig. 1b). He also had a keen interest in playing the electric and acoustic guitar. The position of the rash corresponded directly with the area of skin that made contact with the strings. He had a past history of atopy. His patch testing demonstrated a strong reaction to nickel, cobalt and chromate. His guitar strings also contained nickel. He was unable to obtain nickel-free strings so he has continued to have nickel exposure. His hand dermatitis has been persistent.”

Smith and co-workers (2006) recommend switching to coated strings, since most electric guitar strings contain or are coated with nickel. Guitarists with this problem could try plastic coated (Elixir) or gold (Optimas) strings. However, acoustic guitar strings are made from bronze, brass or silver-plated copper, so similar problems are much less likely. Nickel in the frets or friction between finger and string, however, could still contribute to dermatitis, whatever the strings are made from.

Switching to the drums is the last resort, for incurable cases only.

References

Smith VH, Charles-Holmes R, Bedlow A. Contact dermatitis in guitar players. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2006 Jan;31(1):143-5.

Marshman G, Kennedy CT. Guitar-string dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis. 1992 Feb;26(2):134.

Gambichler T, Boms S, Freitag M. Contact dermatitis and other skin conditions in instrumental musicians. BMC Dermatol. 2004 Apr 16;4:3. Review.

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22 Comments

Try stainless steel strings

My husband has a nickel allergy, so I looked into Elixir and such. Ernie Ball, and probably other companies as well, make nickel-free stainless steel strings. I'm ordering some and will see how he does.

Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Strings

Hi,

 

I bought ome stainless steel strings a wekk ago, and my hand still comes out in a rash!  I have been told that hte frets themselves can also contain nickel, but I play without a pick, and i even have teh rash on my picking hand (ruling out the idea it is solely the frets).  Therefore, the stainless Steel strings still contain some level of nickel.  I have emailed a representative at Ernie Ball to see what info he gives me on the situation.  I will let you know my results!

 

SJW.

Frets

I have had psoriasis for 30+ years. I began to notice 3 years ago that, after playing guitar for several hours, my eyes would red up and itch. It got worse as the months went by and they soon began to swell and itch like poison ivy burns. It was lasting longer and longer up to two weeks to return to normal. I had a patch test and discovered I have become extremely allergic to nickel after years of regular contact.

My doctor told me a slight nickel allergy can advance to extreme with more and more nickel contact. I changed all frets, strings and other hardware to from nickel to stainless steel on all my guitars. I can now play a full show with no ill effects from nickel. As a side benefit about six months after the the changes to my guitars my psoriasis is now clear.

I found out there is allot of nickel in this world. My office chair, belt buckle, snaps on jeans, some door handles, tools, fixtures, glasses, dirt, golf club shafts, key rings, jewelry, lots of musical instruments, and many many other things. This substance should be outlawed. If you have psoriasis it may be a nickel/bronze allergy. My psoriasis generally covered my elbows, knees, and torso and was never gone until now.
 
Age Event
@10.Play guitar sometimes
@15.Began cleaning golf clubs for my dad and his friends.
@18.Diagnosed with psoriasis
@19.Started playing guitar and golfing weekly
@45.Noticed fingers itch after a gig
@46.Noticed fingers itch and peal after a gig right wrist itch also
@48.Eyelids slight burn and itch during a gig
@50.Eyes swell and itch uncontrollably (discovered nickel allergy)
Changed guitar strings and hardware and can now play.
Avoid nickel (not a easy task) it's everywhere.
@51.psoriasis gone for the 1st time since age 18!
@53.Telling Somebody!

 
I still come in contact with nickel once in a while and my eyes will swell and itch for 2 weeks after the contact. It is difficult to avoid nickel.
 
I know several guitar players with psoriasis and have informed them of my experience.
 
I play guitar for live events and half the stuff on stage is nickel and I must avoid.
 
Some buildings have nickel in the air (from HVAC systems I guess) and within ten minutes my eyelids will begin to burn. I have to leave the building and wash my hands and face.
 
Guitar Center is one of these buildings. When I go there I must make a plan to get in and out fast.
 
I use D'Addario XLS and XL Prosteels and Ernie Ball Stainless Steel strings for electric. They take some getting use to as far as eq-ing for tone. They sound best on my fender twin, HRD, and Mesa mark III simul class and not so good on my SS amps. I use to use GHS Boomers nickel coated and those strings are pure poison to me now. I use martin silk and steel for my acoustics. They always sound old and like they need to be changed. I had to paint the latches on my guitar cases. I had to change from switchcraft to neutrik ends. Had to change frets to stainless steel. I had to change tuning keys on one of my guitars. I put a piece of electrical tape on my bridge where my right wrist rest while playing. I had to switch to graphite shafts on all my golf clubs. I no longer shake hands with other guitar/bass players. I now, never let anyone play my guitars or carry my equipment. I never touch the guitars,amps,cables,tuners,ect.. of others. The guys in my band have seen me with my red swollen shut watering eyes and understand. It's my understanding that Elixir strings are coated "nickel wound" strings and the coating wears off exposing you to nickel.
 
 

 

nickel allergy

Hey man ! I just found out i have the same thing. Right now, untill i refret with hypoallergenic fret i can't play ! I was wondering about parts for the guitar,  bridge, ect. I rest my right arm on the bridge alot and was wondering if they make any nickle free bridges and tailpieces ? I'm glad it worked out for you and i hope it does for me. Rock on !

Nickel Allergy

I have been playing the guitar 2 years now with slight itchyness and rash on my forearms and eyelids, it wasnt until i had my tongue pierced that it really wiped me out! now i cant touch hardly any metal, i have elixr stainless steel strings, but i have since learnt that stainless steel is made from Nickel oare. so be careful about using stainless steel.

 

I am tryin to find some brass wound stings for my acoustic but i cant seem to find any anyway!

any suggestions?

 

Nickel...Cobalt Etc Allergy, too!

I've been a guitarist for 35 years, and just recently diagnosed from patch testing, with this same problem.  Now, I have to figure out which fret wire to uses in my Electric guitars, either the gold/copper or stainless steel.  I've tried the Ernie Ball Stainless Steel strings, but the 3 plain strings are nickel, just like the regular sets.  I've found out that the GHS Super Steels are all Stainless steel(I called them and they said the plain strings are tin/steel, unlike the other brands). 

 

The Optima Gold strings are supposedly 24k Gold plated steel.  I may give those a try.  I'd like to call them in Germany and find out for sure(hopefully they have an English speaking rep) ;)

 

I've had this allergy for 10 years, and was misdiagnosed several times.  Finally I know what I have to do.  Hopefully my left hand will heal up nicely after changing my strings and frets, and get my callouses back!

Another nickel allergic here.

Another nickel allergic here. I tried the Optima Gold and Ernie Ball strings but it didn't work. I´m playing now with GHS Super Steels. For the moment (a week) I'm not developing the sympthoms.

What kind of strings for classical guitar

I wonder if you can help with this question (sorry my bad english)
My son plays Martin classic guitar with steel strings. He has symptoms of nickel allergy, and we try to find strings with NO nickel. Can someone please give some advice on which strings to choose? Does D'addario have any strings with no nickel? Or other brands? Thank you!

Nickel free classical guitar strings

I don't know much about classical guitar strings - but I had a look at Thomastik Infeld site and they have a set with silverplated copper wound bass strings and nylon trebles. I think the bass strings have a steel core though - I don't know whether the nickel in the core could get through the windings to cause an allergic reaction.

Link: Thomastik Infeld silver plated classical strings

I'll keep looking to see if there are any guaranteed nickel free classical strings.

Nathan

Nickel free classical strings

Hello,

Nickelfree strings are made by Hannabach.

The don't content any nickel or cadmium but supercarbon.

The set is cald "HANNABACH GOLDIN".

You also got nickel free fretwire by different brands today.

I hope this will help.

 

Dr Dave

 

Blue marvel blue steels

Hi

I have pretty bad nickel allergy and I can't play with any nickel strings. I removed all the nickel parts from my guitar like pickup covers and knobs except frets, which probably don't contain nickel. The strings that i use are Dean Markley Blue steels. Those strings are the only steel strings I can use and they don't contain nickel.  

stirngs

most acoustic strings have no nickel in them. They are wounded with phosphour-pronze. not nickel.

Maybe the fretwire is the cause in your case. Frets have about 19% of nickel in them.

Nickel free fretwire is also available.

Red eyelids from nickel

I know this was a while ago now, so hopefully you get this. Did you notice your top eyelids becoming veiny and more puffy before the outbreak occurred? Did you also notice if the edges of your eyelids became slightly puffy?  

Nickel Allergy Tips

I've had a serious nickel allergy, triggered by guitar strings, for about 7 years.  I still continue to play, but I've learned how to avoid major breakouts.  Here are some tips I've discovered which may help you cope with this problem:

Use a "barrier cream" to protect your fingers from allergens.   Believe it or not, diaper rash cream can protect your skin from more than a wet diaper. It can also protect your fingers from allergens.  Failing that, even just a plain old moisturizer will often help.  

Wash your hands thoroughly immediately after playing.  Warm water, mild soap, moisturizer after.  Treat your skin right and it will stay healthy.

Avoid sweaty fingers on strings.  Don't play right after drinking a bunch of coffee, or outside on a hot day.  As is my understaning, the salts in your sweat are reacting chemically with the nickel, which results in the formation of the allergen molecules.  Thus, if you can avoid sweat, you can avoid creating the allergens.  Topical antiperpirants may help.

As mentioned by another person, all metals are alloys; therefore, they all contain some amount of nickel.  For example, stainless steel can be made using several different combinations of metals, some containing higher amounts of nickel, among other metals.  Thus, you will never be completely home free.  Your goal should simply be to cut the allergens down whenever you can.

Although I haven't tried this myself, allergy therapy seems promising.  Try seeing an allergist, rather than a dermatologist.  

Try to build calluses.  In my experience, the thicker the callus, the less severe the reaction to allergen exposure.  Rubbing alcohol supposedly can help create calluses, when applied to fingertips.  

  

 

 

 

9 YEARS NICKEL ALLERGY - ALMOST SOLVED!!!!!!

Hello to everyone!

I am playing the guitar for 18 years. In the year 2000 i started to have all the symptoms of nickel allergy on my left fingertips. After spending LOT of money to dermatologists i went to an ALLERGIOLOGIST! THERE IS A THERAPY!!!!!!!!!!! For the last two years i am in a program in order to be DE-SENSITIVE to nickel. The doctor ordered me to begin therapy with pills. It will last for almost 4 years. Now i am half way. I still play coated strings (DR Clear Coating for acoustic, GHS Boomers Coated/Elixir -not plains- for electric) and i play professionally! Yesterday I played for almost 15 minutes with regular strings and guess... NOTHING HAPPENED!!! NO ITCH, NO RED SKIN NO BUBBLES!!! Of course i will take the therapy all the way and i will try to avoid nickel touch. I also will try 24 carat gold strings.

Hey guys, there is hope!!!!!!! :-)))))

Manos, Greece

p.s. hope i helped, sorry for my english.

nickel free strings

most acoustic guitar strings are wounded with phospour-pronze with or without silver plating.

Those dont have any nickel in them.

And they also work in electric guitars. Althought the lightest gauge is  0.11  (maybe ?? havent searched much yet)

Much better than stainless steel strings. I dont like the sound stainless strings give.

And many stainless steels often have nickel in them....

Nickel free? Unlikely

@Anaconda

The sad truth is that athough a guitar string might say it's made of phosphorous bronze,stainless steel, gold, or whatever, no metal is absolutely pure.  Metals are almost always alloys.  And they all contain nickel to some degree.  Even 24 carat gold contains 0.1% of other metals.  Trust me, I've tried acoustic stings of all varieties, and I still got break outs.  

One thing a lot of you guys

One thing a lot of you guys are missing are a lot of the times the frets themselves are made out of nickle and that might be whats making your fingers break out if you are using steel or Gold strings.

 

Nickel allergy?

I have been playing guitar, electric and acoustic, for nearly 10 years now. I have never had my fingertips peel the way they have just started to. Since I just bought a new, used, guitar, an acoustic, and have been playing it for a little less than two weeks, I'm guessing that the strings that came on it contain some metal that my skin is reacting to. It's always something, it seems. My other acoustics have either had Ernie Ball Earthwoods or Elixirs on them. The electrics pretty much all have Ernie Ball Slinkies. So, for me, the EB strings seem to be OK, unless I just developed an allergy. The way the evidence looks, I'm leaning towards the strings on the new guitar being the culprit. I restrung it with Earthwoods as soon as I read of these allergies. I hope that it clears up fast. Thanks for the educational page. Cheers.

Nickel free, really!

Rotosound makes British Steele strings for electric guitar and they are nickel and cobalt free. Jescar makes Evo Gold fret wire which is also nickel and cobalt free. It took me about a year of research to find these products and confirm the metals they are free of. My son has nickel and cobalt allergies and just switching strings has made a difference. We are working on finding someone to change his frets to Evo Gold next.

Me too :(

Within the last 14 months I've discovered I too have a nickel allergy.
Switching to prosteels made by d'addrio seemed to help at first, but a week later now I'm getting more breakouts.
I'm really hoping I don't have to refret my guitars as I mostly have vintage instruments that would have the value significantly reduced if I start slapping steel frets in.
My life revolves around music, as I repair amplifiers during the day and do live sound and gig at night.
Not being able to pick up the guitar at any point to practice or mess around has been the single most depressing thing I've ever gone through. Guitar is my life. If I can't express myself through guitar, what's the point? I'm seriously bummed.

Nickel allergy

Hey Calvin,

I have been suffering a nickel allergy for over 30 yrs. I tried everything you can think of. The only thing that helped me in this period is taking a medicine (pills) called TRIAMCINOLON. Maybe you can ask your doctor.

Lately I've been searching the web again to look for new alternatives and I read on a dutch website that some guy used Boron water 
I ordered this last week at the pharmacy. I slightly bring it on my fingertips with a cotton swab and let it dry for a minute or two. 
I am using this now for about three days and in a way it feels different as in better. I know it is too early to talk about result but I will post it in this forum if the result is good.

Anyone else heard about Boron water?

Keep you posted,

Greetings from The Netherlands