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Nickel allergy from strings?

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by carl-anton, Feb 12, 2004.

  1. After playing nickel strings I've noticed my fingertips become black. It washes right off with soap and water and there are no rashes, but could I develop nickel allergy from playing nickel strings?
  2. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    What is nickel allergy? I've been playing bass for over 30 years, and I've never heard of anyone contracting any illnesses from their strings.
  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Some people don't tolerate the skin contact with nickel alloys well, e.g. earrings etc.
    This can also happen with strings, but this only shows you already are allergic, I doubt strings can cause new allergies, but I'm not an expert.

    Switching to stainless steels is the only remedy , I'm afraid.
  4. I have the exact same problem but have has no ill effects from it. I also can't wear most types of silver and gold. I think it comes from the skin being more acidic and it is also some copper content in the alloys I react with so I don't wear any jewllery except my wedding band which is pure platinum. It may also mean that you might have to change strings more often or go with some of the coated ones (or stainless steel if it is truely pure).
  5. Before I found out I'm alergic to nickel, I used to go home from gigs with swollen, blood-shot eyes. The smoke would irritate them and then I would end up rubbing them with my nickel coated fingers. Now I use stainless steel strings on my primary bass, and I'm careful about keeping my hands clean with my other instruments. The skin on my finger tips is too thick for the nickel to leach through.
  6. Flatwound

    Flatwound Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2000
    San Diego
    I certainly hope nickel-plated strings won't cause a nickel allergy. I understand that nickel-plated earring posts can cause a nickel allergy, but I don't wear earrings. I think that earring posts have a much more intimate (and long-term) contact with your body than strings generally would, although as T. Englert points out, rubbing your eyes after you've played nickel plated strings doesn't seem like such a good idea (or for that matter, sucking your fingers, picking your nose, etc.). I think I'll be more careful to wash my hands after I play.
  7. Gsxtasy99


    Jul 10, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I have a similar problem execpt that my nickel strings aren't the culprit, it's my stainless steel flatwounds. I always figured it was something coming off the surface of the string rather than an alergic reaction. Hmm... :confused:
  8. secretdonkey


    Oct 9, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Okay, I no *nothing* of the chemical or biological factors involved, but a possibility occurred to me, that sounds a little less scary...

    Maybe you guys aren't *allergic* to nickel at all - maybe nickel is allergic to *you!* - meaning that your skin oil/sweat contains something that oxidizes or somehow affects the nickel. This oxide or whatever just kinda collects on your finger, and it may very well be an irritant if you get it in your eyes.

    Anyway, that's just a guess, but it seems more likely than any type of allergy...

  9. you say it like it's a bad thing... :cool:
  10. ...I'm sure this is what happens when I get black fingertips from playing. I think black fingertips is a sign of some kind of reaction that makes nickel rub of on the fingers. What concerns me is if this reaction will eventually lead to nickel allergy. I'm pretty sure that I don't suffer from it now.

  11. If I wear a watch or belt buckle with nickel on it, and it comes in contact with my skin it can leave a blister that often looks and feels like a severe second degree burn. If I'm hot and sweatty, it only takes a few minutes for a reaction to occur, and it can take several weeks to heal depending on how bad it is.

    What happens is oils and sweat cause to nickel to leach into the skin where an alergic reaction can occur. I've heard that it's heriditary and it gets worse with repeated exposure.

    I've never had any problem with blisters on my fingers because the skin there is way too thick. But I have had itchy eyes and minor rashes on my face and neck after playing long shows on hot nights.

  12. paul

    paul Staff Member Founder Administrator

    Jul 20, 2000
    This reminded me of something one of our content writers, Max Valentino, wrote to me when I asked him to review a set of nickel strings. I hope Max doesn't mind me sharing...

  13. When I first began playing, I played and played for hours on end learning simple covers. My callouses hadn't built up to the point they are now. I was playing with nickel strings, and over a very short time, all the skin on my playing fingertips (index middle of right hand, all of left hand) started fluffing off. I really don't think it was from all the playing, but rather a degradation of the skin due to the nickel. That's what two dermatologists also told me, and a Navy physician who was called to consult when I couldn't be fingerprinted for enlistment.

    I switched to SS strings at that point, played more, and the skin grew back with no more flaking.

    My fingers rarely got 'black', though.
  14. seansbrew


    Oct 23, 2000
    Mesa AZ.
    Thats some wild information people. I do not know if I have any allergies to strings but will try to make a mental note when I use different strings. I have a friend that has something in his body PH that reacts to nickel strings. He told me that if he plays a bass with nickel strings, for a short period of time the tone in the srings will be gone when he is done playing. Needless to say I do not let him play my basses, that string killer. :eek:
  15. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    No, Paul..I don't mind sharing at all! Yes, the nickel in TI strings REALLY did set off a rather intense allergic reaction. DOing a little research on the matter, I found that metal allergies, specifically nickel allergies, is the 2nd most common skin allergy in the world, second only to poison ivy.

    It is estimated as much as 60% of the US pop has some sort of allergy to nickel..some mild some severe. Most reported cases are women who experience a reaction via ear piercings, yet lately with the sweeping popularity of piercing..uh..."other" body parts..reatcions are becoming much more common in men (tongue piercings esp. as from what I understand the piercing instrument is nickel plated).

    In Europe, many jewlery mkers as well as string makers are lowering their nickel content due to the large number of reactions.

    I have recently started using TI flats and rounds again...as a part of an experiment. I underwent several acupuncture treatments as well as some dietary changes. so far there has been very little reaction...which is nice as I love the sound and feel of TI flats on my fretless! I still do find my fingers fatigue a bit after a few hours....and there is some "itchiness",and mild almost cold like symptoms (tho hardly the flu-like reaction I did have) but no more joint swelling or rash.

    I have heard of other players resorting to using tapewound strings, playing with special silk gloves, etc. For me, sinice my primary basses are piezo equipped, I have been mainly using TI Acousticore strings which are a bronze winding on nylon cores. This solved my problem, but the downside is they do not work with magnetic PUs. I did find using TI PowerBass strings (which have a lower nickel content than the pure nickel windings of the Jazz flats or rounds) gave no allergic reaction at all.....btw I am a TI endorsee, and am under contract to use their strings, but have tried out a lot of different brands. Each has varying amounts of nickel. Finding strings with percentages of nickel which your body can tolerate can allieviate any allegic reactions. So can playing SS, yet SS is much harder on the frets...and I just cannot bring myself to chewing up my ebony fretless board with stainless roundwounds.

    Oddly, TI's, with their high nickel content, are the first string, and only string (and believe me I have tried just about all of them...) which my body pH did not just kill in very little time. I used to change strings 3-4 times a week. For instance, GHS Boomers would go dead on me in less than 30 min! D'Addario's sometimes even faster! So what to do? Either learn to live with, and love, the dead string sound (which is now in vogue..) or seek out a string which works with your body chemistry. My body chemistry really eats up strings (when I play reg gtr, I can kill strings in a matter of minutes..they turn black!), yet I can make a set of TI strings last months. And I play a lot (sessions, gigs and 2-3 hours of practice every day). They hold remarkably well...and engineers, producers and artists constantly compliment my tone(s)...which is another reason I am trying so many different ways around this allergy; TIs work best for.

  16. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Talk about a rave review :D.

    I am thankfully very unallergic to nickel, as my only experience with stainless strings was pretty poor (Roto L66 Swingbass).

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