Making Music May Take Its Toll on Your Skin

Playing a Musical Instrument May Harm Skin

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on April 16, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

April 16, 2004 -- "Fiddler's neck," "guitar nipple," "cellist's chest," and "flautist's chin," may sound like a motley quartet, but researchers say they're skin conditions they hear about all too often from musicians.

A new study shows playing a musical instrument can take its toll on your skin, but simple modifications can help save musicians from sacrificing their skin for their art.

Researchers found the most commonly reported skin disorders associated with playing an instrument were allergic reactions to specific components of an instrument and skin conditions caused by prolonged intense, contact with an instrument.

Many Instruments Irritate Skin

In the study, published today in BMC Dermatology, researchers reviewed recent studies on instrument-related skin disorders and found skin problems were a problem affecting not only professional musicians but musicians of all ages and abilities.

"The skin is important in the positioning and playing of a musical instrument," write researcher Thilo Gambichler of Oldchurch Hospital in London, U.K., and colleagues. "During practicing and performing there is permanent contact between the instrument and the musician's skin of varying intensity. Apart from aggravating previous skin conditions, specific dermatologic conditions may develop that are directly caused by playing a musical instrument."

The most frequently reported skin conditions were allergic reactions to rosin, which is used to wax the bows of stringed instruments, and to the cane reeds used in clarinets and saxophones.

Flute, brass, and string players who were allergic to nickel also often suffered from irritation (dermatitis) on their lips, chin, or hands, which in some cases promoted chronic eczema.

Researchers say many of these conditions can be prevented by changing the brand of rosin and using plastic or gold mouthpieces, plastic polystyrene reeds, or bronze strings.

Another common condition uncovered by the study was "fiddler's neck." Fiddle players who had this condition suffered from skin irritation on the side of the neck that is in contact with the violin or viola. The constant irritation causes the skin to become thicker than normal and discolored, giving it a bark-like appearance.

Guitarists also suffered from a similar irritating condition on their nipples, which researchers say can be avoided by changing the positioning of the guitar.

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SOURCE: Gambichler, T. BMC Dermatology, April 16, 2004; vol 3.

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