*Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nor am I claiming to be one. I am not endorsing any of the products mentioned or implied. I am simply sharing my experience with a nickel allergy and the information/resources I have found to help.*
As a brass player, metal allergies are becoming more and more common with the exposure we have.
When I started to have a reaction, I didn’t know it was a nickel allergy at first; I simply thought I was just dehydrated. Then as it continued, I thought it was a reaction to my chapstick. My horn teacher at the time recommended only using Vaseline as a simpler alternative with fewer ingredients.
The symptoms persisted: very dry, chapped lips with resulting cracking and black (blackhead-like) bumps. My teacher offered that it might be a nickel allergy and put me in touch with another horn teacher that might know what to do.
In the meantime, I saw an allergist to help diagnose the issue and figure out how to solve it temporarily while I found a more permanent solution. I had a somewhat unique situation in that I had a visible reaction on both my lips and my right hand.
After diagnosing the situation, I was given a cream called Epiceram, which is typically used by forest rangers to prevent poison oak or ivy. The cream acts as a barrier between skin and the enivironment. I used Epiceram to create a barrier between my skin and my nickel silver bell.
As for a permanent solution, I ended up coating my mouthpiece in gold plating. In addition, I purchased a yellow brass bell to protect my hand from getting a reaction without the trouble of using Epiceram every time I went to play.
- intense itching
- burning or pain
- weeping blisters at the contact site
- peeling or thickening of the skin in the case of chronic contact
Cited from the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation
- Diet can actually help those with a nickel allergy – foods like chocolate, whole grain, nuts, beans and dried peas are rich in nickel
- While avoiding some foods will help, a nickel-free diet is not possible
- See the Journal of the Academy in Nutrition and Dietetics (https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(17)30001-1/fulltext) for more information
- Avoidance works for most brass players who get contact dermatitis
- Change the material your instrument, parts of your instrument or mouthpiece are composed (delrin, gold plating, titanium plating and surgical grade stainless steel are available options)
- Create a barrier between the parts of your instrument that your skin comes into contact with (hand grips, hand straps or gloves)