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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2019 8:08 pm 
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I've been playing a blackwood flute for years without issues. About a month ago I got a itchy red patch of skin below my lip, right where I position my flute. Every few days it gets flaky. I had facial hair there at the time it started which I promptly shaved. I don't think it's a reaction to blackwood, probably just irritation. I have been playing frequently, at least 30 minutes a day. My theory is that the facial hair (which I never had before while playing the flute) was trapping more moisture than usual, and it's also winter where I live and a dry climate to boot. It doesn't bother me while I'm actually playing, which is why it took me so long to connect the dots. I have been using a beeswax-based salve on it which has been helping. I've been putting off seeing a dermatologist though as I'm hoping it will just go away, but it's really been hanging on. Does anyone have any experience with this issue? It's been driving me nuts as I don't want to stop playing...


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2019 10:58 pm 
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It could be a reaction to the blackwood or to whatever finish is on the head of the flute. Have you considered putting a patch of duct tape or something similar on your side of the embouchure hole to isolate your chin from the flute?

If the problem subsides fairly quickly it might suggest an allergic reaction. I'd be inclined to leave the patch in place for a while to give the skin a chance to heal well before encountering the irritant again. If the problem then comes back, we can probably assume something is irritating the skin. In which case you could consider a longer-term isolator like silver. Or a flute in Mopane, Boxwood, Delrin or some other non-rosewood.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 12:50 am 
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Hi orflute. Strange that it should suddenly arise after years of not. Have you oiled your flute recently? Perhaps a reaction to that?

For my silver Boehm flute, I use transparent stick on lip guards called Willows Invisible Lip Guard. They are great. Perhaps that may help? In my case, it's not that I am allergic to silver, but my beard scratches the lip plate on the expensive headjoint.

There was a discussion recently on facebook about beeswax balms and so on and I recommended Burts Bees medicated one. Then many people said they are wildly allergic to that. So I did a search for the ingredients list and found that far from being simple beeswax with some medication, it's about 50 nasty sounding chemicals and additives. Hardly natural - and not printed on the label. As a result of that, I would be cautious picking beeswax lip balms. People recommend Vaseline, and here in Australia we have pawpaw balm known as Lucas Pawpaw Ointment that people swear by. It's popular and effective.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:24 am 
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It sounds like sensitivity to blackwood resulting in contact dermatitis.

Remember that Blackwood is a Rosewood (Dalbergia sp.). I can make and play any instrument in Blackwood just fine. For a decade I used to use Honduran Rosewood and occasionally other Rosewoods such as Tulipwood and Kingwood. After a decade, I started to experience a contact dermatitis which is similar to having a mild somewhat less itchy case of poison oak on my hands and forearms as a result of the dusts during the summertime when its often in the upper 70s in my workshop. So I stopped using these woods for my flutes.

A quick solution would be to put a layer of clear tape on the lips side of the embouchure, isolating your skin from the Blackwood. Consult with a dermatologist for remedies for the flare up. Cortisone creams cleared it up on my hands after a few days.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 11:40 am 
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Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I didn't oil the flute or do anything differently besides having some facial hair. I will give tape a shot, and maybe play a bit more whistle while it heals up.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:57 pm 
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That's two people with very long initial delays to sensitivity. Very interesting. Does anybody know any more about that phenomenon? Seens strange.

As an instrument maker myself here in Australia, I am violently allergic to Tasmanian Blackwood (unrelated to African Blackwood) but the reaction is instant and severe. I cant use it, or even be in the shop if somebody has made dust from cutting it.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2019 7:03 pm 
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It took me about ten years of playing before I became sensitized. To keep playing blackwood or related species I had to go with silver lip plates, because once you're sensitized it doesn't go away, and it only gets worse if you continue the contact. After the lip plate and playing for years reaction-free, I tried a flute that didn't have a lip plate, and sure enough, my lower lip started burning and turning red all over again.

While waiting for one lip plate to be installed I temporarily grew a soul patch, and that worked for me as a buffer, but judging by orflute, it might not be the answer for everybody. At this point the jury's pretty much still out as to whether blackwood sensitization is really his issue at all.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 10:06 am 
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That is frequently the nature of sensitivities or allergies. I was a beekeeper with up to 12 hives once getting regularly stung no problem. Until one evening when I got stung on my ankle and my lips swelled to about twice their size. Testing revealed allergy to honeybees. Eventually the Histamines rise up due to an irritant and say they have had enough, sometimes after years of exposure.

Note that plastics contain sensitizers as well. Delrin can produce formaldehyde when heated during machining (which is the primary reason why I do not use it) and theoretically some of this could stay with the material.

I just hope that I don't become allergic to Blackwood, Boxwood and Mopane. Even these three, like any natural material, contain things that some become sensitive to. I know one other Baroque flute maker who had to avoid Ebony for a few years until his sudden sensitivity subsided with the aide of an allergy specialist.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 11:05 am 
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I have an unusual instance of this nasty bug. Initially I got it off of a trumpet mouthpiece, which was thoroughly cleaned. Now it has to be immersed in some kind of disinfectant every time before use.

But, and here is a rebuttal of the claim that woods are to blame. My practice Flute top is made of some kind of plastic, and it too begun to cause irritation on my skin. However I found that soaking just the top of the Flute in mouthwash gets rid of the itch, but, like my Trumpet mouthpiece, it has to be done every time before use.

Too, I have other wind instruments which do not have the same problem. Therefore this bug lives on certain (material ?) surfaces but not on others.

Don't know if mouthwash would work for a organic material such as wood. but hey can't hurt to try it.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 4:59 pm 
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Nanohedron wrote:
It took me about ten years of playing before I became sensitized.


I'm about right at 10 years...huh. Never considered a delayed reaction could be a thing.

Throwing something else into the mix, I'm also a cold water surfer, and I wear a neoprene hood that sits on the same area where my flute rests. The affected skin is flute-rest shaped, so it's most likely the culprit, but I wonder if the frequent cold water exposure has something to do with it as well.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:24 pm 
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orflute wrote:
Nanohedron wrote:
It took me about ten years of playing before I became sensitized.

I'm about right at 10 years...huh. Never considered a delayed reaction could be a thing.

For "late bloomers" like me, it's a matter of gradual buildup, if I may put it that way. Sensitization doesn't happen to everyone, but when it does, building up to it is apparently how it often works. In time there comes a tipping point, and then you're sensitized for good - you will never lose it - and it will only get worse with continued direct contact; ending the contact is the only way to make reactions subside. My reaction soon developed from a vague redness into something resembling a poison ivy rash, a conspicuous reddish-purple with little weeping blisters, and never mind how gross it looked, it burned like hell. At that point I had to do something, and for me the silver lip plate solved it; facial hair worked too, but it just isn't my style, even if it costs me nothing. Barring the unthinkable choice of quitting, if you're sensitized your long-term options would be a barrier or a different flute material. As I understand it, sensitization is pretty material-specific. Since I'm sensitized to blackwood, I also react to rosewood and other members of the Dalbergia spp., but I don't have a reaction to boxwood or Delrin. Tape might work as a barrier, but in the meantime I'd consider a silver inset as a lip plate if you plan to stick with blackwood; those lip plates on the old flutes weren't there just for looks.

If you do get a plate installed, when your flute comes back be sure to wipe it down well - all its parts, inside and out - because otherwise the shop dust will get you. I found that out the hard way; it was on the lip plate, and I couldn't even see it. Reacting to the lip plate (which was supposed to help) made for some panic until I figured out that shop dust was the issue. I even found shop dust in the case, so you have to be thorough in getting rid of it. For the case I started with a vacuum attachment, and then used a damp cloth (white, to better monitor the dust I was picking up) for both the flute and case. The dust is tenacious - especially in the case lining - so both flute and case took a few passes, rinsing out the cloth each time, before I was confident that everything was clean enough. As an added measure I scrubbed the lip plate a few times using cotton swabs moistened in rubbing alcohol, taking due care to avoid the wood. I don't know how efficacious or even necessary that was, but since resins are often alcohol-soluble, I thought the further treatment might help if there were any trace resins still left behind; even if it was overkill, I was fine with erring on the side of caution. Whatever the case, I didn't have any problems since. :)

I don't have any statistics as to what percentage of fluters are likely to develop wood sensitization.

orflute wrote:
Throwing something else into the mix, I'm also a cold water surfer, and I wear a neoprene hood that sits on the same area where my flute rests. The affected skin is flute-rest shaped, so it's most likely the culprit, but I wonder if the frequent cold water exposure has something to do with it as well.

I'm more likely to suspect that something (the neoprene, in this case) rubbing against your already-irritated skin could exacerbate the problem.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:00 pm 
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Super glue lip plate, easy, cheap and completely reversible. I wrote a post detailing how to do this about.....13-14 years ago now? Not sure but It has to be more than 10. Perhaps a forum search will turn it up if anyone is so inclined.

Yeah, getting sensitized sucks. I was fine for several years of playing Blackwood flutes then got a newly made Cocus flute and BAM!!! That did me in for virtually all problem causing woods, including blackwood.

Anywho, a temporary barrier of scotch tape will do the trick to insulate yourself long enough to determine if contact dermatitis to your flute is the issue. As a former woodwind repair person I beg you though, please don’t use duct tape.

Also, as an FYI if you are reacting to the flute, oiling the instrument will make things worse, as will pressing said flute to an already irritated (possibly abraded?) patch of skin, like a spot perhaps rubbed a bit by one’s wetsuit..... just a thought. Bacteria could also be at play though. Time to start eliminating possibilities.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 6:20 pm 
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I slapped some electrical tape on there. I'm giving it a complete rest for a week though and sticking to the whistle to see how things heal up then will gradually start ramping up the playing again. Sounds like a lip plate will be in my future.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:45 am 
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Update: after not playing for a week it has almost completely cleared up. Going to see how well the tape works next.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2019 12:02 pm 
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Loren wrote:
Super glue lip plate, easy, cheap and completely reversible.

John Skelton plays a cocus flute, to which he is allergic. He used the super glue approach and it seems to work for him. Not as elegant as a silver lip plate tho....

Best wishes.

Steve

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