About a year ago I started a dermatological experiment on myself to remove the awful rash down half of my neck caused from practicing. You may remember my instagram post where I shared a few of the products I was using at the time that seemed to help. I did a ton of research and wanted to share my findings here in more detail, because I believe that this information could help others that are having the same problem.
At one point in our pursuit in becoming a better string player, some of us began developing a hickey-like spot. Most of us just accepted it as a normal result of practicing a certain amount of time. This spot is not a callus. It's usually some type of mechanical dermatitis caused by friction, and is prone to infection because the skin dilates whenever we hold the instrument in a playing position. Sometimes the skin reacts by producing more keratin to protect itself. Reducing the friction, and making sure the surface of the instrument is clean will help.
In addition, it is extremely common for string players to develop an allergy to the materials we are constantly exposing ourselves to. I know of musicians who developed allergies to rosewood, ebony, or even rosin, and I myself have developed a severe allergy to nickel. It can sometimes be very hard to tell if you have an allergy or not, because the allergy causes a contact dermatitis reaction. Unless you are a trained dermatologist, you will most likely not be able to tell the difference between mechanical and contact dermatitis (or something else) just by looking at it.
Here is my suggested regimen for eliminating/preventing a violin or viola hickey:
1. Switch to a plastic chinrest, or use a cloth over your existing setup for at least 30 days. After your skin has cleared up, you can try to reintroduce your old chinrest and see what happens. This is the best way to tell what's going on if you aren't sure what your allergies are, or if this is even an issue for you. You may end up wanting to keep this setup because it will help keep you safe from developing an allergy.
2. Make sure you are not 'clamping down' when you play. If you need to press down at all with your chin, then you are not playing in the most ergonomic way. You should be able to hold up the instrument easily by using the weight of your head. Video yourself practicing, and see if there is anyway you can play with less tension. Experiment with different chinrest/shoulder rest setups to find what works best for you.
3. Up your instrument hygiene game. I carry alcohol wipes and clean my chinrest before I play. I personally can't stand using a cloth, so this is an easier solution for me. If you are using a cloth, make sure you always are using a clean one and switch them out regularly.
4. Treat the infection if there is one. I use a product called ScarAway if I am having a flareup. It's a silicone sheet intended to heal scar tissue. I cut it into a piece that fits over my viola hickey, and only use this when I'm practicing. One piece can last me an entire day.
Make sure to use a triple antibiotic + pain relief ointment (like neosporin) when you aren't playing, to help cut down on the infection. It really helps with pain and itchiness.
You could alternatively try something like Dermarest Eczema cream if you're having more issues with pain than an infection.
I occasionally use a charcoal mask to help draw out impurities and smooth out skin.
Treatments that are normally for acne can sometimes work really well, but they can really dry out your skin which will make the eczema symptoms worse.
Don't use products for removing calluses, or try to freeze it off as this will just irritate your skin more.
5. Don't pick. Give your skin a chance to heal. If it's infected and you try to drain it yourself, you will be pushing just as much of the infection back into your body.
If you struggle with this step, you aren't alone. Don't be afraid to seek out help if you have issues with OCD or a BFRB. Take steps to eliminate stress in your daily life.
6. If there is no improvement, don't hesitate to seek out medical treatment. Playing a string instrument is something we obviously want to be able to do for the rest of our lives. If your skin is damaged enough, you may need injections or surgery in order to fully heal.
Let me know what you think! Have you struggled with a violin, viola, or cello hickey? Did you try this regimen, or is there a product that works well for you? Are you a cellist that has adapted this regimen? Do you know of any scholarly or medical research done on this topic? Thoughts?
*My statements have not been influenced by sponsorship of any kind