VISION AFORETHOUGHT

Common sense analysis of this, that and the other

Apple product allergy

with 24 comments

Since 2003, when I owned a 12″ Powerbook, the skin on the tips of my fingers would become dry, hard and then crack, all within minutes of touching the metal surface on specific metal Apple products. This became obvious as Apple moved away from the polycarbonate cases for their laptops to the aluminium and Unibody designs. In fact, after the aluminium 12″ PowerBook, I acquired a black polycarbonate 13″ Powerbook, and the symptoms went away. It was only during that period when using my brother’s 15″ (pre-unibody) aluminium Powerbook for a few hours that the symptoms immediately returned and I realised I was not crazy!

Not wishing to exaggerate, but the pain that this leads to is significant. Amongst other things, it makes typing almost impossible, in particular because primary typing fingers are always effected. The cracks expose the nerves within each finger, so touching anything or allowing any fluid (other than room temperature water) into the cracks is very painful. Putting a plaster on protects the finger from further harm, but does not prevent fluids or pressure from effecting it. Peeling citrus fruit such as grapefruit is of course out of the question!

Wearing gloves or putting plasters over the injured area makes typing very fiddly, slow and inconvenient. It also looks very unpleasant in a public or professional environment.

6 or 7 years ago I began to take photos of what happened to my fingers and do some research. At the start I was embarrassed to even discuss this with my doctor, but in 2012 or 2013 I finally went to see him and he confirmed it is a skin allergy similar to that  afflicting those react to metal jewellery.

2014 may 30 1of2 apple nickel allergy

Fig 3 – May 2014

For the first few years I got nowhere in my research (Apple staff had no record of this condition), however, finally in June 2014, I came across discussion threads on Apple’s own support and external forums [A] [B] that mention Dyshidrosis. This is an allergy to nickel, or in this case, a nickel compound that Apple adds to the coating on their aluminium based products, possibly including:

  • Unibody MacBooks
  • Mac mini case
  • Aluminium Apple keyboards
  • Rear of aluminium iPhones
  • Rear of aluminium based Bluetooth Magic mouse
  • Magic trackpad

Comparing the photos of Dyshidrosis symptoms to my own, I do not think my fingers are afflicted with that condition, so more research is required! Am also going to research if the silver coating on the glass trackpad on the recent Macbooks is also part of the problem.

From day one, I have purchased or made and applied plastic film or cloth to my Apple toys, however, this does become annoying and/or impractical. It is very fiddly to cover the gaps between keyboard keys that fingers make contact with fairly frequently when typing. All the commercially available protective films (such as from Zagg) are designed just for that, to protect the device, not the user!

Note that in February 2014 Fitbit were forced to recall their Force wearable.

2010 jan 6 2of2 apple nickel allergy

Fig 2- January 2010

2008 april 11 3of3 apple nickel allergy crop

Fig 1 – April 2008

I now have a MacBook Pro 15″ with plastic film over the front area, but use an external keyboard at my desk. I have yet to find an alternative to Apple’s hardware that offers the right mix of features, not to mention, to migrate to Windows or other OS would involved moving and potentially converting a lifetime of files that exceed over 100,00! And learning an all new OS after >20 years of Mac use.

Update – September 29 2014: And this is an important one! a) After a period without touching anything Apple metal, the allergy returned, and guess what? It was the zips on my otherwise superb rather expensive North Face backpack! I immediately stopped using it and the allergies went away. They must use nickel on the zips. I will write to them in due course. And this brings me onto my next far more important point: b) Whilst on a flight to Germany this month, I happened to sit next to a (qualified) chemist who works for a company producing compounds used in aircraft. I happened to bring up my allergy and he immediately whispered in my ear “Well, just recently the EU have marked nickel as toxic to humans, and it is now banned from products.” There you go! No smoke without fire. eh?

For the record, I am not the litigious type and do not bear any grudge against Apple or any other company producing products that cause allergies. Plus, I have no interest in taking legal action or profiting from this financially. Nobody acted with intent, it is just one of those things, no different to any other allergy really.

I love Apple and cats, and am allergic to both! Typical. I even sneeze after drinking my first sip of some beers on any given day – really! Quiet funny to bemused barstaff!

Reference

#aluminium #aluminum #allergy #dyshidrosis #nickel #apple #unibody

Written by Oflife

June 2, 2014 at 9:09 am

24 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the info! I think I have the same rash on my chest from my iPod Shuffle!!! It started about a year ago, and is getting nastier looking, even though I’ve stopped wearing it in contact w/ my skin. The rash is coincidentally rectancular in shape, which gave me my first “heads up”. I’ve tried so many topical creams w/ no relief. Time to go to the dermatologist armed w/ your research!

    Debi Lee

    July 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    • Debi, wow, interesting! Let’s see if Apple (and other companies who use nickel in their products) respond. They probably didn’t know, so I don’t personally feel any anger, but as you’ll see from the update to my page (do a reload), the EU have now done something about it.

      Oflife

      September 29, 2014 at 8:45 am

  2. Hi there and thank you for taking the trouble to post your article. I, too, have identical symptoms to yours and after many trips to a dermatologist (who, incidentally, did not mention the possibility of an allergy to a Macbook even though I told her I had a nickel allergy), patch tests, blood tests etc etc the only thing I can whittle it down to is my laptop. It had occurred to me months ago that this might be the problem, but it tested negative when I swabbed it with my nickel tester. However, reading your post and many others online, it is the only conclusion that I can come to. I have bought a Moshi cover for the palm rest and trackpad and am waiting for a shell to arrive for the outer casing. Already my hands are showing signs of improving and so I am really hoping that this is the cause of such a painful and debilitating condition.

    zoewoodward

    September 27, 2014 at 6:42 am

    • Hi Zoe, Glad you found my page and hope it helps! See the update at the bottom of the page, things are getting interesting. Alex

      Oflife

      September 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

  3. Hi, I had this issue with a Macbook pro in 2010, had to sell it…
    These days again I need a Macbook pro for development, I am afraid that I will not find a good solution for arm pad and keyboard.

    I don’t want to work with an external keyboard… can you please share how you solved the problem?

    Thanks,

    Ady

    Ady

    October 29, 2014 at 10:45 am

    • Ady, I part solved the problem on my current MacBook Pro 15″ Retina by coating the lower half of the keyboard area with plastic film. However, if my fingers touch any of the area between the keys or edge, it happens. The rear and top of the MacBook are inside a regular Incase protective shell. Long term, because this is such a nuisance, I am considering switch to Windows, in particular a Lenovo Yoga Pro. For travel, I know use a Chromebook – 100% plastic and surprisingly speedy and reliable! Further, I am going to finally contact Apple to see what they have to say.

      Oflife

      October 29, 2014 at 10:50 am

  4. I too will be writing a blog post more or less exactly like this one. Thanks for taking the time and please keep going — take it to the hoop with Apple as I will be as well. I am a manager of a UX team and I spend more than 100 hours a week touching the metal of Apple products — MacBook Pro, Magic Mouse, external keyboard, magic track pad, iPhone6. About 18 months ago, the fissures started. I had no idea what it was. Then I heard about the FitBit recall. Meanwhile, it was spreading from my two thumbs to encompass my entire right hand. All of the sores line up with my default resting hand positions.

    I have played bass guitar for nearly 30 years and the skin on my fingertips is thicker than most folks. I think this is what caused the condition to take so long to appear. So bad has the condition gotten, I have considered giving up music. Tired of cleaning blood off of my guitars. And this is after changing from nickel to stainless steel strings.

    I have a case covering the outside of my mac and I am awaiting a shipment of stickers that will cover the wrist rest, trackpad and a keyboard cover. So bad is my right hand, I am typing this while wearing a golf glove on my right hand. The extremely thin leather still allows for capacitance so that I an still use my phone and other touch enabled devices.

    joeplanet

    November 14, 2014 at 3:42 pm

  5. I have the same problem but I use a MacBook Air 13, iPad 4, magic keyboard and trackpad since this summer. I never knew what was causi g it. For me it depends on the length of time touching it. I have since put a topcase shell and palmrest sticker last week and the symptoms disappeared. I googled iPad nickel allergy and found a news reports where a boy had rashes everywhere. For me it was always the fingers.

    ks

    November 16, 2014 at 5:33 pm

  6. Hi all,

    Ive had Apple products for 9 years and never had, or should i say ‘noticed’, any issues with skin irriation. I have had only one Macbook Pro since 2007. I bought a new Macbook Pro 2 weeks about [now mid January 2015] and have had a few nights with itchy fingers. Its only last night that i realised it could be my MBP. Its early days for me so still seeing whats happening here. One thing i have noticed is that my rash is worse when the machine is plugged in.

    Interesting to read other peoples issues on this

    Andi Hawes

    January 21, 2015 at 9:47 am

    • Ah ha, you mention your rash is worse when the machine is plugged in. This is because there is an electrical current flowing through the whole unit and this probably exacerbates the situation. I have noticed that when in an Apple dealer and using the Macbooks, I can sense an immediate tingling when touching the metal surfaces or edges. The machines are always plugged in, but by removing the power plug, the tingling stops. It’s either current leakage or an induction issue. Be interesting to know what Apple think of all this.

      Oflife

      January 21, 2015 at 9:55 am

  7. I have the same issue with an aluminum late 2008 era Macbook. Once I traced it to the trackpad, I switched to a mouse, but the skin irritation has not subsided. I wonder if there was a coating on the trackpad in the initial years that wore off. It’s been an issue for about 6 months (worsened since the dry winter months) and I suspect that I’ll need to go to a dermatologist soon. The skin just never heals completely, calloused, dry, cracks and it’s mildly painful. I wear bandaids for a day or two and it gets a bit better. I now use rubber gloves to wash dishes, use hand lotions and frankly it’s annoying.

    wajobu

    February 16, 2015 at 6:09 pm

  8. I managed to solve my issue using hard case from speck, keyboard protector from EZQuest, and palm clear protector from BodyGuardz. now I work safely with a new 15 MBP. thanks for all the help. I do recommend using this product, they are clear (opaque) and look almost as the native look.

    Ady

    February 16, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    • Indeed. I have my MacBook covered in cases and film. I wish Apple would make a tough non metal laptop like the superb Lenovo Yoga machines that are hypo allergenic by design. (Just ruined by Windows.)

      Oflife

      February 16, 2015 at 6:32 pm

  9. I have developed the same symptoms after getting an iPad this summer. I believe it may be a reaction to the oleophobic coating in the glass, however. The coating repels skin oil, and I think I am sensitive to it and it is causing my fingers to become extremely dry. I started using a stylus a few days ago and put a screen protector on, and my fingers are already starting to get better. I never had a problem with my iPhone, which has the same coating (and nickel), but I put a screen protector on my phone the day I bought it. And I regularly handled the phone (I like to play with it while watching TV) yet never had a problem, so I do not think I have a nickel allergy.

    I also hate using a screen protector and stylus, but my fingers were so bad. They were painful and bleeding and embarrassing. Fingers that rarely touched the device, like my pinkies and ring fingers, never had any problems, which is how I figured out it was not something contagious or a problem that would affect my whole body, like vitamin D deficiency.

    Scribbie

    February 19, 2015 at 8:29 am

    • Have you considered it may be the actual metal body of the iPad, not the screen coating?

      Oflife

      February 19, 2015 at 8:33 am

      • Yes, but I am leaning away from that as the cause because the only fingers that really get affected are those that touch the front screen. Also, I have routinely held the bare metal edge of my iPad against my stomach (like propping it on my bare stomach while lying in bed, for example) and never had a reaction. Plus, The iPhone has nickel, too, and I have used different iPhones for years (always with the screen covered) and had no problem. From a medical perspective, it makes sense that it would be the oleophobic coating. The coating is designed to repel the oils from your fingers as you touch the screen. Maybe too much oil is being repelled–hence, the excessive dry skin. all I know is that a few days after covering the screen with a protector and using a stylus, my fingers are getting better very quickly. That includes the side of the thumb and forefinger I use to hold the device, which were the worst.

        Scribbie

        February 19, 2015 at 2:46 pm

  10. I have the exact same symptom, thanks for identifying what was the cause. I thought it was my iPhone, then the cover, then my car, then my mouse, then my keys… all the time it was the MacBook Pro touch pad.

    David Gleason

    April 2, 2015 at 2:19 am

  11. wow…. thanks for confirming what i suspected to be the culprit of skin rash on my hands . i have been wondering for quite some time and a hinch told me it has to be my macbook air causing the rash.
    what can be done in the long run…. does apple not react at all. now we have to spend more money just to protect our health ?

    molly schoeck

    May 25, 2015 at 4:27 am

  12. This article pretty much sums up my experience. The pictures could be of my own fingers, although I only have one finger affected. It just happens be the one figure I use the touchpad of my MacBook Pro. Thanks for all of the helpful suggestions provided here.

    lissarue

    June 3, 2015 at 4:49 am

  13. Ditto. Finally found your blog after my symptoms have returned this week! Was plagued by this exact condition crippling my right fingers (all the skin pealing off etc) for 4 years of using my MacBook trackpad. After getting nowhere with dermatology testing etc. and being laughed at by my GP regarding my suspicions of clergy to my laptop, I invested in an Apple Magic Mouse for my laptop, resulting in over a year of normal hands. Forgot about it all until last week when we purchased a new iMac desktop with Magic TRACKPAD, and low and behold after 3 days of using the trackpad, my fingers have returned to the original state of pain and skin loss. I’m completely convinced that the trackpads/nickel everyone is the contributing factor. Is anyone writing this on the Apple forums, or putting this to Apple. I’m writing to them directly to highlight this. Anyone found anything which can cover the trackpad which doesn’t affect its responsiveness but protects your fingers???

    Julie Leonard

    July 6, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    • Hi, two comments: 1. I actually found the edges of the (touch based) magic mouse also a problem (the edges are metal), so I covered them in black electrical insulating tape and no problems since. 1. The trackbad on the more recent MacBooks are glass, so it is possible there is a coating on the glass or it is the edges where the metal part of the laptop begins. Either way, glad my post has been helpful! It’s good to know we’re not the only ones. BTW, as per an update I’ll be making soon, I have just purchased the recent (2015) MacBook Pro 13″ Retain with Force Touch trackpad and after several weeks, experienced NO allergic reaction so can conclude Apple have changed the coating! 🙂

      Oflife

      July 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    • Have the same issue, find a speck cover for the body, and a Bodyguardz clear cover for the trackpad, the palms area, and a keyboard cover by ezquest. works great! can’t put links here, from some reason its not working. but this is for a mac book pro. for imac, you will have to find appropriate keyboard cover, but I don’t belive there is a solution for the track pad… maybe you can do something with the clear cover from bodyguardz, or ask them for something. for the magic mouse, forget it. I sold mine. Good luck.

      adys

      July 6, 2015 at 7:33 pm

  14. Hi again,
    I’ve just discovered an Italian company providing skins for apple trackpads on Amazon. A bit pricey with postage but I’m desperate!

    See :

    Will let you know if it works!

    Julie Leonard

    July 6, 2015 at 12:25 pm


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