My name is Randy Jacobs, M.D. I am a clinical Dermatologist and a guitarist / songwriter. To help guide you as you learn to care for your musical hands, I would like to share a little bit of medical-musical wisdom about my skin barrier based hand care system for musicians of stringed instruments:
Guitar Hands® Clinical Lipid Therapy®
For some reason, the subject of musical hand care is often not covered by guitar teachers; so, if you are a guitar teacher or a teacher of violin, viola, bass, banjo, mandolin, or any other stinged instrument, you may want to share this link with your students.
The Beatles wrote, “I want to hold your hand.” They knew, with your eyes you see beauty, but with your hands, you touch, feel, and hold it, especially when you play music! Your two hands, though you see them right in front of you every day, are often neglected. Maybe you type all day long on a keyboard or maybe you soak your hands in dishwater. You might work with dry papers, dirty money, or dirty diapers. Do you work in a clinic or a restaurant where you must wash your hands ten times a day? You are not alone. Yes, we all use and abuse our hands; and, a guitarist uses and abuses his or her fingers on the strings.
Guitar strings can cut, tear, and damage your fingertips…ouch! Some have tried coated strings, silicones, and string cleaners, and these are all helpful to make the actual strings less damaging. Now, if you suffer with Guitar Player Fingers, Guitar Hands® solves the problem in an additional way. Rather than treating the strings, Guitar Hands® Hand Care works by directly strengthening the skin of your fingers by way of Clinical Lipid Therapy® skin barrier based hand care.
How many times have you heard, “I tried to learn the guitar, but pressing the strings made my fingers sore; so, I quit.”
It’s your hands that make the music; so, if you are learning to play guitar or a string instrument, it’s all about your hands.
For simplicity sake, when I say “guitar,” just know that the concepts I present to you apply to all stringed instruments.
Your hands are the interface between soul, guitar, and ear. Thus, the more precisely your hands can sense the instrument, the more accurate the tactile feel of the neck and strings, the less effort required to attain the needed speed, the more perfect will be the music you play. So, how should you take care of your hands? The internet has hundreds of ideas on hand care. But, musical hands have unique hand care needs. Without a specific goal and basic understanding of skin anatomy and physiology, it’s really impossible to understand the why and how of healthy hand care.
Your Unique Goal
If you play guitar, your unique goal is to press down, glide and slide on the strings from note to note and chord to chord as effortlessly and as painlessly as possible. If you play a viola or violin, you need to finger the strings and shift from position to position as effortlessly and as painlessly as possible.
With these movements in mind, for your unique goal, you need clean limber flexible hands with a smooth silky feel. You want minimal friction, especially between your fingers. You don’t want dry scaly cracked hands, but then, you don’t want hands that are gritty, too moist or greasy, too sticky or gummy.
When your skin is healthy, your fingers will be better protected for playing. Think about it... Just like a runner conditions ahead of time for a marathon, if you practice daily hand care and condition in advance, your fingers will be better prepared for the big gig. Daily care will keep your skin stronger and better able to withstand the constant pressing, shearing, and cutting forces that guitar strings can exert on pressure point areas of fingers. Your fingernails and fingertip calluses will also benefit. Thus, with daily hand care, guitarists, especially newbies just learning and those who play long gigs will see improved performance and less soreness after playing.
Coming up is a photo of the thumb of a pro guitar player. This guitar player never moisturized, and washed his hands five times a day with gel soap. He always wiped his thumb with alcohol before using his thumbpick.
Here is his thumb. Imagine trying to play with a thumb like this...
Anatomy and Physiology
This guitar player did not understand the anatomy and physiology of his guitar paying hands, did everything wrong, and ended up with problem hands... and especially a problem thumb. So, let’s find out how to do it the right way. Hey, we will do good if we learn a lesson from the vocalists. Most vocalists are very in tune with the anatomy of their throat. I had a patient who knew Frank Sinatra personally, and he told me that Frank would never go on stage without first warming up his throat with a little bit of warm tea, warm water, Jack Daniels, or honey and warm water. Every singer knows, it's all about the vocal cords, so, it makes sense to care for the vocal cords before singing. And with guitar playing, it's all about the hands... But, so many guitar players forget the anatomy and just leave it to chance. If their hands feel good, they do, but if they don't, they really don't do anything about it. And, most guitar players don't practice regular hand care. They just leave their hands to chance. It makes makes sense to take care of your hands before playing guitar. When you sing it begins with do re mi. When you study skin care for musical hands, it begins with anatomy.
Anatomy is the structure. Physiology is the function. If you understand the basic anatomy and physiology of the skin of your hands and fingers, you will better understand how to take care of your music playing hands. So, let’s study normal skin, callused skin, and the fingernails. Because a picture is worth 1000 words, we will look at actual microscopic photos of your skin.
This is normal skin of the fingertip:
Your skin is made of three layers. On top you see the epidermal layer, below this you see the dermal layer, and below the dermis you see a layer of fat. If you play guitar, you need to take note of the uppermost layer of the epidermis. This is the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is the interface that actually touches your guitar strings and neck. It is the stratum corneum that becomes a callus, and a healthy stratum corneum will give you the smooth silky feel you need as a guitar player. So, when we talk about skin care for guitar players, we are mostly talking about caring for your stratum corneum.
To better understand your stratum corneum, let’s study a diagram. This diagram shows that the stratum corneum is built like bricks and mortar, with flattened skin cells called corneocytes, surrounded by lipids.
The corneocytes are connected to each other by tiny joining rods or dowels called desmosomes. In between corneocytes, you find a mortar-like substance made of lipids. The “bricks” are flattened skin cells called “corneocytes,” and the “mortar” between the bricks is made up of your three skin barrier lipids : 1. Cholesterol 2. Ceramide & 3. Free Fatty Acids.
Lipids are biomolecular fats which function as your skin barrier. The skin barrier is an Entrance Barrier and Exit Barrier that functions to prevent infections, inflammation, and dryness of your musical hands.
As a guitarist, it is important that you remember the lipids, because it is your natural lipids that keep your stratum corneum and calluses healthy.
It’s true, guitarists, violinists, bassists, and other stringed instrument musicians use and abuse their fingers more than other musicians in the band. So, in order to play your best, you need healthy hands and fingertips and a healthy skin barrier.
Skin damage usually begins with dry air and harsh soap. Soap removes your lipids, and without lipids, your skin barrier will fail and leak. Thus, toxins, allergens, and harmful infectants can enter your hands, and vital skin water will exit. Dryness and inflammation take control. In turn, calluses turn brittle and break. Your fingers turn dry, scaly, itchy, cracked, and inflamed. In the end, you feel discomfort, drag, and frictional soreness as you try to play. Medically, your skin barrier lipids are lost. Musically, your hands are not 100%!
As long as the lipids, ceramide, cholesterol, & free fatty acids are replenished and organized into bilayers, the skin barrier will function normally, and your used and abused fingers stay healthy. Here is electron micrographic art showing healthy vs. unhealthy lipids as seen in guitar playing fingertips.
It is also your lipids that keep your calluses conditioned. The lipids are fragile molecules that are easily washed away by soap or solvents.
If the lipids are not present and not bilayered, the skin barrier does not function... and this is when skin problems begin for musical hands. Thus, if you continuously use too much soap, or apply solvents such as alcohol and acetone, or even superglue to your fingers, your lipids will be damaged and your skin will eventually crack as did the guitarist’s thumb above.
SOAP AND DRY AIR CAN DAMAGE YOUR SKIN BARRIER...
In turn, calluses turn brittle and break. Your fingers turn dry, scaly, itchy, cracked, and inflamed. In the end, you feel discomfort, drag, and frictional soreness as you try to play. Medically, your skin barrier lipids are lost. Musically, your hands are not 100%!
As a guitarist, your #1 goal is to protect your lipids. Healthy lipids will keep your skin smooth and silky and will keep your calluses from cracking and tearing.
Perfect Hands Make Perfect Music™
Just as a singer can’t sing his or her best with a dry throat, a guitarist can’t play his or her best with dry fingers. With loss of lipids, your fingers become dry, easily cut by strings, and sore in the studio. Drag and friction set in. Dry fingers will rub against each other, will feel gritty, slow down, and not glide. Calluses become brittle and easily broken. Medically, your lipids are lost. Musically, it’s impossible for your hands to play their very best. So, just as a singer learns to care for the vocal cords, a guitarist should learn how to care for his or her skin barrier. Healthy guitar playing hands begin with daily prevention, healthy hand education, and Guitar Hands® Hand Care with Clinical Lipid Therapy®.
Medically, GH will bless you with lipids to replenish, restore, and renew your skin barrier; and, GH will preserve your lipids by cleansing without soap! Musically, GH will decrease friction, so, your hands feel like silk on the strings. GH: Shred your guitar not your hands!
What About Callused Skin?
Every guitar player wants calluses, because calluses are your # 1 protection against the strings. You know, a callus can be your best protection against the wear and tear of guitar strings. But, if a callus is too hard or too soft, it can be torn or caught in the strings. I know a pro guitarist who lost six weeks of work because of a torn callus.
Sometimes you see guitar players showing off their calluses. And rightfully so, a callus is great proof that you have been practicing guitar. So, how do you get calluses? There are many misconceptions about this. The fact is, there are no magic lotions, chemicals, or vitamins that will make your calluses grow. Some say rub alcohol or witch hazel on your fingertips. If you study lipids, you will understand that alcohol will only damage your lipids and can actually ruin your calluses.
So how do you get calluses? A callus is made by applying continuous repeated pressure forces to the skin. So, the best way to make calluses is to, simply, play your guitar. Callus formation and the process of building extra layers of stratum corneum, is a physiologic protective mechanism induced by ongoing repeated direct pressure on the skin. The dermatologic term for callus is mechanical hyperkeratosis. If the pressure is discontinued, the callus will disappear spontaneously. So, calluses are made by repeated pressure, but calluses should be cared for with Clinical Lipid Therapy®. Guitar Hands® Hand Care is specially designed with lipids to condition your calluses.
Here is what a callus looks like under the microscope.
Anatomically and microscopically, you can see that a callus is built of many many extra layers of stratum corneum all piled up. And remember, a healthy stratum corneum requires lipids. Thus, excessive use of soap and harsh cleansing with solvents or alcohol will damage your calluses.
So, now you have a better understanding of the microanatomy of your skin, and now you have a better idea why guitar players so need lots of Clinical Lipid Therapy®
We have reviewed the anatomy and physiology of normal and callused skin as it pertains to guitar players. Let’s summarize by understanding that a guitar player should focus his or her hand care towards taking care of the stratum corneum.
It is a healthy stratum corneum that gives the guitar player that silky smooth low friction feeling as the hands glide up and down the neck and strings. It is also the stratum corneum that reacts to repeated pressure on the strings and builds a protective callus.
With this medical-musical background, you can better understand that Guitar Hands® Hand Care is a special Clinical Lipid Therapy® Hand Care product uniquely designed to care for the stratum corneum, so that guitar and string instrument musicians can have perfect hands for playing music.
What About Finger Nails?
Now, let’s shift our learning attention to the nails. On the frets you play with your fingertips, on the opposite hand you play with your fingernails. A fingernail is, actually, a hardened highly keratinized extension of your skin, thus, the principles of lipid based healthy hand care will also apply to the nails.
So you can better understand how to care for your fingernails, here is an actual microscopic cross section of a fingertip.
The nail plate sits on top of the nail bed and grows out from the nail matrix. Look at the diagram above and see the nail matrix located beneath the proximal nail fold, situated between the two green arrows. Note that the nail matrix is protected by the cuticle. Because the cuticle protects the nail matrix, guitarists should never pick at, cut, or damage their cuticles. Also note that the nail plate is connected to the nail bed by way of tiny Velcro-like attachments. Thus, the nail plate can be easily lifted off if the nail is used as a prying tool. As new nail cells grow out, the older nail cells become hardened with keratin and are pushed out toward the fingertip.
Here are a few tips on nail care. The basic guideline is: Whatever is good for the skin will also be good for the nails.
|Don't abuse your nails. The nail plate is held onto the nail bed by fragile Velcro-like attachments. So, don't use your fingernails to poke or pry.
||Don't bite your nails. Biting can damage the nail bed. Even a minor cut on the side of your nail can allow bacteria or fungi to enter and infect.
||Don’t manicure or cut your cuticles. The cuticles are there to protect the matrix and to prevent entrance of bacteria and yeast.
||Moisturize your nails and cuticles each night before bed. This will prevent splitting of the nails.
||You can apply a nail hardener, but avoid products containing toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde as this agent can cause the nails to lift away from the bed.
||Some say that 2.5 milligrams of biotin daily and gelatin may increase the thickness of nails. But, there are no scientific studies to prove this.
||Because nails grow from the matrix, and not from the nail bed, it is pointless to use “nail growers” that are painted onto the nail plate.
||Acrylic nails are fine for some people but not for all; thus, each case should be handled individually.
||Regular use of topical acetone or alcohol will damage lipids, nails, calluses, and fingertips.
We have covered lots of basic science to help you better understand lipid based hand care for musical hands.
At this point I’d like to share with you a helpful way to remember the three most important hand care rules for guitar players.
Think WAM --- WAM
W – Wear gloves.
When your hands are in danger, for example, doing kitchen or yard work, ruin your gloves not your hands, not your nails.
A- Avoid soap on your hands
INSTEAD, USE GH
Soap will always strip away your skin barrier lipids and will dry your hands out. Instead of soap, carry Guitar Hands® with you everywhere you go, and use it to cleanse.
M- Moisturize your hands.
Moisturize your hands, fingers, and nails each night with a heavy cream. A heavy cream will protect your skin lipids for healthy skin, healthy calluses, and healthy nails. For info on how to moisturize your skin, please go to: www.TRUEMOISTURE.com
To keep your hands healthy, it's a good idea to keep a tube of Guitar Hands® in your gig bag and on your desk at work, like this player:
What Can You Expect?
When you play guitar it’s all about your hands, because perfect hands make perfect music. Your hands are the interface between soul, guitar, and ear. Thus, the more precisely your hands can sense the instrument, the more accurate the tactile feel of the neck and strings, the less effort required to attain the needed speed, the more perfect the music. I know how you like to glide, slide, bend, hammer, shift, chord, scale, pick, press, strum, and shred up and down the frets.
It’s your hands that make the music, but every day your guitar playing hands are being robbed of protective lipid bio-molecules and skin moisture, resulting in less than perfect hands for your guitar.
But now you have Guitar Hands® Hand Care for true Clinical Lipid Therapy® Hand Care
Clinical Lipid Therapy® is the special formula that gives you that “ready to play perfect feeling” when ever you use Guitar Hands®.
Daily use of Guitar Hands® Lotion will restore your lipids and can keep your hands healthy for your guitar.
After cleansing with Guitar Hands®, your hands will feel cleaner, smoother, and silkier with much less friction between your fingers.
One person described it this way: When you use Guitar Hands®, it’s like having tiny little ball bearings for your fingers.
Your hands will move up and down the neck with less drag and less effort.
Your fingers will feel quicker and more comfortable when pressing, sliding, bending, hammering, and picking your guitar strings.
With Guitar Hands® you will press easier, and you will shift easier from position to position on your fretboard,
So, after a long studio session or gig you will notice less drag, less friction, and less soreness of your fingers.
Guitar Hands® will condition your calluses so they stay just right … not too soft and not too hard…
Finally, remember, you don't need to play guitar to enjoy Guitar Hands®. You don't need to have guitar hands to use Guitar Hands®. For a guitarist, it's all about how it makes their hands feel and play. If guitar players like Guitar Hands® Lotion, so will you... Because everyone, even if they don't play music, loves the feel of perfect hands. Guitar Hands® Lotion is healthy handcare for guitar players and their friends in the audience. Guitar Hands®... If guitar players love it, so will you! If you need help with your hands, ask your dermatologist, or visit Randy Jacobs, MD, FAAD at www.randyjacobsmd.com
For more info, read this review: http://mojaveampworks.com/2011/05/1336/