Monthly Archives: January 2019

Chrome Allergies: Pole’s Itchy Little Secret

(This article was originally posted on Bad Kitty’s blog, which is no longer active. I pulled an archived, early draft to repost here, since the demand for information is still high. It does not have quite as many photos or personal stories as the original, but much of the other information remains the same.)

As polers, we’re pretty used to a lot of body trauma: pole burns, righteous bruises, and general aches, pains, and whatnot. But, there is one itchy little subset of injuries that doesn’t get a lot of attention: “chrome” allergies.

What is a “chrome” allergy? In short, it is contact dermatitis due to an allergen. Although chrome itself can cause allergies, particularly in industrial uses, the prevailing theory in the pole world is that the allergic reactions dancers have to chrome poles is actually due to the nickel content found in the plating. According to the Mayo Clinic, nickel allergies and other metal allergies are among the most common causes of contact dermatitis. [1] Pole dancers who suffer from these allergies can have reactions ranging from itchy skin, to red patches, hives, and worse, depending on the level of allergy and duration of exposure.

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 3.16.03 pm

Photo from Michelle Stanek

About Metal Allergies

Metal allergies are more common than you’d think, with studies showing that anywhere from 10% to over 20% of the population may suffer from nickel allergies alone, and these allergies are reportedly on the rise. Women are reportedly more likely to suffer from metal allergies, in part because of the higher occurrence of piercings among females. [3] Within the pole community, some reactions may go unrecognized due to the lack of discussion around the topic. Anecdotal evidence shows that these types of allergies and reactions occur primarily after using chrome poles. Unfortunately, many studio poles in the US, Canada, and Mexico have poles made from chrome, and students with metal sensitivities may get the short end of the stick. They can enjoy class at their own peril and hope they get to a shower fast enough to wash their skin before the reaction begins. If they don’t, they are in for an ugly, painful, and itchy few days…often longer.

Allergic reactions (aka allergic contact dermatitis) can appear similar to irritant reactions (aka irritant contact dermatitis), with many of the same symptoms. A licensed allergist can administer a patch test to rule out allergies, but some differences include the severity of the reaction; the localization of the reaction (ACDs tend to be localized to the contact points, while ICDs are more wide-spread); and the swiftness with which the reaction occurs (ACDs tend to crop up 24 to 48 hours after exposure, while ICDs are more immediate). [2]

Research into how to treat the allergic reaction shows that the recommendation is to clean the skin as soon as possible after contact, then follow with a hydrocortisone cream. If you have a serious allergic break out that includes skin eruptions, you may need to consult your dermatologist for additional care, possibly including antibiotics to ward off a secondary infection.

Some recommended treatment tips from polers I spoke to include:

  • Bring alcohol wipes with you to class and wipe down your contact areas as soon as class ends – Follow up with a shower as soon as you are home/able
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Benadryl allergy gel (no greasy finish to worry about!)
  • Oatmeal lotion and oatmeal baths
  • Essential oils mixed in coconut oil and applied topically (A couple drops each of lavender, tea tree, and geranium oils works best)
  • Creams used for diaper rash (i.e. Zincofax or Penaten)
  • Topical steroids (requires prescription)
  • Chinese herbal remedies/detoxes

Unfortunately, there are not many ways to prevent an allergic reaction that don’t involve a) keeping your skin covered b) applying a lotion that will block the allergens, or c) using stainless steel poles. While poling in sticky pants can be an option for pole dancers, we all know that lotion and poling don’t mix. The best option is avoid chrome all together, which is pretty difficult if your home studio doesn’t offer stainless steel poles. In a city like Los Angeles, where there are many studios to choose from, it’s easier to avoid chrome if you need to do so. But in smaller markets, students with this allergy are likely to be stuck with chrome as their only poling option. Silicon coated or powder coated poles are also options, but again, these are difficult to find in most markets, particularly in a studio environment.

These allergies are so common that even world famous polers like Marlo Fisken, Bad Kitty® Brand Ambassadors Michelle Stanek, Lou Landers, and Nadia Sharif suffer from them. In Nadia’s case, her allergy was so serious that topical steroids failed to resolve her issues. After a follow up appointment with a doctor, she had a blood test that diagnosed her with metal toxicity. Due to the severity of her skin lesions, she was forced to take a 2 month hiatus from training while she healed. It began with training on old, chrome poles in humid weather; the first signs were sores and blisters on her hands and feet, but it soon progressed to cracked, bleeding skin that would not heal, despite the use of topical steroids. Nadia was able to get help through Chinese herbal detoxes, but she avoids chrome whenever possible; when she does have to train on chrome poles, she resumes her Chinese herbal treatments.*

In an effort to hear more about how contact dermatitis impacts polers at all levels, we reached out to polers across the US and into Mexico with the allergy. All of the respondents reported similar symptoms after using chrome poles, particularly in humid conditions: itchy, red rashes localized to contact areas such as armpits and torsos/sides, and in severe cases, vesicles (blisters), sores, and/or cracked skin that failed to heal. You can see a gallery of their photos at the end of this piece. One featured poler, Andrea Plancarte of Mexico, told us that her symptoms included itchiness, particularly on her contact points, with vesicles forming about a week after exposure. These vesicles eventually burst and cause erosion of the skin, with flaking and cracking skin scales that prevent her from poling. Her dermatologist recommended using only stainless steel or silicon coated poles for training, but she’s found it difficult to locate studios near her with stainless or silicon options.*

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Photo from Lara Michaels

How do poles cause allergic reactions?

To find out a little more about the science behind chrome use in poles, we sat down with an expert who not only has his PhD in Chemistry, but also has the good taste to be the significant other of a pole dancer! He helpfully laid out how these types of skin reactions could easily occur:

The chrome poles are almost certainly manufactured with nickel, as that’s what you electroplate chromium onto to get that classic “chromed” finish…So, you’re looking at chromium electroplated onto nickel. There is a very high probability that the contact dermatitis is being driven by a nickel allergy, not a chrome allergy. Nickel is a notorious allergen…and has been demonstrated to dissolve in water due to corrosion from extended contact with sweat. The most straightforward explanation is that the chromium is wearing off due to extended contact with skin/sweat, exposing the nickel and that’s what’s causing the problem.

But where does the chrome plating go? Dancers have been concerned that it may be absorbed through the skin, but our Chemist had this to say:

The takeaway here is that the rate of chromium oxidation is likely to be extremely low and very unlikely to be a health hazard. The first oxidation state of chromium (Chromium III) is very, very poorly absorbed across the skin and almost none of it will be generated in any case. What you’re seeing is very likely the chromium just coming off in microscopic particles due to friction – there’s probably a very light dusting of it on the studio floors…it is very, very, very unlikely to be absorbed into the body.

We also asked about how chrome poles become stripped, exposing the nickel plating, and his answer was fascinating. While the quality of the electroplating will have a lot to do with how quickly chrome will break down, the ultimate reason for the wear is that chrome requires care that is the opposite of how it is treated in pole. To maintain the shine and integrity of chrome, oil or wax is recommended, and polishing is discouraged. Between the use of alcohols and cleaners, to the friction created by skin grips, slides, and general contact with skin through movement, the chrome on poles is likely to not survive use in a pole dancing environment.

 

Why is chrome so prevalent?

Chrome is a popular finish for many pole dancers because of its grip / ability of the skin to stick to the pole without sliding. We reached out to leading US pole manufacturer, X Pole, to find out more about the pole finishes they offer. Until recently, X Pole offered only chrome options for their studio Build-A-Poles, but they do now have stainless steel 45mm Build-A-Poles available for studios in the US, as well as brass 45mm of the same style for Canada. Until demand grows, these options will remain limited to their respective North American markets, but they are available by inquiry (as of publication, neither option is listed on the US website). With the new stainless option, the main base pole is stainless, but the extensions for higher ceilings are chrome – again, until demand increases, this is unlikely to change. While X Pole’s home poles are made in a variety of finishes, home poles are not suitable for the battering that goes on in a studio environment.

Another reason why we see a lot of chrome? It’s usually priced more affordably than stainless. When starting a pole studio, there are a lot of expenses to factor in, and this is one way for studio owners to keep costs within budget. Many students prefer the grip of chrome to stainless or brass, so chrome can also be a crowd pleaser for those who do not suffer from metal sensitivities.

What are the alternatives?

The other main US brand, Platinum Stages (now owned by X Pole), does offer single piece, stainless steel poles for studios, but their poles are not as widely sold outside of major US markets, and therefore, not as easy to find. The company has also been plagued by customer service complaints, which has reportedly hurt their trustworthiness amongst studio owners. Lupit Poles are an excellent option for studio or home use, being that they are stainless and well made – their popularity in the US has grown over the last few years (since the original publication of this article), and they are my personal choice for a pole. A lesser known US brand with studio pole options is Pole Danzer, which offers 45mm and 50mm stainless or brass permanent mount poles, as well as some portable options. Unfortunately, based on our research, there is no 40mm stainless studio-quality option currently available on the US market.

What can you do?

If your studio has chrome poles, be sure to inspect them regularly. Stripping of the chrome actually worsens the allergic reaction for most sensitive students, so if you have an allergy and have to use chrome poles, look for the newer ones – the old poles will be more likely to trigger a reaction. In fact, you may not even show symptoms until you use an older pole! If you are a studio owner, be ready to replace your chrome poles as soon as they show signs of stripping: not only is it better for your students with the allergy, but it is better for your overall clientele, as stripped poles also lose their “stick.” To save a bit on replacing the entire pole or poles, you can also now purchase one of the stainless 8 foot sections from X Pole and swap it out for the stripped chrome ones on your existing poles. On a positive note, X Pole has increased the thickness of the chrome coating as a preventative measure for allergens due to older, stripped poles, should you prefer to stick with chrome for your studio.Until our industry makes the shift toward increasing the stainless options for studio use, those polers with allergies must be diligent in avoiding poles that trigger their reactions and take proper care of their skin after contact. It would behoove studio owners to educate themselves on the needs of their individual students and markets, and adjust their studio stock or maintenance routines accordingly. Hopefully, we can all work together to increase the demand for chrome alternatives and help solve this issue for good.*A disclaimer:

Please remember: each dancer is an individual, and while allergies exist and skin reactions may pop up, only a dermatologist, allergist, or licensed physician is qualified to diagnose the condition and cause. Not every dancer will react to chrome poles in the same fashion. For studio owners, we strongly recommend caution in exploring your options and best practices for your studio, students, and market.

Some additional resources regarding chrome and nickel allergies:

[compiling a list of links on nickel allergieschrome allergies, and contact dermatitis]

[1] Mayo Clinic – Nickel Allergy Definition

[2] Allergic Contact Dermatitis

[3] Detection of Nickel Allergy

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