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Are Your Headphones Causing Rashes? Here’s What We Know

Written by: Jasmine Chiam
Headphones Causing Rashes

A good pair of gaming headphones can enhance your gameplay, foster great communication with teammates, and give you a fully immersive gaming experience. They’re a worthy investment to make for any competitive gamer, esports athlete, or gaming enthusiast. But what if your favorite pair of headphones began stirring up some trouble?

Headphone rashes are not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, many gamers and music enthusiasts alike have experienced this issue across various headphone brands.

Eliminating the use of headphones from your gaming activities is a surefire way of solving the problem, but this may not be a feasible option for all gamers. Because headphones may be a staple of your gaming arsenal, let’s explore the different ways you can deal with rashes caused by their use.

Why do Headphone Rashes Happen?

There are various reasons why your headphones or headset could cause rashes on your skin, and below we covered the four most common ones:

  • If you currently have a skin condition, such as seborrheic dermatitis or eczema, dirty headphones could lead to rashes. Long-term use of the same pair of headphones (without much cleaning) could lead to the accumulation of earwax, microbes, dirt, and sweat, which may aggravate your skin and lead to a flare-up.
  • Perhaps, the cleaning solution that you use is too harsh and might cause allergic reactions. Some of the most common cleaning agents people use on headphones include rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and even diluted bleach. Rubbing alcohol and bleach, for instance, are common irritants that could trigger contact dermatitis [4, 5].
  • You might have an allergy to some of the materials. Many manufacturers do not release detailed information publicly about the materials and chemicals used to build their headphones. But nickel, cobalt, 4-tert-butyl-phenol, and chromium are some chemicals found in materials used to manufacture earphones. These raise the biggest issue for concern regarding allergic reactions [2, 3]. Depending on the brand and company, these substances may or may not be present in large enough amounts to trigger an allergic reaction.
  • You could very well be experiencing a case of contact dermatitis, a common inflammatory skin disease. Contact dermatitis happens as a result of getting into contact with a substance or chemical that causes an allergic reaction. It only affects the skin region that has been directly exposed to the causative agent, and symptoms such as rashes may take minutes to hours to develop [1].

Associated Symptoms

The symptoms you experience would usually be symptoms of contact dermatitis. You’ll typically notice symptoms such as red patches (rashes) around or in the ears, which can look rather inflamed. The affected skin may become dry, cracked, and scaly, and sometimes, you’ll experience itching that can become rather severe. The area typically feels hot and tender, and in some cases, there may be blisters and oozing involved [6].

This list of symptoms is not exhaustive. They may appear the first time you use a brand new set of headphones or may develop out of the blue from the same pair of headphones you’ve been using for years. On-ear, over-ear, and in-ear headphones can all lead to rashes.

Having your symptoms checked out by a healthcare professional is the safest route to take, especially if they get concerning or don’t go away after a week. If you notice ear discharge, itching, inflammation, or pain, it could be an indication of a bacterial or fungal infection of the ear rather than an allergic reaction.

How To Treat & Prevent Headphone Rashes

These are some ways you can tackle and prevent headphone rashes, but it may take some experimentation to pinpoint the root cause of the problem and find an effective solution for it.

  • Cleaning your headphones would be the first step, especially if you’ve been using them for months without any proper upkeeping. This is an extra plus if you know you sweat a lot during intense gaming sessions. Though research hasn’t explicitly proven that dirt and sweat buildup on your headphones is a direct cause of rashes, it’s best practice to keep your headphones clean nonetheless. This keeps your gaming equipment in tip-top shape and may reduce the risk of any ear or skin-related condition. If you use your headphones frequently, it’s best to clean them once a week. You could opt for rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to use with a cloth or cotton earbuds. But if you would like a more detailed guide, you can check out this article: Cleaning your gaming station.
  • Exchanging materials would be the second step. Here you have two options, depending on the manufacturer. You could either switch your earcups from one material to another (e.g. from mesh textile to foam or leather, or vice versa). In case you’re bald and the allergy extends over your scalp, you’d most likely need to get a completely new pair. From our own experience, real leather causes the least amount of trouble, but for more recommendations check out our article on the latest and best gaming headphones for that.
  • If your symptoms prolong or worsen after all these measures, seek professional advice from a dermatologist. Your headphones might not be the direct cause of the issue, but rather a trigger. In any case, it’s best to bring them to your doctor, along with your medications list (if you’re on any drugs). Your physician may also inquire about the skincare products you use. After a diagnosis is made, they may prescribe you some medications to deal with the itch and rash.

If the likely diagnosis is some type of dermatitis, then an OTC shampoo that contains ketoconazole or corticosteroid cream will be prescribed. Depending on the severity of the rashes, the potency of the cream will differ. This medication helps combat the itch and inflammation involved, but it’s crucial that you don’t use it without consulting a dermatologist first [8].


Headphone rashes are typically caused by an allergic reaction to the causative agent. In some cases, the materials used to manufacture the headphones are responsible for causing rashes. In other instances, you could be allergic to the cleaning substance used on your headphones. You may have some form of dermatitis, which leaves your skin easily aggravated by various materials, chemicals, or dirt buildup.

In the event that the rashes do not subside after a week or two, ensure you seek professional medical advice. Other symptoms such as ear discharge and ear pain also warrant a doctor’s visit. In any case, it’s best to veer on the side of safety when managing health concerns, even when they may not be life-threatening. After all, gaming with red, hot, and itchy ears doesn’t sound like the most pleasant experience!

Disclaimer: This is an educational post on managing headphone rashes. It should not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. EsportsHeadlines.com and the author of this post disclaim any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, as it is not meant for diagnostic or treatment purposes.