When Your Jewelry Bites Back

August 17, 2011 | By | Comments (10)

It’s been just three years since I got married, so I know I’m nowhere near the seven-year itch (both chronologically and because I’m still totally hooked on my husband) but there’s no mistaking the fact that my ring finger is…well, itching!

Alas, for the last few months, every time I try to wear either of my rings (engagement or wedding band) I’ve ended up with a scaly, red rashy spot right underneath. Strange! Searches on the Internet yielded confusing results and a few possible culprits, as well as a name for the problem: “wedding ring rash.”

Turns out, the most common reason for the sudden problem is the metal nickel, says dermatologist Jeannette Graf, an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and in private practice in Great Neck, New York. Nickel is one of the most common skin allergens and it is found in a wide array of everyday products. Quite often it is found in gold and silver jewelry and oddly enough, constant or repeated exposure can result in sensitization even after after years of wearing the same item of jewelry!

“We are actually seeing more of it lately,” says Graf, “probably due to all of the piercings of various parts of the body.  The initial piercing and immediate fresh exposure to skin with some bleeding involved may increase the rate of sensitization and allergy.”

A second culprit, if you determine that there’s no nickel in your ring: plain old grime! A build-up of soap, dirt and moisture accompanied by rubbing under the ring can cause some irritation to the skin as well.

But wait? I thought my ring was platinum?! Platinum is known for being safe for sensitive skin; it rarely causes allergies. Well, unfortunately in some cases the platinum is only 95% pure, says Graf, meaning it may have other alloys or metals in it, including palladium, ruthenium titanium, nickel, gold or copper. So while platinum itself rarely causes the rash, the particular alloy might so you may want to find out from the jeweler if this is the case.

The remedy: First, give your finger a break from the troublesome bauble. Applying an OTC cortisone cream should also help tamp down the irritation and ensure the area fully heals.

Next, do a thorough cleaning of the item. Graf recommends using a jewelry cleaner that has an ammonia base, to really eradicate any embedded dirt. Be sure to rinse it well of the solution before putting back on.

And finally, you should take it to the jeweler to see if the platinum contains any metal alloys and then inquire about coating the item with rhodium. While some people have found relief by simply brushing on a coat of clear nail polish, Graf says rhodium is a stronger, longer-lasting fix. “This coating will protect the skin from exposure to the problem-causing alloy,” says Graf.  “If and when the rash reappears that just means the rhodium has worn off – and you can simply get it recoated.”