Nothing is more frustrating than being unable to wear your engagement ring or other jewelry because it irritates your skin. Don’t worry. There are many options you have when faced with this problem.
The first step is to try to determine what the cause of the irritation is. There are actually several different possible causes and it’s easy to waste a lot of time and money trying different solutions if you don’t know what the true source of the problem is. There are two main types of irritation: 1) Physical irritation caused by the metal rubbing against the skin, and 2) allergic reactions to jewelry. These types of irritation can look very similar, but their root causes and solutions are very different.
This can be caused by the design of the ring, a rough area that is the result of normal wear and tear, or a ring that is not sized correctly. If the ring is too tight, it can cause irritation and the solution may simply be to size the ring up slightly. Likewise, if there is a rough spot on the ring, that can normally be smoothed out by a jeweler. Changes in diet can dramatically affect our finger sizes. So, if the ring has never caused irritation in the past, and suddenly it does, it’s possible that a change in diet (eating more salty foods for instance) has caused your finger to swell slightly.
Some people are allergic to certain metals that are used in jewelry. This can show up as a rash or discoloration of the skin which can begin hours or even days after contact and may last for several weeks. Some people’s skin even turns black or green when they wear certain jewelry.
One of the most common metal allergies is Nickel which is added to pure gold in many white gold alloys. The Nickel is what makes the gold white, but it can also cause an allergic reaction. Some people are allergic to silver and we have even known someone to be allergic to pure gold (yes, it’s possible). Determining the exact cause and solution of an allergic reaction is not as simple as it may seem.
Jewelry, especially white gold, is often plated to give it a brighter finish. White gold alloys are often plated with Rhodium which is a member of the Platinum family. People are unlikely to be allergic to Rhodium, but as the plating wears off, irritation can start due to the fact that the skin is now in direct contact with the Nickel (or other metal) that they are allergic to. Furthermore, some people have no reaction to standard gold alloys, but are allergic to gold solder which has a different mix of alloys than regular gold. Solder is often used when a ring is sized to bond the ring back together again. This can lead to a confusing situation where a ring suddenly begins to irritate someone after years of problem free wear. A change in diet, again, could also lead to irritation due to a change in the skin’s chemical composition.
Adding to the confusion, metal allergies can develop at any age. This means that even if nothing changed it is possible to suddenly become allergic to jewelry that you have been wearing trouble free for many years. and reactions to metals can begin hours to days after contact and may last for several weeks.
Before we move on to solution it is important to note that not all skin reactions to metal are necessarily allergies. For example, copper or metals that contain copper (like bronze) can cause the skin to turn green where the metal comes in contact with it. This isn’t an allergic reaction but a simple discoloration on top of the skin from the metal. Also, tarnish from silver jewelry can rub off and leave a blackish residue. In both cases, the color will easily wipe or wash off. You can avoid this type of discoloration simply by keeping your jewelry clean and tarnish free. It also helps to avoid exposing your jewelry to water or lotion. Check out our video on cleaning your jewelry at home for more tips and tricks here.
If you are experience an allergic reaction, solutions vary greatly depending on the cause of the reaction. The key is to try to determine what is causing the reaction. If, for example, the irritation started after the ring was sized or worked on, maybe you are allergic to the solder.
- Our shop has a laser welder which allows us to bond metal without using solder. So, if you determine that you are allergic to the solder in your ring, we can usually remove it and laser weld the ring back together.
- Sometimes, a regular schedule of plating can be enough to solve the problem. Depending on how allergic you are, plating may prevent irritation for a few weeks, six months, or more, or not at all.
- There are also anti-allergic coatings that can be added to jewelry to help alleviate reactions. They have mixed reviews, and, like plating, the coatings wear off over time. But, they can be enough to make jewelry wearable for some when plating alone fails. Clear nail polish is also very similar to these coatings, and you can definitely give that a try first if you have it on hand. Build up a few layers to insulate your skin from the metal.
- Sometimes, the only solution is to change to a ring made of a different metal that you aren’t allergic to. You can look at this as an opportunity to upgrade or try a new design. We do custom jewelry design, and one of our favorite projects is to take the raw materials (gold, diamonds, gemstones, etc.) from a client’s existing ring and use them to make a new and exciting creation. We can reuse the diamonds and gemstones and give credit for the metal that’s causing the allergic reaction while making the new ring out of a completely different metal.
Platinum is hypoallergenic and generally a safe bet for people with allergic reactions to metals. There are also alloys of white gold that do not include Nickel that can be used as an alternative. Our Star White Gold is a perfect example of this.
When you are deciding on a new metal, it may be best to borrow a ring made out of the material you are considering for a few days. That way, you can know for sure if it will irritate your skin. Once you have found the right metal, we can either recreate your existing ring in that metal, or start from scratch.
As a final reminder, we are jewelry experts, and we have seen a lot of irritation from jewelry over the years. But, we are not doctors, and if you have a severe allergic reaction, it would probably be best to consult a dermatologist. Feel free to comment or contact us with any questions you have. Also, please visit the shop to get our advice on what the best solution for your particular issue is.