What to Do When Your Ring Irritates Your Skin

Causes and solutions for physical irritation and allergic reactions to jewelry

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.

Nickel in jewelry can cause allergic reactions
Nickel is a jewelry metal that many are allergic to. Photo by Alchemist-hp (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Physical Irritation

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.

Allergic Reactions

Some people are allergic to certain metals that are used in jewelry. This can show up as a rash or discoloration of the skin. Some people’s skin even turns black or green when they wear certain jewelry.

Skin irritation that could be caused by jewelry. Photo by Blausen.com staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. (Own work) CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Skin irritation that could be caused by jewelry. Photo by Blausen.com staff. Blausen gallery 2014. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. (Own work) CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Solutions for allergic reactions 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.
  • 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.

What people are saying

  1. jackie says:

    Hi, I have recently had my white gold ring resized and they said they rhodium plated it, but ever since I get a reaction to it, skin gets sore and lumpy and very itchy.
    Any ideas please.

    • Hi Jackie, thanks for commenting. If the problems have just started showing up after the sizing, you might be allergic to something in the solder. Depending on how allergic you are, you can still have a reaction even with rhodium plating.

      It is possible to fuse metal without using solder. We use our laser welder to do it, and there are other techniques to do it using only a torch. You could ask the jeweler who sized it if they can try to remove all of the solder and fuse the metal directly. If that’s not one of their skill sets (not all jewelers use that technique and if the ring has gemstones it may not be possible without a laser welder), you can always shop around for a jeweler who can do it.

      Hopefully that helps a little, and we wish you the best with your ring.

  2. Louise says:

    I have been wearing my wedding ring and guard for 2-1/2 years now, just recently I have been having a rash or irritation on my finger. No change in soaps or lotions. I think the ring is 10k white gold, not sure if I can be allergic to 10k and not 14k white gold. I normally where 14k white gold. Thoughts?

    • Hi Louise, that is a tough one. There could be a couple factors at play. First, our body chemistry can change over time, and you can become allergic to something that you weren’t allergic to before. Second, it is definitely possible to be allergic to 10k and not 14k because 10k contains a higher percentage of the alloys (e.g. Nickle) that are most likely to cause a reaction. Third, the ring guard could also be a factor. Most ring guards are made out of base metals that you are much more likely to be allergic to than karat gold.

      With all of that said, some experimentation might be in order. Try to wear the ring without the ring guard for a while if you can (maybe you can get it sized). Try to wear an alternative ring in 14k white gold for a while. Try to wear an alternative ring in platinum if you have one available. Try getting the ring rhodium plated at a local jeweler. Try coating the inside of the ring with clear nail polish or the similar product we mention in the article. If none of those suggestions work, it might be time to see a dermatologist depending on how severe the irritation is. Remember we can’t give medical advice, so these are just some suggestions from our experience.

      We wish you the best, and please post back if you are able to solve your problem.

  3. Jen says:

    Hello. My engagement ring is causing major problems on my pinky finger. It’s 100% white gold with diamonds. It really does break the skin on my pinky and cause the skin to tear. Does this seem like an allergy? Or is it just roughing up the pinky finger because it is a lot of friction against it? Thank you for your time!

    • Hi Jen, thanks for commenting, and I’m sorry to hear about your ring. If the ring is causing your skin to tear, that definitely sounds more like physical irritation than an allergic reaction. One good indication of if you are allergic would be to check for irritation on the other fingers that the ring touches. If your ring finger and middle finger are ok, then you are most likely not allergic. You might consider taking the ring to a local jeweler that has repair facilities to see if they can smooth it out or adjust it so that it doesn’t irritate your pinky finger. Hopefully that helps, and feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions.

  4. Tamara says:

    Hello, I was engaged for a year and it will be a year in August since I have been married. I’ve had the ring for over two years.

    Suddenly over the past few weeks my rings have been itching and irritating my finger. I have a scaly rash, welts around my finger and my finger swells. I love my rings and I hate that I can’t wear them right now.

    • Hi Tamara, thanks for commenting, and I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Sometimes a change in diet or soap can bring on a change in body chemistry causing your skin to react to your jewelry that wasn’t a problem before, so that’s one thing to consider.

      It seems more likely though that your rings were plated, and now the plating has started to wear off. Two years is a long time for plating to last, but it is possible (especially if the plating was very heavy). To test this theory, you can have your rings replated where you bought them (or at a local jeweler if that’s not possible). Once, they are replated, give some time for the swelling to go down and then try to wear them again. If you don’t react, you know that you are allergic to the metal the rings are made out of, and that you need to have them plated regularly.

      If you do react, try to think back to any changes that happened in the past few weeks that could have brought this on (diet, hygiene routine, etc.) and do some experiments. Of course, the best advice may be to consult a dermatologist who would be able to scientifically identify the problem and recommend solutions. Hopefully that helps, and we wish you the best with your jewelry.

  5. Daniella says:

    Have you ever put a thin platinum band inside of a ring? I LOVE my Rose Gold engagement ring, however it is turning my finger black. I don’t particularly want to re coat this all the time – and I need to decide on a wedding band next. Ideally, I also want a rose gold wedding band.

    I have been told different things with regards to a laser being able to add a thin band of platinum on the inside as a permanent solution.

    Really appreciate your thoughts on this.

    • Hi Daniella, thanks for commenting. We actually have done similar things in the past for people who are allergic to metals in the their rings. Essentially, we take a thin strip of platinum (or another metal that you aren’t allergic to) and overlay it on the inside of the ring. It is generally quite successfully as long as you aren’t “too allergic.” Some people have very intense reactions to metals and while the inside of the ring will be shielded, the outside will still come in contact with the other fingers in your hand. For some people, this minor contact is not an issue at all, and for some it can still cause a reaction. Feel free to contact us if you would like to talk more about doing this type of thing with your rings.

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