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Wedding Ring Rash: What Is It and How to Prevent It

Wedding rings have symbolized blissful unions for thousands of years. According to the ancient Egyptians, a vein of love linked the fourth finger of the left hand to the heart. Unfortunately, it’s hard to contemplate the rich history of that marital tradition or even a bright future with your spouse when wearing the ring is giving you a rash. You are understandably reluctant to shed what is supposed to be a symbol of everlasting love. 

On the other hand, you don’t like shedding skin, either. And a burning sensation tends to take the shine off the most gorgeous jewelry. As you frantically scratch at the itchy rash blossoming around your ring, take comfort. Wedding ring rash is a common affliction, but it’s also a preventable one.

So, What Exactly Is Wedding Ring Rash?

In short, wedding ring rash is a form of contact dermatitis. If the words “allergic contact dermatitis” sound like gibberish, all you need to know is that’s what’s behind most minor forms of skin irritation. Some outside force is upsetting your skin and the result is a less than sightly — and not at all fun — spot of irritation or rash.

Causes of Wedding Ring Rash

When a case of wedding ring rash crosses the desk of your dermatologist, it might also get tagged as wedding ring dermatitis. As you probably know, dermatitis is just a general term for any kind of skin irritation, but when the ring finger is the scene of the crime, you can round up a pair of usual suspects. 

If the rash is classified as contact dermatitis, you are likely experiencing an allergic reaction to the metal in the ring itself, usually nickel or gold. Or the irritation might be from occlusion dermatitis, which is a fancy way to say that the ring got too dirty for too long and now your skin is breaking out. 

Causes of Wedding Ring Rash

Metal Allergy

The lion’s share of wedding ring rashes can be blamed on nickel allergies. Because gold is so malleable, most gold rings contain nickel to ensure that lifelong symbol goes the distance. But according to the American Academy of Dermatology, the number of people in North America who suffer an allergic reaction to nickel might be as high as 18 percent. 

And just leaving nickel out isn’t necessarily a solution — some people also have allergic reactions to gold. Metal allergies are one reason that plenty of folks are steering clear of metal jewelry altogether and choosing silicone wedding bands.

Shop Our Collection of Silicone Wedding Rings

What does it mean if you’ve had the ring for years, but the rash only cropped up last week? Three possibilities come to mind. You might be one of the unlucky few ring wearers who develop a nickel allergy over time. That’s bad news because your new allergy will likely only get worse. What started out as an intermittent visitor will settle in as a chronic condition. Even though you didn’t purchase a nickel ring, some rings have trace amounts of nickel in them, especially if they’re plated. If you think you might have a nickel allergy, make sure to buy a pure metal. Stainless steel, high-purity gold and silicone rings are all great options for those with a nickel allergy.

The second possibility is that the ring had a protective coating to shield you from the nickel, and that layer has deteriorated. 

Last, the ring might have gradually added a layer of grime, like a build-up of soap, lotion, or even dirt, which has pushed the skin past its breakout point. 

Washing hands

Improper Cleaning

What kind of cleaning routine breakdown forced the skin to break out in protest, especially when you regularly wash your hands? That hand washing might contribute to the problem. Some of the dead skin and soap residue that would ordinarily rinse off in the sink gets trapped beneath the ring. 

In 2020, “maskne” swamped the global lexicon because holding skin grime hostage in a moisture-rich environment creates an incubation tank for bacteria. That bacteria unleashes breakouts that are further inflamed when a bit of foreign material scrapes back and forth against the problem area over a work shift. Unlike with an oyster producing a pearl, the byproduct of this irritating friction is referred to as acne mechanica, and it is the curse of sweaty chin straps and headbands everywhere. 

Unlike masks that you eventually take off, the work shift of a wedding ring is … the rest of your life. So if your hygiene routine doesn’t include removing the ring for a deep clean, that build-up of skin debris and soap scum paves the way for dermatitis. 

showing hands

Determining If You Have Wedding Ring Rash

It’s usually pretty easy to determine that the rash is ring-related since it is usually localized to the area right beneath or around the band. Unless you are garlanding your princess cut stone with poison ivy, the ring is the root of the problem, and you can generally assume that it is a metal allergy or improper cleaning. However, there are a few exceptions to this general rule.

It’s worth noting that wedding ring rash is different from the phenomena of green skin stains caused by the oxidation of silver and copper. A band of green skin might be aesthetically displeasing, but it isn’t as physically uncomfortable. 

What about swelling from a ring that is simply too tight or chafing from a ring that is too loose?  If you’ve been putting off getting your ring correctly sized after cramming it over a knuckle or you’ve been leaning on temporary fixes to a spinning ring as if they were permanent solutions, your finger will pay the price. Both of these scenarios can be exceedingly uncomfortable, but they don’t technically fall into the ring rash category and can be quickly identified. 

So, Why Is My Ring Turning My Finger Green?

While it is possible for a metal allergy to develop over time, the onset of skin irritation usually occurs within 12-48 hours of contact. If you’ve noticed a similar response to other objects that might contain nickel — belt buckles, watch bands, cell phones, etc. — you likely have a nickel allergy. But just to make sure, your dermatologist can administer a test by placing a special nickel patch on your skin and evaluating the reaction. 

If the irritation gradually worsens over time, and you realize that it has been a while since you took off your ring — let alone cleaned it — then occlusion dermatitis becomes the obvious villain.

Wedding Ring Rash Prevention

Hypo-Allergenic Security

Hypo-Allergenic Security

The easiest way to avoid an allergic reaction to ring material is to select a hypoallergenic ring. Not only does our rhodium plating protect our rings from the elements when it comes to scratches or tarnishing, but it also protects your finger from the ring if you have an allergy to nickel. Oh and, by the way, no green fingers here! Furthermore, we take the hassle out of returns and exchanges, so if your finger’s irritation is caused by a sizing mistake, it’s easy to put it right. 

If you have sensitive skin and you have already invested in a ring that is causing an allergic reaction, you can try applying a thin coating of clear nail polish to the inside of the ring so that the nickel doesn’t remain in contact with your skin. Or you can see if a jeweler can add rhodium plating for a longer-term buffer. 

Everything You Need to Know About Rhodium Plating

Finally, you might consider a secondary ring. If you want to really invest in affordable ring comfort, you can always choose the silicone wedding band option that has become so popular with medical professionals and other ring wearers who work with their hands or lead an active lifestyle. Don’t be surprised if its flexible, rash-free fit makes it your go-to. 

If you have a special wedding or engagement ring already, our rings make great secondary options, too! Find an affordable engagement ring or wedding ring set that is just as beautiful as your original ring. Our rings may be affordable, but they don’t compromise on quality and shine!

Ring Hygiene

Ring Hygiene

If the source of the reaction isn’t the ring itself but the other gunk that has gathered against it, just make sure you regularly remove your ring and clean it — along with the part of the finger that is usually covered. It can get pretty gross under there, as this disturbing study on the transmission of hand bacteria demonstrates. That means that you need to make sure you have a ring that can be easily removed and cleaned (see above). Our men’s titanium wedding bands set a standard for streamlined durability.

Of course, when you clean your ring and that little groove in your skin where it usually rests, make sure you aren’t using anything that will irritate the skin. Metal isn’t the only material that can get a rise out of the epidermis. Skincare products like soap and sunscreen can antagonize the thing they are supposed to protect. 

And here’s a twist: Frequent handwashing with antibacterial soaps and sanitizers can dry out the skin. Moisture may encourage bacteria, but hydration sustains the skin, so dry hands are unhealthy hands. The important thing is to maintain the skin’s natural balance, so cultivate a regular, gentle routine that involves a hypoallergenic hand cream.

You shouldn’t let a gross towel or mildewed loofah undo the labor of a cleansing shower, so don’t put a dirty ring back on a clean finger. You can check our full breakdown of ring cleaning care at home. If you want a quick summary, we recommend starting with a cup of warm (not hot) water and half a teaspoon of mild dish soap (as opposed to a cleaner with harsh chemicals that can damage the ring or irritate your skin). Pour both into a bowl and then drop in your ring, letting it sit for just under five minutes. Tenderly scrub with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Wrap up with a warm water rinse and polish dry with a microfiber cloth.

Learn How to Clean Your Engagement Ring Properly

Wedding Ring Rash Treatment

But what about the rash itself? If the rash is caused by poor hygiene, the best care involves just keeping the area clean and steering clear of anything that might rub it the wrong way for about a week. A topical steroid or cream that you can get from any pharmacy will often clear this up quickly and easily.

If the rash is being caused by an allergy, you can get some immediate relief from an over-the-counter cortisone cream. Applying it once or twice a day should reduce the visible redness and soothe the irritation. For that itchy sensation, doctors will often recommend antihistamine pills like Benadryl or Claritin. It could take two to four weeks for the allergic reaction to vanish entirely.

The Evermore + The Sadie + The Excalibur

When to Seek Professional Help

If your home remedies aren’t making much headway on the ring’s grime, it might be time to take it in for a professional cleaning. This is actually just a good habit to get into for the long-term health of your ring anyway. Even if you aren’t getting irritations from it (or aren’t anymore), a professional cleaning once or twice a year will keep your ring in better shape for longer. If you don’t want to go the professional route, be very sure that you’re getting a top-tier home jewelry cleaning solution and using it exactly how it’s intended.

And if, despite your prevention strategies, the rash appears to be getting worse or you begin developing blisters, you should probably consult a doctor for medical advice — who is probably wearing one of those silicone rings. They can prescribe stronger doses, confirm metal allergies and diagnose rare conditions. If it’s found that you have a metal allergy or other more minor sensitivity, you aren’t forced to put the ring away. While you probably won’t want it for everyday wear, you may be able to get away with it for a few hours at formal events without much irritation.

The Egyptians may have drawn a line from the ring finger to the heart, but we know jewelry can tug on the conscience as well. If the itch of the ring has nothing to do with skin irritation, but rather anxiety over the source of the material, Modern Gents provides the soothing guarantee of ethical production and quality craftsmanship.

Shop All Affordable, High-Quality Rings from Modern Gents

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