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 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 scaly patch blossoming around your ring, take comfort. Wedding ring rash is a common affliction, but it’s also a preventable one.
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 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.
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 eighteen percent.
And just leaving nickel out isn’t necessarily a solution — some people have allergic reactions to gold as well. Metal allergies are one reason that plenty of folks are steering clear of metal jewelry altogether and choosing silicone wedding bands.
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.
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 which has pushed the skin past its breakout point.
What kind of cleaning routine breakdown forced the skin to break out in protest, especially when you wash your hands so regularly? That handwashing 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.
This past year, “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 only further inflamed when a bit of foreign material scrapes back and forth against the problem area over the course of 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.
But even if you biked to work every day during the height of the pandemic, you still removed your helmet and mask every day. 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.
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 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.
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
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 right.
If 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.
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!
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 moisturizer.
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.
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.
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 2-4 weeks for the allergic reaction to vanish entirely.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your own efforts aren’t making much headway on the ring’s grime, it might be time to take it in for a professional cleaning. And if, despite your prevention strategies, the rash appears to be getting worse or you begin developing blisters, you should probably consult a doctor — who is probably wearing one of those silicone rings. They can prescribe stronger doses, confirm metal allergies and diagnose rare conditions.
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.