Have you ever wondered why the ring you are wearing is leaving a discolored mark on your finger? I’m not talking about the white mark on your skin where the ring sits. That’s just your skin reacting to the moisture trapped between the ring and your finger, kind of like when you have a bandage around your finger too long. I’m talking about a black or green discoloration. Most people assume this means the ring they are wearing is low quality or contains toxic materials. The truth is these are just chemical reactions to the non-precious metals, such as nickel or copper, used in your ring’s alloy mixture.

14k white gold rings tend to discolor your fingers most. This usually happens after the rhodium plating wears off and you can start to see the yellow color of the gold underneath. Rhodium is a metal from the platinum group of metals that is used to plate white gold rings so they appear white. Rhodium is an inert element, which means it does not react with other chemicals. Once the rhodium wears away, the other metals alloyed with the gold are now exposed to the hundreds and thousands of chemicals we come in contact with in our daily lives. Most chemicals we come in contact with are not harmful to us, but they may have undesirable reactions with the jewelry we wear.

One chemical that is very common in our everyday lives is chlorine. It is in swimming pools, hot tubs, and tap water. Chlorine is probably the most harmful chemical to jewelry. It easily eats away gold and silver. When swimming or spending time in the hot tub, it is always best to remove your jewelry.

Another common source for chemicals that may be reacting with your ring is cosmetics and lotions. Many of the lotions and creams that we use contain minerals that are extremely hard and wear away jewelry at a microscopic level. This is called “metallic abrasion”. When this happens, tiny metallic particles from the ring are worn off on to your skin. Then the tiny particles react with chemicals that we come in contact with and form a black dust or film, which is the discoloration you see. When applying creams, lotions or make up, it is best to remove your jewelry. If that is too much of a hassle, you may consider switching to another brand to see if that stops the problem.

One source of chemicals that we cannot avoid is the perspiration from our own skin. The alloys in white gold and sterling silver can easily react to our skin’s sweat and acids. Alloys like nickel and copper can cause allergic reactions, which turn your skin green or black. Nickel is a common alloy used in white gold and tungsten carbide rings. Copper is commonly used in sterling silver. If you are one of the few people who have an allergy to nickel, you may want to consider platinum or palladium wedding bands, as these two metals are not alloyed with nickel. A more affordable alternative is cobalt chrome rings. Recently, a new silver alloy has emerged, which does not tarnish like traditional sterling silver rings. This alloy is called Argentium Silver. It uses germanium as an alloy instead of copper. This type of silver alloy does not tarnish and will not react with your skin’s acids.

Different metals react to different things. So, whatever your concern may be talk to your jeweler about what metal type will best suit your requirements. It may turn out no metal is suitable for you. In that case, there is always non-metal jewelry like ceramic rings.