If you've ever taken off your favorite ring only to discover an ugly-looking dark green band of skin underneath, you're not alone. While not common, a green or black discoloration of the skin is a possible consequence of wearing metal rings. While unattractive, that green mark on your finger is harmless. It's not permanent, although it may take a while to fade -- and, of course, if you keep wearing your rings, it will keep coming back until you find a solution.
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Precious metals such as gold or copper are almost always alloyed with another metal to provide extra strength and durability. Unfortunately, alloys containing copper and nickel can cause skin discoloration. Many people are allergic to nickel, and an allergic reaction can cause your skin to turn green or black. If your skin is particularly acidic, it can react with the alloy and also cause your skin to change color. Choose an alloy free of nickel or copper if possible. You can also try wearing a ring with a higher carat of gold -- 18 carat instead of 14 carat -- or switching to a platinum or stainless steel ring.
If you're an avid swimmer, remove your rings before diving in. The chlorine in swimming pools can react with the metal of your jewelry to cause skin discoloration. What's worse, chlorine can eat away at both gold and silver rings, leaving them pitted and brittle. Saltwater can also cause reactions with gold and silver that result in greenish skin. It's a good idea to take off your rings and other jewelry and store them safely before entering the water.
Chemical Cleaners and Cosmetics
Sometimes the chemicals in cosmetics such as body lotions can react with the metals in your rings to cause your skin to turn green. Another culprit may be the chemicals in certain household cleaners -- bleach and its high chlorine content is a big suspect here. Remove your rings before doing your household chores just in case, and wash your hands thoroughly with mild soap and water before putting them back on.
An Ounce of Prevention
In addition to removing your rings when you'll encounter known hazards such as chlorinated pools, you can take some easy preventative measures to keep skin discoloration at bay. Remove your rings when sleeping, and clean your rings regularly to keep them free of dirt and perspiration, which can also contribute to the problem. Mild dish soap and a soft cloth will do the job just fine.
If simple prevention doesn't seem to be working, you can have your rings coated with a protective layer of rhodium on the inside. Rhodium is a metal closely related to platinum; it forms a bright silvery barrier that prevents the chemical reactions that turn your skin green. For a quick fix, a thin coat of clear nail polish can help, but it will soon flake off and need to be reapplied.