Why Would Gold Rings Turn Fingers Black?

By Parul Gupta

Gold is one of the most coveted metals in the world, much loved for its lustrous appearance, and gold rings are a favorite jewelry item. However, it is not uncommon to notice a blackening of the skin underneath the ring. This has prompted people to question the purity of the gold, but there are really several other factors that are responsible for this.

close-up of a man's hand putting a diamond engagement ring a woman's finger
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woman putting on gold ring

Properties of Gold

Gold bars
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gold bars

Gold is a malleable and ductile metal, which means it can be easily beaten into thin sheets or drawn into wires. It is also very soft. On the Mohs scale of hardness, it has a value of 2 to 2.5, while diamond, the hardest material in the world, has a value of 10. Gold is also chemically inert and does not corrode or tarnish. It has a deep yellow color and is very reflective, which helps it retain its brightness. Gold is also very scarce.

Gold in Jewelry

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gold jewelry

It is gold's malleability, ductility and and reflectivity that make it suitable to mold into jewelry. Its scarcity makes it expensive. Gold's softness means most jewelers have to mix it with other metals like silver, copper, and nickel to make it hard and more resistant to damage. The purity of gold is measured in karats. One karat is 4.166 per cent gold by weight. 24 karat is 100 per cent pure gold. Jewelry is usually 14 or 18 karats or less. 14 karat gold is really 58 percent gold and 42 percent other metals. These other metals in gold jewelry often cause skin blackening.

Atmospheric Reaction

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coastal living

The sulphur, chlorine and other elements in the atmosphere react with the copper, silver or nickel in the gold jewelry and cause it to corrode. This results in gold rings and other pieces of gold jewelry turning black and in turn blackening the skin. This has been known to happen in coastal regions where there is a lot of salt and therefore chlorine in the atmosphere.

Wear and Tear

Man with gold rings
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man with many gold rings on fingers

Often gold rings and other pieces of jewelry are really gold-plated. Gold being soft, the plating wears off due to abrasion, and the metal underneath is then exposed. This metal then reacts with the skin and the atmosphere and causes blackening.The abrasion could be caused by chemicals or harsh cleansers. Sometimes it is the fine metal dust that has been scrubbed off that appears black.


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woman about to use make-up primer

Make-up can also be a cause of wear and tear in jewelry. Make-up consists of minute abrasive particles that can scratch jewelry and expose the base metal or generate fine dust that looks black.


Jogger wiping face with towel, Murcia, Spain
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woman wiping off sweat

Sweat and acids released by the body when perspiring could react with the gold alloy and discolor jewelry.


Healthcare worker washing hands in hospital
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woman washing hands

Often rhodium is used to plate jewelry to prevent chemical reactions in the metal. Care should be taken when using make-up. It is advisable to remove gold jewelry while applying cosmetics and washing hands well to rid them of make-up before putting on the jewelry again. It is also advisable to wash gold jewelry with an appropriate cleaning solution to remove sweat and dirt that may have settled on it.