Wedding ring rash, also known as wedding ring dermatitis, is the nickname for the commonly occurring skin rash that affects the skin directly underneath the band of a ring. Those who suffer from sensitive skin, allergies, eczema, or atopic dermatitis are more susceptible to wedding ring rash.
You can usually identify wedding ring rash by its tendency to produce itchy, reddish, bumpy skin rash. The irritation is usually in the shape of the ring or that may affect the skin area under the ring, as well as the immediate surrounding area.
Many times, the condition will not persist in its early stages; the rash may come and go of its own accord for a while and then eventually become a chronic condition.
It's no surprise that wedding ring rash occurs most commonly for married women. However, it is possible for anybody who wears a ring for a prolonged period of time to develop wedding ring rash.
What Are the Causes of Wedding Ring Rash?
The most common causes of wedding ring rash are the following: either an allergy to the metal which the ring is made out of or a reaction to the buildup of debris, soap, moisture, lotion, dead skin, or other such material under the ring, which may cause bacterial growth and skin irritation.
The first cause, an allergy to the metal found in the ring itself, is fairly common. Many wedding rings are made partially of nickel. Gold is a highly popular choice of metal for wedding rings, but pure 24 karat gold is extremely soft and malleable.
In order to make gold harder, many jewelers will combine the gold with another metal (such as nickel) to form an alloy.
It is estimated that between 10 percent and 20 percent of the population is allergic to nickel. (We actually just covered this topic in an article we wrote about rose gold allergies.)
Even if a person is not initially allergic to nickel, it is entirely possible for that person to develop an allergy to nickel later in life or after prolonged exposure to the metal. There is no cure for a nickel allergy, so once a person develops a sensitivity to nickel, he or she will remain allergic to it for the duration of his or her life.
Allergies to other metals, such as silver or gold, are far less common (almost unheard of). In fact, most people who believe they are allergic to silver or gold are actually allergic to nickel, since trace amounts of nickel find their way into the silver or the gold due to the casting and manufacturing process.
In addition to nickel, other possible metal allergens include cobalt and chromates.
We recommend reading this guide by American Medical ID if you suspect you have some type of metal allergy.
The other cause of wedding ring rash is a skin reaction to the buildup of soap, moisture, or other debris under the ring. Constantly wearing a wedding ring gives the skin underneath little room to breathe or air itself out.
Moisture (from washing your hands with your ring on, for example) can thus remain trapped underneath the ring. This moisture can irritate the skin and cause the wedding ring rash.
Lotion and dead skin cells can also become trapped under the ring, serving as a welcoming home for bacterial growth, which can also cause the skin irritation.
Even soap can be a cause: detergent or particularly sudsy soap can become trapped under the ring and irritate the skin.
How to Deal with Wedding Ring Rash
Dealing with a Nickel Allergy
If you suspect that your wedding ring rash is due to an allergy to nickel, consult doctor, particularly a dermatologist or one who specializes in allergies. The doctor will sometimes be able to tell just by looking at your skin if you suffer from a nickel allergy or not.
If the doctor is not immediately able to diagnose a nickel allergy, he or she can perform a patch test on you to determine exactly what you are allergic to. During a patch test, the doctor will place tiny amounts of allergens on your skin and cover each area with a patch. (Even if a person has a severe allergy to one of the tested substances, the patch test is safe because the concentrations of the allergens tested are so low.)
The patches will remain on your skin for 48 hours. Once your doctor removes the patches, he or she will be able to determine if you are allergic to any of the tested substances. A positive test for an allergy will involve the skin underneath the patch appearing red and inflamed.
If your doctor confirms that you have a nickel allergy, then your wedding ring rash is most likely caused by the nickel in your wedding ring.
So what should you do?
If you do not wish to buy a replacement wedding ring and you want to instead continue wearing your original ring, you have a few options.
One surprisingly easy solution is to paint your wedding ring with a coat of clear nail polish. This will keep the nickel of the ring from touching your skin and causing wedding ring rash. The clear nail polish will not be noticeable to anyone (unless they inspect the ring closely looking for such a coat of nail polish).
The coating of nail polish will eventually wear off, so you will have to repaint your wedding ring with more nail polish every so often.
You can also consider taking your ring to a jeweler and having it plated with another type of metal.
If your ring has gray or silver undertones, rhodium and palladium are common choices for plating which are hypoallergenic.
If your ring is made of yellow gold, consider getting it plated with a layer of 24 karat gold. This will prevent the nickel in your ring from coming into contact with your skin and causing an allergic reaction.
Plating your wedding ring with a hypoallergenic metal is a longer lasting solution than the clear nail polish. However, the plating will eventually wear off, so be sure to take your ring to get plated again every once in a while.
Mayo Clinic has a great resource on nickel allergy. It's worth a read, especially for its list of other common products and household items that may contain nickel.
Dealing with Moisture or Debris
If your rash is caused not by an allergic reaction but by moisture, soap, lotion, dead skin, or other debris building up underneath your ring, the first step you should take is to clean your ring.
If your ring is complicated, with many stones and crevices, consider taking it to a jeweler to get professionally cleaned.
If your ring is simpler (and you are not worried about loosening any stones), you can use jewelry cleaning solution to clean your ring.
Cleaning your ring will remove any buildup of debris and the resultant bacterial growth.
You should also remove your ring when washing your hands and make sure that your skin is completely dry before putting your ring back on. This will eliminate the problem of moisture being trapped under the ring and irritating your skin.
Consider switching to a mild soap when washing your hands, as traces of strong soap or detergent left under the ring can irritate the skin.
And be sure to remove your ring when washing and drying your hands, so soap doesn’t get trapped under your ring.
Dealing with Wedding Ring Rash Itself
In order to deal with the rash itself, your doctor may prescribe you medication such as topical corticosteroids or antihistamines. This ought to help get rid of the wedding ring rash by reducing or eliminating the skin irritation.
Your doctor will probably suggest that you not wear your ring while you are using the medication to heal the rash.
Preventing Wedding Ring Rash
If you have not yet developed a nickel allergy but are worried that it may happen to you, you can always perform the measures above (using clear nail polish or plating your ring with a hypoallergenic metal like rhodium) to limit your exposure to nickel and reduce your chances of becoming allergic to it.
Nickel may be found in many other components like the back of your jeans button or in your earrings, so consider taking preventative measures with those items as well (like switching your earring backing to plastic or stainless steel and painting your jeans button with clear nail polish).
If you limit your exposure to nickel, you will reduce your risk of developing an allergy to it.
To prevent the other cause of wedding ring rash, try taking your ring off before you wash your hands, and make sure your hands are thoroughly dry before you put your ring back on.
You may also wish to apply a high quality hypoallergenic hand cream after washing your hands or a lotion containing ceramides, which will moisturize and protect your skin.
If you take the steps outlined in this article and your rash does not improve or it worsens, seek medical attention, as this could be indicative of a larger issue.