Why Does Jewelry Stain My Skin?

Woman holds various jewelry

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If copper or other jewelry has left greenish or black marks on your skin, you are not alone. Even though some people have metal allergies, most often the discoloration is caused by a reaction between our skin and the alloys (a mix of metals), especially when the jewelry touches areas that perspire. Here are some common metals that can stain your skin, why it happens, and how to prevent staining in the future.

Avoid Tarnish from Copper Jewelry

Think of how copper turns green as it oxidizes—that same tarnish can be transferred to your skin. The jewelry piece you're wearing might not be pure copper, but it could have enough copper in it to cause a reaction. Some people seem to have a body chemistry that's prone to staining even when a tiny amount of the metal is present.

Sterling Silver Reactions

Since sterling silver is 7.5 percent copper, you may get green stains from wearing the alloy. The most common stains from sterling silver jewelry are black, however, and occur when the silver tarnishes due to a reaction with gasses in the air. Some sterling pieces are coated with products like rhodium that help keep them from tarnishing, but the coatings will wear off in time.

Can Gold Stain Skin?

Gold itself hardly ever stains your skin—it's the other metals that gold is mixed with that cause the problems. Copper, nickel, and silver are used to alter the color of gold and make it stronger and more affordable. Any of those metals can cause discoloration on your skin.

The lower the "karat" number on your gold, the less pure gold it contains. Some people never have a reaction to the metals in even 10-karat gold, but others must buy 18-karat pieces to stop the discoloration.

Nickel Allergies

If you're allergic to nickel, you won't just have stained skin. For those with a nickel allergy, jewelry that contains the metal will make your skin itchy and red when it comes in contact with your body.

Gold-Plated and Gold-Filled Jewelry Reactions

The thin layer of gold in gold-plated jewelry can wear off, exposing an inexpensive base metal (such as nickel) that can stain your skin.

Gold-filled jewelry is made with a thicker outer layer of gold, so it doesn't wear off as quickly. Antique gold-filled jewelry that has worn down over time, however, might stain your skin more readily. Rose gold-filled jewelry with a lot of copper may also stain your skin even before the gold portion wears off.

How to Keep Jewelry From Staining Your Skin

If you find yourself with stained or irritated skin after wearing a piece of jewelry, try some of these tips to help solve the issue:

  • Keep your jewelry clean and tarnish-free.
  • Coat the jewelry with clear nail polish. Wear the treated pieces for only a short time and see if the staining improves.
  • If a piece of jewelry stains your skin, figure out what metal that jewelry is comprised of. If the staining is severe, avoid that metal in the future.
  • If cheap jewelry is staining your skin, it is likely the nickel that is the culprit. Try costume jewelry that is labeled nickel-free and see if you still have the same issue.
  • If gold is staining your skin, try switching to 18-karat gold, a more pure metal. Also, try yellow gold instead of white or rose gold, as the alloys in either white or rose gold could be causing the reaction.
  • Platinum is expensive but rarely reacts with our skin, so it is a great choice for people prone to staining or metal allergies.
  • Ask your jeweler if the piece can be coated with a new layer of metal (rhodium if it's white gold) or a clear protective film along edges that touch your skin.
  • Choose stainless steel jewelry when possible, especially for body jewelry.
  • Titanium is another metal choice for its non-staining qualities and for people with allergies to some metals.
  • Try jewelry labeled hypo-allergenic—it's formulated for people who are sensitive to metals.
  • Keep your skin dry when wearing jewelry. Don't wear your jewelry while swimming, working out, or doing the dishes.