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'Wedding ring rash' a real-life seven-year itch

The writer's hand, with her
The writer's hand, with herCourtesy of Kristin Kalning

You’ve heard of the 7-year itch, but what about the eight-year rash?

I’ve worn my wedding band since I said, “I do” nearly eight years ago, and my engagement ring for a year longer than that. But this winter, quite abruptly, I developed a red, scaly rash on my finger, beneath both rings. Had I suddenly developed an allergy to my rings? (Or worse, to marriage?)

“It’s not the ring, it’s the stuff that gets stuck under the ring,” said Dr. Carolyn Jacobs, a Chicago-based dermatologist. If you don’t take your rings off when you wash your hands, soap particles get trapped underneath them. Eventually, the soap starts to irritate the outer layers of the skin, and presto, “wedding ring rash.” (I’ve also seen the condition referred to as “ring-eating finger.” Ewww.)

This type of eczema, or contact dermatitis, is pretty common, said Jacobs, who sees a lot of it among moms doing frequent diaper changes and, by extension, frequent hand-washing. Add in dry, winter weather and you’ve got a perfect storm of circumstances for a rash.

Some people can develop an allergy to their rings, though. “Gold has other metal alloys mixed in with it to make it hard enough to wear, “ Jacobs said. “If you have a 14-karat gold or white gold ring, there could be nickel in there, and nickel is close to the top of the list of allergens your skin can be allergic to.”

Jacobs had a good fix, though, if such an allergy plagues you: Take clear nail polish and coat the inside of your ring. “This prevents nickel from leaching onto the skin,” she explained.

My rings are made of platinum, though, and it’s not possible to be allergic to that metal. So Jacobs suggested picking up an over-the-counter, topical cortisone ointment -- which is more powerful than cream -- and applying it twice a day to the affected area. After a week, my ring rash should be gone.

Since I’m not keen on taking off my rings every time I wash my hands, Jacobs advised that I rinse well, and be generous with the moisturizer. She recommends CeraVe cleanser and lotion, which both contain ceramides. Ceramides are fats that help maintain the protective barrier of the skin. The more you wash, the more those ceramides get stripped out, and these products, said Jacobs, help replace them.

Public-bathroom soaps are notoriously harsh, so Jacobs also suggested that I tote around little bottles of the CeraVe stuff to avoid getting my wedding ring rash in the future.

Two more tubes in my loaded-down handbag? It’s a small price to pay to get rid of my eight-year rash.

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