Everyone who knows me knows that I love cats. A lot. And specifically, my cat. She’s really cute and precious and I love her. I think I love her *too* much. She’s super chill and never angry, and makes me pet her belly like a dog and follows me everywhere I go. And sometimes when she meows it sounds like “Hello.” And she likes marinara sauce and salad dressing. What cat likes those things? Is that normal? Probably not, but that just makes her unique, I guess. But see? Look at that face. See how cute she is?😻 ⬇️
I could literally go on for days about how much I love this cat. I won’t, but I could. So, to further make apparent my love for cats, I bought a super cute little rose-gold ring with cat ears, and with little “diamonds” in the cat ears. It’s super precious and I’ve worn it every day. When I type though, I tend to take it off (and my watch, and any other jewelry. I don’t like stuff getting in my way), and I noticed that my finger has turned an unbecoming shade of green. Ew.
My first thought was “Hm, I thought I bought a not-cheap ring,” followed shortly by “Why exactly is my finger green?” I’m sure most of us have purchased a cheap ring (or two) and noticed that after some use there’s that gross green, or even black, residue stained onto your hand. And I’m sure we’re all vaguely aware that the answer to the question of “why” is “chemical reaction,” but what does that actually mean?
Basically what’s happening is that the metal of the ring is reacting with your skin, or even things on your skin (like hand lotion), and in chemistry this is known as oxidation. Maybe you remember that term from chemistry classes. If not, here’s quick reminder: oxidation is when oxygen molecules react with other molecules (typically metals) to make a brand new compound. An example you’re probably familiar with is rust. Iron + oxygen = iron oxide, aka rust.
A more formal and technical definition of this reaction is the loss of at least one electron during the interaction. Before you tune out, think about that for a second. This is an interaction that actually results in a change of the sub-atomic structure. Like, things are *happening* here. And they’re happening as a result of your very own skin–the outcome of which is totally visible, not some theoretical chemical equation in a textbook. Don’t even try to tell me it’s not at least a little cool that actually chemistry is happening on your own skin.
But of course, your fingers aren’t turning red, they’re turning green (or maybe even black). Not all oxidizing reactions create that familiar red rust. The color actually depends on the type of metal being oxidized. So while iron turns that reddish brown color, silver turns black, and copper turns green. And that’s the short answer as to why rings sometimes turn your fingers different colors. An interesting and related side note; oxidation is the reason the Statue of Liberty is green. Originally, when built and gifted to us by France in the late 1800s, it was a magnificent copper-colored statue, but over the years the oxidation of the metal has turned it its characteristic green color. More chemistry in action!
Back to the topic, though.
So clearly my beautiful rose-gold cat ring is actually a beautiful rose-gold-colored-but-actually-copper ring that leaves gross stains. As it turns out, often times manufacturers will add copper into the gold to give it that pinkish hue, so it all makes sense now.
There are a few pieces of good news here, though. The first is that the stains aren’t harmful at all, just annoying. The fact that you have a green or black band around your finger isn’t actually bad for you, and comes off fairly easy with nail polish remover. So hooray! The second piece of good news is that there’s a fairly simple solution to preventing the stains (actually two, if you count not wearing the ring as one, but that’s no fun…); clear nail polish! By coating the inside of the ring in clear nail polish, you’re providing a buffer between the acids in your skin and the metal of the ring. Just note that this does tend to wear off, so you’ll probably have to re-apply it at some point. And actually, there’s an actual fancy version of this, because sometimes nice jewelry can stain too.
So the moral of the story is, go ahead and buy cheap rings because 1. it’s chemistry in real life (!) and 2. it’s totally fixable 🙂