Dr. Dean

Ring-Around-The-Ring-Finger Syndrome Explained

Posting Date: 01/18/2000


Science has finally solved a real medical mystery. While it's not a life-and-death matter, patients have spent hundreds of dollars going from general practioners to allergists and even to jewelers looking for solutions. Researchers have finally found the answer to a frustrating problem.


"Even the finest jewelry can trigger an allergic reaction. Gold and other precious metals are often alloyed with nickel. And so many people are sensitive to nickel, it's become our most common skin allergy. It affects nearly ten percent of the female population.

"This is another very common problem that's often blamed on allergies. It's called 'black ring disease' and has mystified jewelers and doctors.

"Real gold and silver shouldn't discolor skin. But many jewelry-wearers find a ring of black residue wherever metal touches their skin. Dermatologists and jewelers have been guessing at the cause for years.

"In addition to metal allergies, they've blamed excessive sweating, homonal imbalances, even vitamin deficiency as a cause. For fifty years, no one's come up with the answer - until now.

"It's cosmetic powder - like face powder or rouges or things like that. I hate to admit, as a TV doctor I get to wear make-up one in a while. And although it doesn't feel abrasive, it can be. Abrasive enough to grind metal into powder?

"Well, according to one New York University Medical School professor, the answer is 'yes.'

"He says, the powders in many cosmetics and medications are harder than iron, nickel, platinum, silver, copper or gold. In fact, only stainless steel and chromium are harder. When this powder comes in contact with fine metal, it grinds some of it off like sandpaper.

"And you can collect this powder residue from lots of things. Tooth powder dust and even calamine lotion can abrade jewelry. So if you've got ring-around-the-ring-finger or some other form of 'black ring' syndrome, at least you know the cause. A little soap and water will help cure it."


Researchers say urban dust and soot may even be a factor. They contain carbon, which is also hard enough to grind precious metal.

Ref: Cutis 52:17-18