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Wearing Jewelry During Exercise: A Wise Choice or a Mistake?

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Whether you desired to feign that your workout was a music video — sometimes your favorite matching set needs embellishment! — or were merely too lethargic to remove your earrings before the gym (once again), chances are you’ve perspired in your jewelry before.

But is the adorned workout trend actually detrimental to your jewelry, and even your skin? Here’s the scoop.

How Your Workouts Can Harm Your Jewelry

Depending on the kind of jewelry you’re donning (and the type of workout you’re undertaking), perspiration can interfere with your beloved accessories in a few ways.

First and foremost, jewelry constructed from specific materials withstands sweat better than others. “If you’re wearing jewelry made of solid gold, gold fill, or sterling silver, the perspiration and oils from your skin won’t harm it,” explains Lisa Rueff, a yoga instructor, jewelry designer, and founder of Collective Hearts, a jewelry brand that also hosts philanthropic wellness events in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Never heard of gold fill? It’s second-best to solid gold and involves wrapping gold around a base metal, such as brass.)

As you may have observed, sterling silver can tarnish (also known as oxidize), becoming lackluster and gray or black over time — particularly if you work out in it. However, it’s simple to cleanse with lukewarm water, gentle soap, and a soft-bristled toothbrush, says Rueff.

Nevertheless, numerous less costly jewelry pieces are fashioned with materials such as nickel, copper, and brass, and can corrode when exposed to your perspiration, says Rueff. Even gold-plated jewelry, which is created by applying an extremely thin layer of gold to a base metal (such as copper), can corrode if you wear it while working out. Though higher-quality brands will highlight the materials used in their jewelry, most of the jewelry you’ll find at fast-fashion stores won’t disclose the materials they’re made of, says Rueff. But, just so you know, many cheaper discoveries utilize nickel, copper, or brass.

A word for mermaids: The salts and chemicals (such as chlorine) used in swimming pools — and, unfortunately, the salt in the ocean — can inflict even more damage on your jewelry than your perspiration, says Rueff. Yep, even high-quality jewelry like solid gold pieces. And if you hop into the showers while wearing your jewelry (been there), stick to mild soap and thoroughly dry your jewelry afterward to prevent potential harm.

In addition to the harmful chemical reactions that occur when you perspire, certain types of workouts can also literally scratch and dent your jewelry. “Softer metals like gold and silver can easily bend due to the impact from lifting weights or using gym machines,” says Harry Dao, M.D., chair of dermatology at Loma Linda University Health.

They’re additionally particularly vulnerable to scratching. Proceed with caution if your embellished exercises involve bands and weights such as free weights, kettlebells, or barbells.

How Exercising with Jewelry Can Harm Your Skin

Not only can perspiring while wearing jewelry affect your favorite pieces, but it can also impact your skin.

If your jewelry is causing your skin to change colors…

Those less expensive base metals — copper, nickel, and brass — Rueff mentioned? As they corrode, they can discolor your skin, often resulting in a blackish or greenish hue. However, the same can happen with gold-plated and sterling silver jewelry. “Since the layer of gold in gold-plated jewelry is so thin, that can also cause your skin to turn black or green,” notes Rueff. And since sterling silver contains some copper, it can also lead to skin discoloration when it becomes tarnished.

Why does this happen? A brief lesson in science: That green or black residue is actually a deposit of copper oxide, a compound formed when the copper used in jewelry reacts with oxygen in the air, explains Evelyn Darius, M.D., a physician with the virtual health platform PlushCare. Sodium chloride, a compound found in your sweat, can also trigger a similar reaction in jewelry. The good news is that as unsightly as this skin discoloration may be, it is not harmful, according to Dr. Darius.

If you have a potential allergy (or even if you don’t)…

Certain metals can potentially irritate your skin as well. For instance, approximately 15 percent of people are allergic to nickel, which can cause significant irritation. “This can manifest as a rash that is bumpy, rough like sandpaper, light pink or red, swollen, and itchy,” explains Dr. Darius.

“Sweat and friction can cause gold to seep out of jewelry,” notes Dr. Dao. So, even individuals who would typically tolerate their jewelry may develop a reaction called allergic contact dermatitis (a red, rashy reaction to a substance, sometimes due to allergy and sometimes not) from exercising with jewelry that is seeping.

If you have recently gotten piercings…

Sweat alone can irritate new piercings, even if you do not have jewelry in them during your workouts, says Dr. Darius. Well-healed piercings should be able to withstand sweat without a problem, but certain metals can still irritate your ears when combined with sweat or increased friction.

If you are wearing jewelry with a “pulling” effect…

Besides metal-related issues, certain styles of jewelry can also pose a risk. For example, wearing heavy earrings that pull on your earlobes during a workout can worsen irritation, says Rueff.

Additionally, hoop earrings and long necklaces can get entangled in gym equipment, your hair, various body parts, or your clothing, potentially causing tears in piercings and scraping or pinching of the skin if enough force is applied, adds Dr. Dao. (Um, yikes.)

How to (Safely) Rock Jewelry When You Exercise

That being said, you can absolutely still enhance your workout attire with jewelry — as long as you adhere to the correct materials and styles.

Firstly, avoid wearing jewelry made of the following materials when working up a sweat:

  • nickel
  • brass
  • copper
  • gold plate

Instead, stick to:

  • pure gold
  • gold-filled jewelry
  • sterling silver
  • silicone

To minimize the chance of reacting to your jewelry (especially the less expensive options) during a workout, try applying a small amount of petroleum jelly to the skin surrounding your jewelry, as suggested by Dr. Darius. You can also coat your jewelry with transparent nail polish to prevent any annoying discoloration of the skin.

Other than that, opt for more simplistic pieces of jewelry, as recommended by Rueff. Small earrings and uncomplicated, lightweight bracelets and necklaces can all provide a stylish touch while you break a sweat — without obstructing your movement. Additionally, refrain from wearing rings when engaging in weightlifting, but feel free to wear your favorite rings (as long as they fit properly) for activities such as yoga.

If your skin or piercings are susceptible to irritation, ensure that you thoroughly cleanse and dry both your piercings and jewelry after a sweaty workout, advises Dr. Dao. And promptly clean any tarnished sterling silver jewelry! After all, dark and damp environments (like the inside of your ear piercings, for example) are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria.

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