Is It Okay to Wear Jewelry While You Work Out?

Experts explain whether sweat will ruin a gold chain, and more.

a model wearing jewelry and smiling while working out
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Whether you wanted to pretend your workout was a music video — sometimes your favorite matching set needs accessorizing! — or were just too lazy to take off your earrings before the gym (again), chances are you've gotten sweaty in your jewelry before.

But is the decked-out workout trend actually bad for your jewelry, and even your skin? Here's the deal.

How Your Workouts Can Damage Your Jewelry

Depending on the type of jewelry you're rocking (and the type of workout you're doing), getting sweaty can mess with your favorite accessories in a few ways.

First of all, jewelry made out of certain materials survives sweat better than others. "If you're wearing jewelry made of solid gold, gold fill, or sterling silver, the sweat and oils from your skin won't damage it," explains Lisa Rueff, a yoga teacher, jewelry designer, and founder of Collective Hearts, a jewelry brand that also hosts charity wellness events in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Never heard of gold fill? It's second-best to solid gold and involves binding gold around a base metal, such as brass.)

As you may have noticed, sterling silver can tarnish (aka oxidize), turning dull and gray or black over time — especially if you work out in it. But it's easy to clean with lukewarm water, mild soap, and a soft-bristled toothbrush, says Rueff.

However, lots of less expensive jewelry is made with materials such as nickel, copper, and brass and can corrode when exposed to your sweat, says Rueff. Even gold-plated jewelry, which is made by adding a super thin coat of gold to a base metal (such as copper), can corrode if you wear it to work 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 what material they're made of, says Rueff. But, FYI, many cheaper finds use nickel, copper, or brass.

A note for mermaids: The salts and chemicals (such as chlorine) used in swimming pools — and, sadly, the salt in the ocean — can do even more harm to your jewelry than your sweat, says Rueff. Yep, even high-quality jewelry such as solid gold pieces. And, if you hit the showers with your jewelry on (been there), stick to mild soap and dry your jewelry well afterward to prevent potential damage.

In addition to the damaging chemical reactions that occur when you get sweaty, certain types of workouts can also quite literally scratch and bang your jewelry out of shape. "Softer metals like gold and silver can bend pretty easily as a result of the impact from lifting weights or using gym machines," says Harry Dao, M.D., chair of dermatology at Loma Linda University Health. They're also especially prone to scratching. Proceed with caution if your adorned workouts involve rings and weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells.

How Working Out In Jewelry Can Damage Your Skin

Not only can getting sweaty in jewelry mess with your favorite pieces, but it can also affect your skin.

If your jewelry is turning your skin different colors...

Those cheaper base metals — copper, nickel, and brass — Rueff mentioned? As they corrode, they can stain your skin, often leaving it blackish or green. But so can gold-plated and sterling silver jewelry. "Since the layer of gold in gold-plated jewelry is so thin, that can also turn your skin black or green," notes Rueff. And since sterling silver contains some copper, it can also cause skin discoloration when tarnished.

Why, exactly? Quick science lesson: That green or black residue is actually a copper oxide deposit, a compound created when the copper used in jewelry reacts with oxygen in the air, explains Evelyn Darius, M.D., a physician with virtual health platform PlushCare. Sodium chloride, a compound in your sweat, can also cause a similar reaction in jewelry. Good news: Unsightly as this skin discoloration might be, it's not harmful, says Dr. Darius.

If you're potentially allergic (and even if you aren't)...

Certain metals can potentially aggravate your skin, too. For example, about 15 percent of people are allergic to nickel, which can cause serious irritation. "This can present as a rash that can be bumpy, rough like sandpaper, light pink or red, swollen, and itchy," explains Dr. Darius.

"Sweat and friction can cause gold to leach out of jewelry," notes Dr. Dao. So, even people who might otherwise tolerate their jewelry can end up with a reaction called allergic contact dermatitis (a red, rashy reaction to a substance, sometimes due to allergy and sometimes not) from working out in jewelry that's leaching.

If you have new piercings...

Sweat alone can irritate new piercings, even if you don't have jewelry in them during your workouts, says Dr. Darius. Well-healed piercings should withstand sweat just fine, but certain metals can still irritate your ears when mixed with sweat or extra friction.

If you're wearing jewelry with a "tug" factor...

Metal issues aside, certain styles of jewelry can also pose a risk. Wearing heavy earrings that tug on your earlobes during a workout, for example, can exacerbate irritation, says Rueff.

Plus, hoop earrings and long necklaces can also get caught on gym equipment, in your hair, on body parts, or on clothing, potentially tearing piercings and scraping or pinching the skin if they get yanked hard enough, adds Dr. Dao. (Um, yikes.)

How to (Safely) Rock Jewelry When You Work Out

That said, you can totally still spice up your workout attire with jewelry — as long as you stick to the right materials and styles.

First, avoid wearing jewelry made of the following materials when getting sweaty:

  • nickel
  • brass
  • copper
  • gold plate

Instead, stick to:

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

To minimize your risk of reacting to your jewelry (especially the cheaper stuff) during a workout, try applying a little petroleum jelly to the skin around your jewelry, recommends Dr. Darius. You can also coat your jewelry with clear nail polish to prevent any pesky skin discoloration.

Beyond that, stick to more minimalist pieces of jewelry, suggests Rueff. Stud earrings and simple, lightweight bracelets and necklaces can all make you feel stylish while you get your sweat on — without getting in your way. Also, skip the rings if you're lifting weights, but go ahead and pile on your favorites (as long as they're not loose) for workouts such as yoga.

If your skin or piercings are prone to irritation, make sure to cleanse and dry both your piercings and jewelry well after sweating it out, says Dr. Dao. And clean that sterling silver jewelry at the first sign of tarnishing! After all, dark, moist environments (you know, such as the inside of your ear piercings) are ideal for germs.

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