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Many jewelry lovers are drawn to silver because it’s a beautiful, durable metal that can be shaped into unique rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. It’s also hypoallergenic, making it a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin or who suffers from nickel or brass allergies. But is it possible that your silver ring could tarnish? And if so, how can you tell?

Most jewelry isn’t made of pure silver. Instead, jewelers use an alloy of 92.5% silver mixed with other metals to make it stronger and more durable, and so that it can hold its shape better (think of it as the metallic equivalent of Play-Doh). Pure silver would be too soft to create captivating rings, necklaces and earrings—it would bend easily or twist out of shape, which is why jewelers mix it with metals like copper, zinc, platinum and germanium. The ratio of those non-silver metals determines the silver’s purity level, from fine silver to sterling silver.

The most common alloy used in silver jewelry is copper, which gives the material its strength without compromising its beauty. However, it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to add other metals to their silver, too—zinc is a popular choice, and platinum is occasionally added to improve the color, texture and durability of the alloy. Nickel is rarely used, but some people have an allergy to it, so if you’re sensitive to this metal you should avoid it.

Despite the fact that silver is a durable and sturdy metal, it does still wear out over time—and that includes its appearance. Silver will scratch and dent over time, just like any other precious metal, but it can also tarnish or develop a green patina on its surface. This is called oxidation, and it happens when sterling silver comes into contact with certain atmospheric chemicals, including perfume, deodorant, hand soap and lotions, and sometimes even salt water.

Thankfully, this is nothing to worry about; it’s a normal and completely harmless process that doesn’t affect the integrity of the sterling silver or its value. To prevent your sterling silver from tarnishing, it’s important to keep it away from these chemicals, and it’s also important to regularly polish your jewelry to maintain its shine and luster. If you take care of your silver, it will remain gorgeous for years to come—and can be passed down as a family heirloom.