How Exposure To Silver Can Turn Your Skin Blue

Posted on: 12 January 2015

Silver is a useful product found in a variety of consumer products such as kitchen bacterial sprays and bandages. However, overexposure to silver can lead to serious health condition such as argyria. The condition is characterized by gray, blue or dark tans on the skin and other mucous membranes. It usually occurs, if you have been ingesting silver for a long time, through four main stages:

Corrosion of Silver

Since the stomach environment is acidic, it accelerates the corrosion of silver metal particles. Corrosion strips some of the silver atoms of their electrons, and they become positively charged ions. This makes them react with negatively charged ions in the stomach, such as chlorine, to form silver salt ions.

Absorption of Silver Salt Ions

According to a team of researchers at Brown University, the probability of silver metal ions finding their way into your blood stream is very low. However, once they have reacted to form salt ions, they can easily be absorbed into your bloodstream. Remember that the gastrointestinal tract is designed to absorb different types of salt from the stomach, so it will absorb these salts too.

Binding of Silver Salts to Blood Proteins

Even when the salts make it into your bloodstream, they can't move around on their own freely. However, their mobility increases when they bind to the proteins present in your blood. By binding on natural proteins such as antioxidants, the salts can cross different membranes that they would not easily jump on their own. That way they get to different parts of your body, including your skin.

Reduction of Silver

When the complex ions of silver reach your skin, they get exposed to ultraviolet radiation from natural light. The UV oxidizes the salt ions into elemental silver, which may then react with other components of your skin such as sulfur. The result is a deposit of compounds that accumulate just below your skin, and it is the deposits that turn your skin blue.

Note that you can also develop patches of argyria on different parts of your body. This usually happens if small amounts of silver find their way underneath your skin, for example, if you tattoo your skin with ink that contains silver.

What to Do

If you have been exposed to silver over a long period, then you should consult your doctor to prevent argyria formation. According to Medscape, a controlled hydroquinone treatment may prevent the condition because it reduces the level of silver in your skin. You can also prevent discoloration by using sunscreen to block UV radiation from penetrating your skin.

The best thing to do is to avoid overexposure to silver materials. However, if you do develop the condition, you can still reverse it by undergoing laser surgery, among other possible medications. Never assume that any skin discoloration is argyria, always consult a doctor for professional diagnosis.  For more information, you may want to consult with a dermatologist, like Stephen A Switlyk MD.