How Colloidal Silver Causes Blue Skin

What you need to know before taking colloidal silver

Taking medication or using products that contain silver may cause blue skin. If silver builds up in the body over a long time, it can cause a condition called argyria. Although rare, argyria causes tissue to turn a bluish-gray color.

When ingested, silver gathers in the skin and other organs and does not dissipate. It usually begins with the gums but can also affect the eyes, skin, nails, and internal organs, leading to a permanent change in skin color. It is especially prevalent in areas of skin exposed to the sun.

Blue hand

Piotr Rulka / EyeEm / Getty Images 

What Is Colloidal Silver?

Colloidal silver is a liquid containing tiny silver particles suspended in the solution. It is sometimes taken as a homeopathic remedy or dietary supplement. 

A colloid is a mixture containing small particles of one substance evenly distributed throughout another substance.

Colloidal silver is usually taken orally, but there are also products containing silver that can be injected, applied to the skin, or sprayed up the nose.

Why Do People Take Colloidal Silver?

Silver has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. Topical products to aid wound healing are still used today due to the antibacterial properties found in silver particles.

The National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) advises that silver used on the skin (topically) has some appropriate medical uses. It can be found in some bandages and dressings to treat burns and wounds. Some eye drops to prevent conjunctivitis in newborns also contain silver.

When used topically, in small amounts, silver is not thought to cause argyria. However, there are no oral prescription or over-the-counter drugs containing colloidal silver that are legal.

Colloidal silver is a commercial product sold as a dietary supplement. Seen to be a popular alternative/homeopathic remedy, it is an oral substance that claims to benefit the immune system, promote healing, and help prevent/treat infections.

Manufacturers of colloidal silver products claim they can treat flu, pneumonia, cancer, HIV, AIDS, and many other health concerns. However, NCCIH states that there is no scientific evidence to support the use of oral colloidal silver and that it can cause serious side effects.

Not FDA Approved

In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that colloidal silver is not safe or effective. It has no physiological function in the body. Both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have sued several companies for stating misleading claims about products containing colloidal silver.

Homeopathic and dietary supplements do not require FDA approval, which is why oral colloidal silver remedies are still widely available for purchase. 

Why Colloidal Silver Causes Blue Skin

Researchers from Browns University showed that a series of complicated chemical reactions cause argyria. Essentially, when ingested, silver is broken down in the stomach, forming positively charged silver salt ions and then absorbed into the bloodstream.

These silver salt ions bind easily with the sulfur present in blood protein and end up deposited in the skin. When exposed to sunlight, it turns the salt back into silver, creating the bluish-gray color to the skin seen in argyria.

The final reaction that turns the salt ions back to silver, causing the bluish-gray skin color, is similar to the photochemical reaction in black and white photography.

How much silver is required to cause argyria remains unknown, as does the exposure duration. Studies report varying lengths of exposure from eight months to five years. Once argyria occurs, the color change to the skin is irreversible.

Other Side Effects

Argyria itself is not dangerous, but it is also not reversible. People with argyria can develop depression, anxiety, or become socially withdrawn due to being conscious of their skin color change.

As well as argyria, colloidal silver can potentially cause other complications, including:

  • Negative interaction with certain medications, which can reduce their effectiveness, increase side effects, and impair liver function
  • Agranulocytosis, a rare but serious condition where your bone marrow does not produce enough of specific types of white blood cells
  • Seizures
  • Pleural edema (excess fluid in the lungs)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Possible disorders of the kidneys, liver, nervous system, and blood

Animal studies have identified embryonic changes associated with colloidal silver use. Still, these studies have not been done in humans. Colloidal silver has not been proven safe for a developing baby; therefore, it cannot be recommended for use in pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

A Word From Verywell

Colloidal silver has not been proven safe or effective and should not be used to replace traditional medical care. If you decide to take colloidal silver, it is essential to tell your healthcare provider. They can monitor your care and advise whether it will interact with other medications you are taking.

Remember that the FDA and NCCIH report that colloidal silver has no known benefits and may cause serious side effects.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lencastre A, Lobo M, Joao A. Argyria - case reportAn Bras Dermatol. 2013;88(3):413-416. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20131864

  3. Gianino E, Miller C, Gilmore J. Smart wound dressings for diabetic chronic wounds. Bioengineering (Basel). 2018;5(3):51. doi:10.3390/bioengineering5030051

  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21: Sec. 310.548 Drug products containing colloidal silver ingredients or silver salts offered over-the-counter (OTC) for the treatment and/or prevention of disease.

  5. Cupp MJ, Tracy TS. Colloidal silver. In: Dietary Supplements. Forensic Science and Medicine. Humana Press, Totowa, NJ. 2003.

  6. Liu J, Wang Z, Liu F, Kane A, Hurt R. Chemical transformations of nanosilver in biological environmentsACS Nano. 2012;6(11):9887-9899. doi:10.1021/nn303449n

  7. Amber K, Winslow C, Styperek A, Schwartz P, Shiman M, Elgart G. Blue skinInt J Dermatol. 2014;53(3):275-276. doi:10.1111/ijd.12344

  8. Jung I, Joo E, Suh B et al. A case of generalized argyria presenting with muscle weaknessAnn Occup Environ Med. 2017;29(1). doi:10.1186/s40557-017-0201-0

  9. Melnik EA, Buzulukov YP, Demin VF, et al. Transfer of silver nanoparticles through the placenta and breast milk during in vivo experiments on rats. Acta Naturae. 2013;5(3):107-115.

By Helen Massy
Helen Massy, BSc, is a freelance medical and health writer with over a decade of experience working in the UK National Health Service as a physiotherapist and clinical specialist for respiratory disease.