What Is Colloidal Silver?

Is it safe or dangerous?

Colloidal silver is a solution of tiny silver particles suspended in a liquid base. It's marketed as a remedy for a range of health problems. People can take it by mouth (orally). However, some colloidal silver products are sprayed, applied to the skin, or injected into a vein.

Silver, slightly different from colloidal silver at the molecular level, has been used in medicine for centuries. In the past, it was claimed to be a cure-all for everything from tuberculosis and arthritis to herpes and cancer. Silver was also used as an antimicrobial for wounds.

side effects of colloidal silver

Verywell / Laura Porter

Despite these claims, colloidal silver has no known function in the body. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled in 1999 that colloidal silver products aren't safe or effective. The FDA sued several manufacturers over false health claims.

After the FDA ruling, many drug stores stopped selling colloidal silver products. Since then, some manufacturers have rebranded these products as dietary supplements or homeopathic remedies. That's because these don't need FDA approval.

This article goes over what colloidal silver is used for, its potential benefits, side effects, and what to look for if you buy it.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, you must talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about any potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

Active ingredient(s): Colloidal silver

Alternate name(s): Ag, Argentum, Silver

Legal status: Not generally recognized as safe or effective, misbranded (FDA) (United States)

Suggested dose: There is no known standard dose. Dosing depends on the condition, dosage form, and other patient-specific factors.

Safety considerations: Argyria, ocular argyrosis, and discolored fingernails

Uses of Colloidal Silver

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Manufacturers of colloidal silver claim their products can stimulate the immune system and help the body heal. Supporters believe the supplement can help:

  • Heal wounds
  • Improve skin disorders
  • Prevent or treat diseases like the flu, pneumonia, herpes, eye infections, shingles, cancer, and AIDS

Some test-tube studies show preliminary evidence supporting a few of these claims. They show that colloidal silver has properties that fight against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and inflammation. However, the studies don't show what happens outside the test tube. High-quality human studies are needed before researchers may make firm conclusions.

Wound Healing

According to one review article, several studies have examined the use of silver-containing dressings on skin ulcers and wounds. They found that the silver particles had antibacterial properties that helped treat diabetic ulcers.

However, it should be pointed out that this review article does not specifically reference colloidal silver. Further studies using colloidal silver would need to be made before making firm conclusions about its use for wound healing.

Rhinosinusitis

One prospective cohort study looked at colloidal silver for resistant chronic rhinosinusitis in 20 participants. Researchers compared a topical nasal spray containing colloidal silver to a topical nasal spray containing saline. After six weeks of therapy, colloidal silver showed no clinically meaningful improvement in rhinosinusitis symptoms.

A study also looked at the safety and efficacy of colloidal silver in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis. Researchers compared a nasal spray containing colloidal silver to oral antibiotics. After ten days of therapy, colloidal silver showed no difference in the improvement of symptoms compared to oral antibiotics. No severe side effects were seen with colloidal silver.

Colloidal silver's effectiveness for rhinosinusitis doesn't seem great given the outcomes of the studies. Further studies using colloidal silver would need to be made before making firm conclusions about its use for rhinosinusitis.

What Are the Side Effects of Colloidal Silver?

People who take colloidal silver may not experience any immediate side effects. The concerns are related more to the long-term effects of colloidal silver use.

That's because particles accumulate in the body over time. They embed themselves in organs and tissues, especially the skin. Over time, this can lead to a permanent, disfiguring condition called argyria.

Argyria causes tissues to turn bluish-gray. It affects the gums first, followed by the skin, eyes, nails, and deeper tissue layers.

It's unclear how toxic silver is to internal organs. But animal studies show that silver has been associated with:

  • Kidney and liver dysfunction
  • Reproductive risks
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy

Common Side Effects

There is limited research on the short-term side effects of colloidal silver. However, there is more information on colloidal silver’s long-term side effects. 

Common side effects associated with the long-term use of colloidal silver include: 

  • Argyria
  • Ocular argyrosis
  • Discolored fingernails

The location and degree of discoloration depend on the dosage form used and patient-specific factors.

Severe Side Effects

Argyria is the most commonly reported and severe side effect of colloidal silver. It can be considered severe because of permanent skin and/or eye discoloration.

If taking colloidal silver, follow the directions on the labeled product.

Let your healthcare provider know if you experience side effects after taking colloidal silver.

A 72-year-old male taking colloidal silver as an oral nutritional supplement for over ten years developed acute myeloid leukemia.

A case of kidney injury associated with colloidal silver has also been reported. It involved a 47-year-old woman taking colloidal silver to treat her cancer.

Additionally, one case of death has been linked to colloidal silver use. The case report involved a 71-year-old man who developed myoclonic status epilepticus and died. He had taken a daily dose of colloidal silver for four months before his death.

It is essential to point out that these reports only suggest an association between colloidal silver and the development of cancer, kidney injury, and death. They cannot prove colloidal silver was the cause of such severe outcomes.

Precautions

As of 1999, the FDA has ruled that over-the-counter drug products containing colloidal silver aren't safe or effective. Therefore, you should be cautious if you take colloidal silver as a dietary supplement or homeopathic remedy. 

There is not enough evidence in humans to know whether colloidal silver is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding people. One animal study observed the transfer of silver from mothers to their children and suggested silver can cross the placenta. Because of this and the lack of information, it's best to use caution and avoid using colloidal silver during pregnancy or lactation.

There is also little evidence regarding the use of colloidal silver in children. Consult with your child's healthcare provider for professional advice.

Remember that colloidal silver should not be used as a substitute for standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying care may have serious consequences.

Dosage: How Much Colloidal Silver Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

Due to a lack of research, there's no known safe or effective dose of colloidal silver. Moreover, it isn't known at what point colloidal silver becomes toxic.

Part of the problem is that the concentration of silver particles can vary from one product to the next. Some products have as few as ten parts per million (ppm), while others have more than 300 ppm.

Despite the FDA ruling against colloidal silver's safety, colloidal silver-containing products are still available as dietary supplements. Most are in liquid form.

Colloidal silver is also available as:

  • Soaps
  • Mouthwash
  • Eye drops
  • Body lotions
  • Cough drops
  • Nasal sprays

What Happens If I Take Too Much Colloidal Silver?

Research on the toxicity of colloidal silver in humans is limited. There is also no standard dosage information for colloidal silver. 

The most reported side effect after long-term use of colloidal silver is argyria. Based on animal studies, silver toxicity has also led to thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), clotting dysfunction, proteinuria (protein in the urine), kidney dysfunction, seizures, and loss of coordination.

Interactions

Colloidal silver may interact with some medications, such as thyroxine and specific antibiotics. It may weaken the way your body absorbs these drugs.

Tell your healthcare provider if you take colloidal silver, even for short-term use.

It is essential to carefully read a supplement's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

How to Store Colloidal Silver

Colloidal silver supplements should be stored in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space. Be sure to keep supplements in the container in which you purchased them.

Discard colloidal silver supplements according to the expiration date listed on the packaging.

Keep colloidal silver and other supplements out of reach for children or pets in your home.

Similar Supplements

One natural product that has been used similarly to silver is:

  • Honey: Like silver, honey has been researched for its potential antibacterial properties. One study found honey lowered the number of bacteria on the skin in healthy patients after two days.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it illegal to include colloidal silver in products?

    It's not illegal to put colloidal silver in products. However, products can't claim that colloidal silver has any medicinal benefits. The FDA ruled that colloidal silver isn't safe or effective in treating any illness. But the FDA doesn't tightly regulate supplements or homeopathic products. As such, colloidal silver is still used in unregulated products.

  • Can colloidal silver help treat viruses like COVID?

    Some early research supports that silver nanoparticles may help prevent COVID infection. However, this study was not conducted in humans. Therefore, more research is needed before recommending its use for preventing COVID-19. Even if there were a definite benefit, it would need to be weighed against the known risks of colloidal silver.

  • Is it okay to use skin creams with silver?

    Topical products (products used on the skin) that have silver may have some benefits. For instance, bandages and dressings with silver may help with burns, skin infections, or skin wounds. Talk to your healthcare provider before using these types of products.

Sources of Colloidal Silver & What to Look For

Supplements don't go through the same research or safety tests as a prescription or over-the-counter drugs regulated by the FDA. So, quality can vary a lot from one manufacturer to the next.

Few colloidal silver products are certified by an independent certifying authority like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International. For that reason, it's challenging to know what a product contains or how safe it is.

If you buy a colloidal silver product, choose a product that clearly shows the concentration of silver in parts per million (ppm) on the product label. Please follow manufacturer directions and discuss any concerns with your primary healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Food Sources of Silver

ALthough colloidal silver is not found in food, silver is found naturally in some of the following foods:

  • Flour
  • Bran
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Meat

Silver concentrations in food sources may vary.

Colloidal Silver Supplements

Most colloidal silver-containing products are in liquid form. You can also find colloidal silver in soaps, mouthwashes, eye drops, body lotions, cough drops, and nasal sprays.

Summary

Colloidal silver is a solution made of silver particles suspended in a liquid. It's touted as having numerous health benefits, but there's no evidence supporting its effectiveness for most of them.

Silver has been associated with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties when applied to the skin and has been used for treating skin infections and ulcers. However, the FDA advises against consuming colloidal silver products because they're not safe or effective.

Don't be swayed by any unsupported health claims. In the end, colloidal silver has no known benefit when consumed, injected, or inhaled. And it may cause more harm than good.

16 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.
  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Colloidal silver.

  2. PubChem. Silver (compound).

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Rulemaking history for otc colloidal silver drug products.

  4. Drake PL, Hazelwood KJ. Exposure-related health effects of silver and silver compounds: a review. Ann Occup Hyg. 2005;49(7):575-585. doi:10.1093/annhyg/mei019

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

  6. Scott JR, Krishnan R, Rotenberg BW, Sowerby LJ. The effectiveness of topical colloidal silver in recalcitrant chronic rhinosinusitis: a randomized crossover control trial. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;46(1):64. doi:10.1186/s40463-017-0241-z

  7. Medici S, Peana M, Nurchi VM, Zoroddu MA. Medical Uses of Silver: History, Myths, and Scientific Evidence. J Med Chem. 2019;62(13):5923-5943. doi:10.1021/acs.jmedchem.8b01439

  8. Hadrup N, Lam HR. Oral toxicity of silver ions, silver nanoparticles and colloidal silver--a review. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2014;68(1):1-7. doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2013.11.002

  9. Keung YK, Wang T, Hong-Lung Hu E. Acute myeloid leukemia with complex cytogenetic abnormalities associated with long-term use of oral colloidal silver as nutritional supplement - Case report and review of literature. J Oncol Pharm Pract. 2020;26(1):212-215. doi:10.1177/1078155219832966

  10. Rezk T, Penton J, Stevenson A, et al. Pauci Immune crescentic glomerulonephritis in a patient with T-cell lymphoma and argyria. BMC Nephrol. 2016;17(1):49. doi:10.1186/s12882-016-0259-x

  11. Mirsattari SM, Hammond RR, Sharpe MD, Leung FY, Young GB. Myoclonic status epilepticus following repeated oral ingestion of colloidal silver. Neurology. 2004;62(8):1408-1410. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000120671.73335.ec

  12. Lee Y, Choi J, Kim P, et al. A transfer of silver nanoparticles from pregnant rat to offspring. Toxicol Res. 2012;28(3):139-141. doi:10.5487/TR.2012.28.3.139

  13. Kumar A, Goia DV. Comparative Analysis of Commercial Colloidal Silver Products [published correction appears in Int J Nanomedicine. 2022 Feb 04;17:553-554]. Int J Nanomedicine. 2020;15:10425-10434. doi:10.2147/IJN.S287730

  14. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Colloidal silver.

  15. Kwakman PH, Van den Akker JP, Güçlü A, et al. Medical-grade honey kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria in vitro and eradicates skin colonization. Clin Infect Dis. 2008;46(11):1677-1682. doi:10.1086/587892

  16. Chang S-Y, Huang K-Y, Chao T-L, et al. Nanoparticle composite TPNT1 is effective against SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):8692. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-87254-3

By Maddy Baysden, PharmD, MBA
Maddy Baysden, PharmD, MBA, is a pharmacist with expertise in drug information and evidence-based practice.

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process