Have you noticed some of your favorite pieces of jewlery turning your skin green? Or have you ever wondered why this happens? First of all don’t worry, the green color is not harmful and it is possible to wash it off with just a bit of soap and water.
The green residue is due to the jewelry containing copper or another metal element which reacts with solutions on your skin including sweat or lotion. The metal oxidises with these solutions and leaves a green trace on your skin.
There are things that can be done to prevent this happening such as re-coating the metal with rhodium or the original precious metal such as silver of gold, or adding a layer of clear nail polish to the jewelry.
Join us as we investigate why jewelry turns your skin green, discover the different types of metal that cause the green residue, and provide some tips on how to avoid happening.
It is the copper or nickel content of jewelry that turns your skin green. The metals oxidise with the sweat, lotions and other substances on your skin, discoloring the surface. It is not dangerous and can be washed off.
This can be prevented through:
- Wearing the jewelry less regularly
- Coating it with rhodium, polymer coating, or clear nail varnish
- Cleaning and removing it regularly
- Switching to jewelry made from other metals
Why Does Jewelry Turn Your Skin Green?
First, we can debunk the idea that it is only cheap jewlery that turns your skin green. It is actually the type of metal the jewelry is made from that causes this phenomenon, and whether or not the jewlery still retains its protective coating.
However, cheaper jewlery, especially rings, is often made with copper (one of the green culprits!) because it is cheaper to manufacture compared with precious metals. Therefore, there can be a correlation cheap jewlery and green residue.
The chances of skin discoloration occurring can be increased if the jewelry is in a bad condition. This can include when the metal coating has been worn away or damaged, or if the jewelry is never cleaned off properly. In addition, lying around in a moist environment will make the jewelry more likely to color your skin green.
Essentially, what is happening is a chemical reaction between the metal and a substance on your skin – sweat, oils, lotions and so on. This is an oxidation reaction – a metal element will lose electrons when it reacts with another element, especially when it is exposed to air. The speed of this reaction is much faster when water is involved.
One of the most famous examples of the oxidation of copper on contact with the air and moisture is the Statue of Liberty. This world-famous statue was not originally green. It is made from over 30 tons of copper which, over time, has transitioned through different colors following chemical reactions. It finally oxidised to become the iconic turquoise-green color it is today.
The oxidation of copper is commonly used as a decorative feature, for example, on church roofs or old statues. It is sometimes called Verdigris.
Oxidation is common in other metals too. For example, rust is simply the product of oxidation in iron. So what other metals can turn your skin green?
Which Types Of Metal Turn Your Skin Green?
Although it is usually copper which is the culprit of green residue after removing your jewelry, there are some other metals which may cause this too. There are many forms of alloyed metals which can turn your skin green. These are usually made from copper or nickel combined with a precious metal. If your jewelry contains nickel you may experience some inflammation, itching, or redness along with green discoloration. In this case you need to be careful because some people can be allergic to nickel.
Does Silver Turn Your Skin Green?
Many pieces of jewelry which appear to have been crafted from silver, gold or platinum may only have been coated in these precious metals. Otherwise, these metals may have been combined with other metals to form an alloy. Therefore, it is not the silver itself which is causing the green color, but either copper or nickel with which it has been alloyed. Copper is often added to sterling silver to strengthen the silver which is a relatively soft metal.
However, silver may discolor your skin a dark shade of black or brown. This is because it also reacts with acids and with the air and becomes tarnished.
Does Brass Turn Your Skin Green?
Yes. This is because brass is a blend of different metals which can include copper and zinc. Therefore, oxidation is common in jewelry containing brass.
Does Bronze Turn Your Skin Green?
Again, yes. Bronze contains copper and tin, so similarly to brass, it can cause your skin to discolor.
Does Iron Turn Your Skin Green?
Some anecdotal sources say that low iron levels in your body can increase your skin acidity level. This may increase the chance of the jewelry reacting with your skin and causing the green discoloration. However, this has not been proven.
Wearing iron jewelry will not turn your skin green unless it has been combined with copper or nickel. However, unless your iron jewelry has been coated or treated in some way, it may cause dark staining on your skin or begin to rust.
Tips To Avoid Jewelry Turning Your Skin Green
Did you get to the end of a day and remove your ring only to find it had turned your finger green? Or did you get a text from a friend saying “Help! My necklace turned my neck green!”? This is a common occurrence and nothing to worry about as it won’t affect your health. But there are some simple things you can do to stop jewelry from turning your skin green…
1. Minimise Your Use Of Jewelry Containing Copper Or Nickel
Either consider selling or trading your jewelry containing copper or nickel, or wear them rarely and only for short periods. Also avoid wearing this alloyed jewelry in humid or wet conditions as this can speed up the oxidation reaction. Similarly, do not swim in your alloyed jewelry! Swimming in chlorinated pools is even worse as the chlorine will react strongly with the copper. This will really speed the green skin discoloration up.
Another time to avoid wearing this alloyed jewelry is when it is very hot – the more you sweat the more likely you will end up with skin discoloration at the end of the day.
2. Switch Metals
Buying jewelry made from the purest precious metals (gold, silver and platinum) will minimise or eliminate the copper or nickel content in the pieces. Otherwise you can try jewelry crafted from rhodium or stainless steel.
3. Rhodium Plating
Getting your jewelry coated with rhodium adds a durable and protective layer to the piece. It separates your skin and the jewelry and increases the longevity of the piece too.
Alternatively you could consider getting it re-plated with whichever precious metal it was originally coated with, such as gold or silver. You will need to pay for this service and ask an expert jeweller for guidance.
4. Other Protective Coating
If you can’t afford to get your jewelry rhodium plated, you can consider some cheaper alternatives. Coating pieces with a specialised polymer barrier meant for jewelry can be a great move. This will seal your jewelry and protect it from moisture, and the sweat and lotion on your skin. This can last for around 2 months and can be reapplied as required. It also makes the jewelry easier to clean and polish. One example is this Jewelry Coating from Amazon.
Alternatively, a coat of clear nail polish provides an useful and cost-effective barrier. This will last for just a few days and needs to be reapplied regularly depending on how much you use the jewlery.
5. Clean Jewelry Regularly
Make sure you keep your jewelry pieces clean, removing dirt and other solutions like lotions and soap. A build-up of dirt will maximise the chances of oxidation happening on contact with your skin. Once cleaned, use a polishing cloth to finish off. You can even make this a regular weekly habit, for example, your first task on a Saturday morning or your last task before you go to sleep on Friday night.
6. Remove Jewelry Regularly
If you have a ring or bracelet which has sentimental value to you, which you like to wear very regularly and keep close to you, it is a good idea to remove it often during the day. This can alleviate skin discoloration by minimising the build-up of acids and moisture between the jewlery and your skin. It also gives the skin some fresh air – allowing it to breathe and minimising sweat build-up.