For the first time, researchers have figured out how silver can permanently turn a person’s skin into a striking blue-grey color, causing a condition known as argyria. Scientists have known for years that argyria somehow related to silver since they often find silver particles lodged deep in the skin of people who have the condition, but until now it wasn’t clear how the element changed people’s skin blue. Not surprisingly, a complex chemical reaction is behind the change of hues, which often results after people partake in alternative antimicrobial health remedies involving silver nano particles.
When nanosilver enters the body, the stomach breaks it down. From there, it absorbs into the blood stream, and some ends up deposited in the skin. At this point, the silver is in the form of salt, but when light hits it in the skin, it changes back into silver metal and creates the tell-tale blue hue. Oddly enough, this final stage relies on the same photochemical reaction that photographers use to develop black and white photos.
Blue skin aside, the verdict is still out on whether or not nanosilver may cause any negative health impacts. The researchers suspect that safety may depend upon the total dose of silver a person takes, however.
Either way, alternative therapy users who chose to ingest nanosilver risk a permanent complexion resembling Violet Beauregarde’s, which is a pretty big commitment considering medically approved antimicrobials that do not turn you blue are readily available at any pharmacy.
More from Smithsonian.com: