What is Argyria?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Argyria is a blue skin discoloration resulting from excessive exposure to silver. Silver metal workers, people who mine silver, and people who take colloidal silver supplements can all develop this rare condition. Once the condition develops, it is very challenging to treat. Continued exposure to silver either through skin contact, ingestion or inhalation can result in severe complications.

People who mind silver for a living may develop argyria.
People who mind silver for a living may develop argyria.

There are two types of argyria: localized and universal. Topical treatments such as nasal sprays contain silver compounds that can cause localized argyria at the mucus membranes. Some tattoo colors also have a silver base, which can cause localized argyria. Medications now seldom include silver compounds, and reputable tattoo parlors do not employ silver in any of their dyes. Tooth fillings made from silver do contribute to a slight risk for developing the condition, so as a result, fillings do not usually contain silver today.

Some tattoo colors have a silver base, which may result in localized argyria.
Some tattoo colors have a silver base, which may result in localized argyria.

Universal argyria occurs when the people ingest silver particles in medicines, or through exposure to fine silver dust. In these cases, the blue color of the skin is more diffuse, but may at first be noted mostly on areas of the skin that receive sun exposure. The face, hands, and chest may all turn a bluish-gray. In the worst cases, all of the skin will turn blue, and organs like the spleen and liver may also have a bluish cast.

Continued exposure to silver compounds can result in severe complications, which can include fatty degeneration of the major organs, thrombocytopenia, persistent bronchitis, loss of coordination and visual impairment at night. Should these symptoms and the blue skin tone be ignored, silver toxicity can develop, resulting in grand mal seizures, and the paralysis of the respiratory system, which is fatal.

This condition is usually diagnosed by taking a medical history and examining the blue patches under fluorescent x-ray. Skin biopsy at sites that appear most like argyria may also show evidence of too much silver in the skin. Generally humans have about 1 milligram of silver in their bodies, and this disease can occur with as little as 4 grams in the body. It is more common for people to have 20 to 40 grams of silver in their bodies when they exhibit argyria.

Most treatments focus on ending exposure to silver. Continued exposure can lead to the complications above. This disease is often considered simply a cosmetic skin condition, but there are few treatments that help eliminate the blue color of the skin. Some doctors suggest that a topical hydroquinone ointment helps minimize the discoloration.

Patients are also advised to use sunscreen, and some may also wear cover-up makeup if the blue discoloration is very pronounced. Since few cures exist, focus is on prevention. In fact, in developed countries, argyria is relatively rare, as long as people don’t take silver supplements.

People with argyria should always use sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF).
People with argyria should always use sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF).
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@Anon188983: If you don't mind me asking, I am wondering how much colloidal silver you took and for how long? The reason I ask is that before I did so much research on it, I listened to a holistic doctor who recommended it for my child's ear infections.

I have given her a drop or two, twice a day of 250 ppm for about two weeks, then dropped down to one drop once a day.

Her ear infections have been kept at bay, but now I am concerned. She is 5 and weighs about 38 pounds. I wish I hadn't given it to her, but she had been through so many rounds of antibiotics and had become resistant. I did not know this was a possibility.


Well, eight years ago, I ingested colloidal silver more than my body could get rid of and I unhappily turned gray on my face because of it. Some people noticed it and some people didn't. Anyway, here I am knowing I have what they call Argyria. Colloidal silver has helped a lot of people keep their bacteria and virus' at bay, but is it worth the side effects of turning a different color? My bedridden mother was able to heal her bedsore with colloidal silver when absolutely nothing else seemed to work though she wasn't ingesting it, just applying it.

I've read that laser can really help minimize the gray or blue colored skin caused by Argyria on some individuals. I searched and found a doctor experienced in using the right kind of laser, and thank goodness he was willing to help me. This doctor also removes tattoos which is kind of what Argyria is, a tattooing of the skin from ingesting too much colloidal silver. I found Dr. Steven Popkow MD in Los Angeles, Calif. He is a very gentle and understanding doctor, which is so important when it comes to such a sensitive issue.

I've had two treatments so far and yes, it is quite painful, but so worth it. I've got my original color back before I had Argyria and I am completely thrilled. With additional laser treatments, Dr. Popkow can treat the rest of the spots that get missed here and there. I feel what Dr. Popkow charges is very reasonable. The cost is around $200 per treatment.

So, for the people on the west side of the United States, there is a doctor who helps with the discoloration of Argyria and for those who live even further who might want to travel to see Dr. Popkow.

Today, I don't have to walk around worried about who might be wondering why my face is gray because it's not anymore. I think being ashy made me look like I wasn't well even though I felt completely fine. The embarrassment of having someone say something about the gray color of my face felt uncomfortable even though I was completely frank. I'm not a person that likes to hide, so I just went on living, but I feel the relief big time now thanks to Dr. Popkow. He has definitely changed my life for the better. The joy I feel is immeasurable.

I take chlorella every day to help chelate metals out of the body internally. The silver is not just in the skin, so cleansing is very important.

This is my journey and my *big* lesson and I hope that I may be of help somehow to others.

I can't speak for everyone with Argyria, since I know some people with Argyria are darker gray or bluer than others, but for me, the laser treatment worked at lighting my skin color to a more natural skin tone. I hope it can help you also, though there are no guarantees. I'm completely happy with my results and I feel normal again. I would love to see relief for others as well. I know what you all are going through.


how do you prevent Argyria?

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