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Why does copper turn my skin green?

Copper is an element found naturally in the earth. When exposed to other chemicals and elements, it can react with them, leading to changes on its surface. When it is exposed to air, it darkens or tarnishes, forming what is commonly referred to as copper “patina.” After prolonged contact with human skin where it can interact with air, sweat, and other chemicals such as soaps, lotions and makeup, copper can turn green or bluish-green, and stain the skin in the process. The reaction varies according to an individual’s body chemistry, both in how long it takes for the green discoloration to form and in how pronounced the color becomes. Some people experience no discoloration. The discoloration, incidentally, is not harmful to one’s health, and is readily washed off with soap and water. If not washed off, it is normally absorbed by the body overnight.


Some health-conscious people buy copper jewelry, especially bracelets, for the purported healing properties that result from the direct contact of copper with their skin. They welcome the green discoloration of their skin as evidence that the copper is working. Most people who like to wear copper do not care about having an occasional green stain. However, for many people who wear copper jewelry purely for adornment, skin discoloration is often an unwelcome occurrence. Fortunately, it can be minimized or even prevented by the simple introduction of a barrier between the copper and the skin.

How to Solve the Problem?

1. Clean the piece of jewelry by either washing with soap and water, or by wiping with rubbing alcohol. Dry immediately and thoroughly.

2. Coat either the entire piece or just those areas that touch your skin with one of the following:

1. a layer of clear nail polish. (although a simple and popular remedy, the polish will wear off over time, and will need to be reapplied periodically)

2. a sprayed-on coat of a clear acrylic lacquer (ultra-violet-stable)

3. car wax, applied and buffed according to the container's instructions.

3. Coating your jewelry with one of these barriers has the added advantage of protecting the jewelry from tarnishing, or at least slowing down the process.

4. Of course, you can minimize skin discoloration by wearing the offending piece for only a short time.

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