Skin Discoloration by Gold and Other Jewelry Metals

Why your skin gets discolored by certain jewelry metals, and what you can do about it.

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Virtually no discussion of jewelry metals would be complete without mentioning this age-old issue.

And the answer is, "Oh, yes, even 24K gold can cause skin discolorations for some people."  That's no test of quality of a precious metal.

Is there anything that can be done about this problem? Perhaps.

A couple of manufacturers over the years have announced special salves or chemicals, usually with a petroleum base. I've tested them; gave them to people with a skin-gold problem and they were ineffective. Within a short time, the products had disappeared.

Why does this happen to me?

It is believed that individuals who are plagued by this problem - even with precious metals - have a high salt or chloride content in their perspiration with a possibility of some other triggering chemical.

Metals discolor the skin through a combination of secretions or perspiration containing these chlorides and, it is thought, sulfides, which interact with the copper and silver molecules in the gold alloy.

It isn't so much the gold that does it as it is the alloy. These baser metals and the chlorides and sulfides form dark-colored salts of either copper sulfate or silver chloride.

The chloride problem is particularly noticeable in seacoast and semitropical areas. The rubbing of these salts - both from the climate and the perspiration - is what causes the unsightly smudge.

There is the additional problem of smog. Fumes which are filled with particles of silver dioxide and phosphate will gradually attack jewelry and this assault is seen as a tarnish which rubs off on the skin.

What can I do about it?

If you have a skin discoloring problem, try moving up the karatage of your gold jewelry. Because of the lower copper content 18K gold doesn't smudge as quickly as 14K. You might also consider switching to white gold (which contains no copper) or palladium.

Some petroleum jelly applied to the skin area that will come in contact with metal has also been demonstrated to retard the smudge. Try painting clear fingernail polish on the metal where it contacts the skin.

Dr. Gerald Wykoff GG CSM

Dr. Gerald Wykoff is GG (Graduate Gemologist), a CSM (Certified Supreme Master gemcutter), educator, and author of several gemology books. He founded the American Society of Gemcutters in the 1980s and served for more than 10 years as the editor of its monthly magazine, American Gemcutter.

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