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Student Research: How Silver Turns People Blue

October 29, 2012
Too much of a good thing

Scientists have known for years argyria — a condition that turns the skin blue — had something to do with silver. Brown scientists have figured out the complex chemistry behind it.

Ingesting too much silver can cause argyria, a rare condition in which patients’ skin turns a striking shade of grayish blue. Graduate students in chemistry Jingyu Liu and Zhongying Wang and Professor Robert Hurt and other researchers have discovered how this happens. 

Scientists have known for years argyria had something to do with silver. The condition has been documented in people who (ill advisedly) drink antimicrobial health tonics containing silver nanoparticles and in people who have had extensive medical treatments involving silver. Tissue samples from patients showed silver particles actually lodged deep in the skin, but it wasn’t clear how they got there.

Read more of Kevin Stacey's story about how silver turns people blue.