Silver may be a precious metal in jewelry, but its place in cosmetics hasn’t yet been secured. While copper peptides have shone their way into the good graces of skin care enthusiasts, there’s a lack of research on silver. Reportedly, everyone from the ancient Chinese to the ancient Egyptians used silver in their medical and skin care (Total Health). Hippocrates himself used silver for ulcer treatment and to expedite wound healing (Surgical Infections).
Today we still use the 47th element in the periodic table for medicinal purposes, though the jury is still out on whether or not all the current uses are effective until we have more research-based evidence.
Historical Precedent Versus Research
Silver has been shown through historical usage to be successful at keeping water and food pure, dressing wounds, promoting wound healing, and staving off infection. Some of these have more research studies to back them up than others. While that doesn’t mean those less studied uses don’t work, but that we don’t know enough about them.
Here are the purported benefits of silver: Silver is said to be a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which is part of why it is sometimes used to dress wounds and stop infection (Journal of Wound Care). It also is said to be an antimicrobial agent and antiseptic. There seems to be minimal risk associated with topical application aside from silver allergy (Biofunctional Textiles and the Skin). It has also not been associated with the drug resistance that some other antibiotics have.
But the studies vary greatly in their results. Most studies look at silver’s effects on burn wounds and other types of wounds, both the infection rate and the rate of healing are small and of poor quality (Intervention Review). Overall, a look at 26 trials found that silver had little to no effect and could possible slow the healing time in partial-thickness burns. And other articles have made note that mixed results in studies mean that we should rethink using silver too often (Burns, Clinical Toxicology), particularly for oral use.
Silver in Skin Care
Silvers antimicrobial and antibacterial properties make it a prime candidate to treat several skin ailments, including acne. There’s very little information on silver and it’s usage in cosmetics. I wasn’t able to find studies on anti-aging, acne, or any skin ailments and how they faired with silver use. A search reveals many claims and a lot of usage suggestions based on historical precedent, but little based on actual data.
The usage of micronized silver has led many to question whether these micro particles could penetrate the skin and do damage. One study found silver is non-toxic when washed in a silver solutions or carbon coated. But unwashed, uncoated silver solutions might penetrate the skin in compromised (read: wounded) areas and cause reactive oxygen species that could damage cell machinery and DNA (Environmental Health Perspectives). They suggested that both residual contaminants in the solution and the vehicle for the silver might be responsible and called for more studies to further investigate this.
Taking Silver Orally is NOT Recommended
The FDA considered this ingredient and decided that it could not be used in prescription medications (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine). For this reason, you’ll only find it in homeopathic supplements with colloidal silver. But taking it is not recommendable.
First and foremost, silver isn’t a mineral that the body requires, meaning that it doesn’t have a normal physiological function in the body (Sloan-Kettering Memorial Center). While that doesn’t automatically negate it as a medicine, there are numerous other reasons to avoid this one. (There is some talk of anti-tumor activity after an in vitro study on breast cancer, but a single study that wasn’t on humans isn’t enough to make significant claims (Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research).)
The data isn’t there for any of its purported uses in humans and there’s a potential for toxicity (Journal of Toxicology). In addition to reducing the effectiveness of tetracycline, quinolone, and penicillamine, silver can also cause seizures and kidney damage. And don’t even consider it if you’re pregnant, as it can cause abnormalities to the fetus.
On a cosmetic level, prolonged exposure to oral colloidal silver can result in argyria, a permanent condition that causes the skin to become a bluish-gray color (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry). While this isn’t necessarily harmful to health, it might not be a look you want to sport.
At this point in time, silver is definitely worth more to you in your jewelry than in your face cream. While research may uncover that it promotes wound healing, helps acne, and has anti-aging properties, the current research is contradictory at best. With so much history, it’s quite possible that silver has beneficial effects in medicine and skin care, but we need more evidence. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s possible to have a silver allergy, so be sure to patch test the first time you use a silver-containing product. We do know, however, that colloidal silver supplements are definitely not recommendable and that they can cause unpleasant side effects with no known positive effects.
Editor and Contributing Writer Natalie K. Bell spent years mining the depths of the Internet, asking doctors absurd questions, and experiencing the unfortunate trial-and-error of adolescence to accumulate beauty and make-up knowledge. Natalie holds a degree in English Writing and Cultural Anthropology. She enjoys cooking and eating exotic food, spoon collecting, both high-brow and trashy literature, unrealistic romantic comedies, bad horror movies, and vintage jewelry.View all Natalie Bell posts.
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