Copper is the most commonly used metal in the making of Sterling Silver. Copper provides the durability that Pure Silver needs, while maintaining its natural color. What could possibly go wrong with Copper? Well – it is highly susceptible to tarnishing and causing skin discoloration. Sterling Silver pieces that contain Copper often demonstrate these issues through exposure to oxygen.
Ever worn a Brass ring that caused your skin to turn green? This either concludes that you are secretly ‘The Incredible Hulk’ - OR - that your ring is composed of a base metal, such as Copper.
Copper, commonly found in brass and other alloys, causes skin to turn green. The acid in human sweat, combined with chemicals found in soaps, lotions and makeup react with the metal. This reaction causes a green patina or surface coating to form on the copper, and that color gets transferred onto your skin.
This reaction varies based on individual body chemistry, both in how long it takes for the green discoloration to form and in how distinct the color becomes. Other external elements like oxygen can cause copper to change its color.
The most common chemical reaction that occurs to copper is oxidation. When copper gets exposed to air, it results in the copper's surface darkening. When that surface is also exposed to saltwater, as with the Statue of Liberty in NY Harbor, the copper turns bluish-green. Prolonged contact with your skin will cause a similar reaction.
Ranking as both inexpensive, and relatively safe, Zinc is another typical metal choice for use in Sterling Silver. However, Zinc does have its dark side. Contrary to general belief, Zinc is NOT tarnish-resistant. Moisture, humidity and cosmetic products can cause this metal to corrode. Zinc even has the tendency to stain your skin with tarnish, just like Copper and Nickel.
The world of metals can be an enigmatic place with lose regulations adding fuel to that fire. Let’s do away with the stigma created by the industry terms ‘real jewelry’ vs ‘fake jewelry’. If jewelry turns your skin green, that does not make it “fake”. That means there’s copper in the alloy - one of the most common metals found in jewelry.
And don’t let the price fool you. High-end jewelry that contains copper can and will cause the same symptoms. It’s time we start talking about metals and refrain from using outdated market terminology. This is the level of transparency our industry needs to move forward.