Will This Necklace Turn My Neck Green?

Will Your Jewelry Discolor My Skin?

As a jewelry designer, I get this question on occasion. When I receive an e-mail with this subject line, I immediately cringe. First of all, how does one answer this question – ‘Why yes, it’s the new look for 2015!’. But seriously, it’s a great question and since I do get this from time to time, it’s obviously an issue people have had in the past with their jewelry.

Most people assume discoloration comes from cheap materials, which is the main reason people pose this question. Since I specialize in ‘affordable handmade jewelry’ and some of my designs contain plated metal to keep the costs lower, I’m not surprised this is a concern.

But, here is the real problem. The answer is ‘maybe’.

Yikes! How do I quantify that answer?

Here are the 5 main reasons jewelry can discolor. And this can happen with any jewelry – even that beautiful sterling silver or 18k gold piece you received as a gift. Your husband/boyfriend didn’t buy you a cheap substitute – there are valid reasons why discoloration occurs.

1. You went swimming in a chlorinated pool.

This happens a lot! We’ve all seen what happens to blonde hair after a full summer of swimming in a backyard pool. Your hair becomes somewhat ‘slimy’ and turns green. Chlorine is a powerful chemical and the interaction with this chemical and the metal in your jewelry can ruin your jewelry very quickly. However, I do receive messages from people specifically asking me if they can wear my jewelry while swimming. They do not want to remove it. My answer is always ‘no’. It just isn’t a good idea.

2. Your jewelry contains copper.

Copper is the biggest culprit for turning green. Even avoiding pure copper jewelry will not alleviate this problem. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, so wearing sterling silver can lead to discoloration. However, sterling silver normally turns black, not green (which is of no comfort when your neck is black!). Sterling silver oxidizes very easily and is caused by moisture and/or heat.

3. Your make-up or perfume caused a chemical reaction.

Make-up present on the skin or clothing is a common cause of discoloration. Cosmetics may contain chemical compounds which are harder than the jewelry. Metallic abrasion occurs when these hard compounds come in contact with the jewelry metals and wear or rub off very tiny particles of metal which appear as jet black dust.

Spraying perfume on your neck and then putting on your jewelry can also cause a reaction. Depending on the acids already naturally occurring in your skin, along with the chemicals in the perfume, this can be an unsightly combination.

4. High humidity or hot weather.

When you perspire, fats and fatty acids released in the perspiration can cause corrosion. This problem can be worse in seacoast and semitropical areas, where chlorides combine with the perspiration to form a corrosive element that discolors skin. Even smog fumes will gradually attack jewelry and its effect is evident as tarnish that rubs off on the skin.

5. You just happen to be one of those ‘unlucky’ ones.

Some people just have a natural chemical reaction to many metals – including gold. It’s thought that people with high salt or chloride content in their perspiration have more issues.


What can you do about it?

1. Take care of your jewelry. This means taking it off before exercising, swimming, or showering. Avoiding excessive moisture and sweat is a must.

2. If you wear perfume, don’t spray it near your jewelry. Avoid your neck and wrist areas.

3. Store jewelry in a lined jewelry box to limit exposure to air, which can discolor it over time. Exposure to air causes jewelry to tarnish, leaving dark stains on the metal surface.

4. Coat your jewelry with clear nail polish. I personally have not done this, but you will read about this ‘trick’ often.

All jewelry, whether it’s expensive or not can discolor skin if not properly cared for. Whether you are spending $20 or $500 on your accessories, taking care of your jewelry will extend the life of your favorite pieces.



  • So now I know why my jewelry sometimes gets discolored! It’s because I live in hot and humid South Florida. I will try your tip to keep it stored in a jewelry box and see if that helps.

  • I’ve often wondered this myself! Thanks for the possible explanations — I’ve always taken off my jewelry to exercise and swim, so that’s 2 things it probably ISN’T. 🙂

  • Great info, Theresa! I’ve personally never had this problem, but I know many people who do, so it will be good to have some answers for them.

  • As jewelry designers, we work mainly with semi-precious gemstones, Czech glass, crystals, and beads. Sometimes we use a metal but try to stay with pewter as a least likely culprit, however. we love using copper since it is a color that mixes so well with other materials.
    Great informative piece and I know many readers will appreciate it.

  • I made the mistake of hanging my jewelry on a wall in my bathroom and it all tarnished from the constant humidity. Some of it was good costume jewelry but I never was able to get rid of the discoloration. Lesson learned!

  • I learned so much about why my jewelry turns colors. Thankfully my skin has not turned green, but some of my jewelry has. Now I know why, thank you.

  • I have not noticed any discolouration, but thanks in advance for the tips. These are great to know. Particularly the one about adding a coat of clear nail polish can be super useful.

  • Wow, had no idea even the “good stuff” can discolor. the chlorine makes sense but had no idea about the other causes. Interesting.

  • Aha! So that’s why… some of my fun jewelry that I wear has gone discolored. Good tips to avoiding this issue.. I had no idea my perfume could be affecting it!

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