Heavy Metal Induced Skin Pigmentation

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Heavy metals aren’t used much anymore, but when they are they can cause pigment changes in the skin. Heavy metals include gold, silver, bismuth and mercury.

What are heavy metals used for?

Silver sulfadiazine is used today to treat extensive burns. Silver is also worn as jewellery.

Gold is used today in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and a skin condition called pemphigus vulgaris. In these disorders it is only used if the previously recommended treatment does not work.

Iron salts can be used as a treatment in people with anaemia caused by an iron deficiency.

What does heavy metal induced skin pigmentation look like?

When silver gets into the body it can cause grey skin pigmentation. This is called argyria. This skin pigmentation is found all over the body but is most noticeable in areas which are often exposed to the sun. This grey colouring can also occur on skin that is touching silver, such as from wearing jewellery or having acupuncture with silver needles. Usually stopping medication or removing silver jewellery will allow the pigmentation to fade but sometimes it can be permanent.

Gold can cause a blue-grey pigmentation on the skin and again, this is particularly apparent in areas exposed to the sun, as well as around the eyes. This is known as chrysiasis. Like silver, gold jewellery can also cause changes in skin pigmentation where it is touching the skin. In order for this change in pigmentation to fade, treatment must be stopped and contact with the sun must be avoided. Sometimes the change in pigmentation can be permanent.

Iron salts which have been injected into the skin can cause a permanent grey-blue hyperpigmentation.

Why do heavy metals cause skin pigmentation?

It is thought that silver granules which get into the skin cause melanin to be produced. Long term intake of silver products causes silver to gather in the skin and in the eye. This can also cause changes in skin pigmentation.

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