Maybe it was a fancy faux-gem necklace you bought to wear for a wedding or a boho “silver” bracelet you impulse-purchased at the checkout. Whatever it was, you put it on and loved the look—until your skin turned the color of Kermit the Frog. But don’t fret! There’s a reasonable explanation—and a way to prevent this chameleon effect.
Hidden copper inside metal jewelry is the most common reason your skin turns green. Costume jewelry labeled as being made of nickel and even pieces that are silver- or gold-plated often contain copper or copper alloys (a blend of metals that has copper as a component). As we know from seeing corroded pennies on the sidewalk and the Statue of Liberty’s complexion, copper is great at oxidizing to a green hue.
As if you needed another reason to hate sweating, here’s one more. The minerals and chemicals in your sweat can react with the copper content of your jewelry to cause the green tint to transfer to your skin. If you’ve noticed the reaction more in the summer months or post-workout, that’s why.
It doesn’t happen to everyone or every time you wear the same piece of jewelry, either—and even dermatologists aren’t immune. “One day, it might not affect me,” says Dr. Suzanne Friedler, a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology based in New York City. “Another day it could, depending on the heat and the sweatiness of my skin, and how closely it’s contacting my skin.”
In addition to sweat, the copper can react to chemicals on your skin, such as lotions, soaps, or sanitizers. So even if you’re not sweating much, you may notice a reaction.
Yes, there’s a fix, and it doesn’t involve applying antiperspirant all over the skin beneath your favorite faux pieces or avoiding hand lotion all together. The trick is to coat your jewelry, or whichever part of the jewelry comes into contact with your skin, with clear nail polish. This enamel acts as a protective barrier between the metals in your jewelry and your skin. Bonus: It’ll keep the jewelry metal from chipping or fading, too.
This method requires some maintenance, though. “The only problem with clear nail polish is that you can’t always tell when it’s rubbed off, so you may have to do it on a regular basis,” says Dr. Friedler.
If your jewelry is silver- or gold-plated, you can skip the nail-polish treatment and take it to a jeweler to have it recoated with those precious metals when they wear down and you’re noticing the green reaction.