What is colloidal silver and is it safe?

three bottles of colloidal silver

The Bottom Line

While colloidal silver has been promoted as an alternative or folk remedy, there is no evidence that it is effective. It can cause significant toxicity, particularly with long term use. 

man putting colloidal silver into his drink

What is colloidal silver?

Colloidal silver is a suspension of tiny silver particles. Commercial products are made by mixing silver, sodium hydroxide, and gelatin. Homemade suspensions have also been made using different ingredients and an electrical current. Colloidal silver has been used in a variety of ways. Most commonly, people swallow the suspension; however, it has also been inhaled using a nebulizer machine, and used topically on the skin and in the eyes. It has even been used as a nasal spray. 

What is colloidal silver used for?  

Because silver has antibacterial properties, colloidal silver was used to treat skin infections before antibiotics were available. More recently, colloidal silver has been used to treat a variety of infections, including COVID-19, to boost the immune system, and decrease inflammation. It is important to know, there is no clinical evidence to support the efficacy of colloidal silver and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against its use. There are some topical silver creams and other topical products that are approved by the FDA to prevent and treat infections. These are different than colloidal silver. 

Is colloidal silver safe?

Colloidal silver products have not undergone safety studies and are not recommended by the FDA. In addition, there have been serious adverse effects such as seizures, psychosis, neuropathy (burning pain usually in hands and feet), and even deaths reported from colloidal silver use. Because there is no information to suggest colloidal silver is effective for the treatment of any condition, the risks of using it outweigh the benefits. 

Does colloidal silver turn your skin blue?

Long-term or high dose exposure to silver results in a condition called argyria, which is characterized by a blue-gray discoloration of the skin. Argyria is due to silver deposition in various tissues over time. It often starts on the gums and then progresses to sun exposed areas of the skin. Over time the nails, eyes, and internal organs are involved. In fact, people who have died with silver poisoning have been found to have a blue tone to their internal organs. Once argyria occurs, treatment options are limited, and skin changes are often permanent. 

Can you put colloidal silver in your eye?

While there are some colloidal silver products marketed for use in the eye, it is not recommended to put colloidal silver in the eye. Because they are not regulated by the FDA, these products may not meet the sterility and safety standards required for eye drops. This can lead to infection and irritation. Also, topical application to the eye has resulted in blue discoloration of the eye and surrounding tissues that can be permanent.

Is colloidal silver poisonous?

While a single small dose of colloidal silver would not be expected to cause a problem, higher doses and long-term use can be dangerous. Colloidal silver can cause damage to the heart, liver, kidney, nerves, muscles, and bone marrow. It is important to remember that because these products are not regulated by the FDA, you may not know how much silver you are actually taking. 

What should I do if someone has accidentally swallowed colloidal silver?

If someone ingests colloidal silver, gets colloidal silver in the eyes, or if you have a question about colloidal silver, help from experts is available through the webPOISONCONTROL online tool at www.poison.org and by phone at 1-800-222-1222. Poison Control guidance is always free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day.

Maryann Amirshahi, PharmD, MD, MPH, PhD
Medical Toxicologist

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before using colloidal silver.
  • If you are using colloidal silver and notice skin or eye discoloration, stop using the product and call your doctor. 
  • Making your own colloidal silver solution is not recommended. 

This Really Happened

Case #1: A 53-year-old man developed argyria of the face after ingesting half an ounce of dilute silver solution four times a day for eight months. Despite treatment attempts, the discoloration persisted. 

Case #2: A 63-year-old woman instilled a single dose of 1% mild silver protein drops and developed blue discoloration of the cornea. 

Case #3: A 71-year-old man ingested an ounce of homemade colloidal silver solution daily for 4 months. He was brought to the emergency department because he had a seizure. He had repeated seizures and remained in a coma until he died. His autopsy showed high concentrations of silver in his brain. 


For More Information

National Institutes of Health: Colloidal silver: What you need to know.

References

Bowden LP, Royer MC, Hallman JR, Lewin-Smith M, Lupton GP. Rapid onset of argyria induced by a silver-containing dietary supplement. J Cutan Pathol. 2011 Oct;38(10):832-5.

Fung MC, Bowen DL. Silver products for medical indications: risk-benefit assessment. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1996;34(1):119-26.

Karcioglu ZA, Caldwell DR. Corneal argyrosis: histologic, ultrastructural and microanalytic study. Can J Ophthalmol. 1985 Dec;20(7):257-60.

Mirsattari SM, Hammond RR, Sharpe MD, Leung FY, Young GB. Myoclonic status epilepticus following repeated oral ingestion of colloidal silver. Neurology. 2004 Apr 27;62(8):1408-10. 

Photo Credit to FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs, Health Fraud Branch.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before using colloidal silver.
  • If you are using colloidal silver and notice skin or eye discoloration, stop using the product and call your doctor. 
  • Making your own colloidal silver solution is not recommended. 

This Really Happened

Case #1: A 53-year-old man developed argyria of the face after ingesting half an ounce of dilute silver solution four times a day for eight months. Despite treatment attempts, the discoloration persisted. 

Case #2: A 63-year-old woman instilled a single dose of 1% mild silver protein drops and developed blue discoloration of the cornea. 

Case #3: A 71-year-old man ingested an ounce of homemade colloidal silver solution daily for 4 months. He was brought to the emergency department because he had a seizure. He had repeated seizures and remained in a coma until he died. His autopsy showed high concentrations of silver in his brain.