I devote far too much of my time learning to artistically layer my necklaces to look like someone who knows what she’s doing. I meticulously choose from my (fake) gem and bead collections and layer together a generous amount of chains. Following this, I spend my day trying to avoid a cataclysmic clash of sequined top and necklaces/bracelets. But my efforts are futile. As I untangle and unclasp, the horror of my cheap purchases reveals its ugly head (on my head!!) and a thick, mucus-coloured ring sits like a noose around my neck. It’s entirely my own fault because I am weak for high-street jewellery sales. This green ring is self-inflicted; a mark of my disrespect for goldsmith’s worldwide. I’m marked, tainted.
I bet right now, as your reading this, your eye is slipping from the screen to the ring on your index finger to check for a green mark made by your seemingly harmless €10 purchase. Judgements aside, everyone has been in this situation (unless you have a bucket-load of disposable income, in which case you’ve probably never experienced the harrowing green-ringed monster). Let’s get to it: why does skin turn green? What are we being punished for?
When we perspire, the metals in cheap jewellery react with the acid in sweat to form salts, which are green. These acids cause the nickel to corrode on the surface of the metal, which forms a salt compound of the metal. These salts are absorbed into the skin and the result is a decidedly green digit/neckline/wrist/lobes (fun fact: in America, this is known as the “Statue of Liberty Teal”). The colouring isn’t permanent (if it doesn’t come off the first time in the shower, some nail polish remover will work) and it isn’t overly toxic unless you have a specific sensitivity to the metal that’s causing it, like an allergic reaction to nickel. An estimated 65 million people are sensitised to nickel in Europe and develop contact dermatitis when atoms of the metal touch their skin. I found this cool at-home nickel test if you’re worried and want to test your jewels pre-wearing.
The greenies can occur with expensive, real jewellery too, which is one of the main reasons why it’s not recommended to spray products/perfumes/creams directly onto the piece. Stainless steel and white gold are usually immune. Some costume jewellery can contain skin-irritant chemicals like lead, cadmium(a component of zinc), chromium, nickel, brominated flame retardants, chlorine and mercury. In one study, poisonous arsenic was found to be part of the makeup of jewellery found in Claire’s accessories, Forever 21, and H&M.
It may come as some comfort to you that wearing contaminated jewellery is far less dangerous than eating it, just FYI. But it is easy for a toddler to grab hold of mammy’s shiny bits hanging from the bedside locker and chew unmercifully. Biting nails during moments of concentration, or constantly having your hands near your mouth are not-so-obvious ways of coming in contact with these chemical compounds, too. Side effects for ingesting these chemicals include abdominal pain, constipation, headaches and even kidney dysfunction, so even small amounts can cause lasting damage.
Chances are unless you’re buying mass amounts of costume jewellery for consumption, jewellery won’t kill you (minus the choking hazard). But skin reactions and discolourations can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Thankfully, our skin is a living organism that constantly repairs and changes, so any irritation should be gone in a day or two, though it’s worth making an appointment with a dermatologist if symptoms persist.
If you’re dedicated to the fake jewels club, lash on a layer of clear nail polish before wearing. It will act as a barrier and won’t cause any discolouration, but you didn’t hear it from me.