Saturday, April 2, 2011

What To do About Copper Jewelry Turning Skin Green

I I sometimes get questions from readers who email me. I can't claim to know all the answers but I do my best to try and help. As some of these inquiries might be of interest to other readers, I will post selected questions and answers from now on.  Your name will not be used if you'd rather not.


Ode to Copper Coiled Wire Necklace by Pearl

Reader Question :
Kimberly : I have a question about copper that so far other jewelers have not answered because they feel I should only be using sterling silver or gold. But I'm new to all jewelry making and I'm disabled and living on very little money.

The question is what do you do to the copper to make sure the jewelry doesn't turn anyone's skin green? I know that copper jewelry has turned my skin green and I don't want any of my potential customers to end up green and I lose future sales. I understand that I need to incorporate some st. silver, gold, even gold filled metals into some of my designs, but until I get more money coming in I have to use copper, brass and bronze. Thank you for all of your advice and love how you go into detail about your topics of the day. Thank you again.

Answer :
Pearl : There is nothing wrong with copper, brass and bronze - I use all of them.  But they do not sell as well as silver or silver colored metals. The  majority of people in the West seem to prefer the silver colored metals. In parts of Asia, gold is king.

The green skin effect is due to copper oxidizing with prolonged contact with skin which has sweat glands - the salty perspiration promotes tarnishing. The cosmetics and skin lotions we use plus the daily exposure to pollutants in the air don't help either.

There are 3 ways to reduce this problem:
  • Don't wear copper jewelry all the time. Remove it and store it in a zip lock bag to reduce the tarnishing effect. It also helps to keep bright copper shiny i.e. remove any beginning oxidation by cleaning it regularly. Ketchup, vinegar or lemon juice works! See post below.
  • Use renaissance wax to protect the jewelry. This though is not a permanent solution.
  • Deliberately patina your pieces for the vintage look ie add a layer of oxidized material. The patina layer will thus act as a barrier between the copper and your skin. Liver of sulfur is the most efficient way although there are other methods.  Again not a permanent solution as the patina eventually rubs off with use.  Some artisans create gorgeous patinas and they wax coat the pieces to protect the patinas (see posts below).
Consider other silver alternatives.  Silver plated is a fraction of the cost of sterling silver and some people are fine buying plated as it is cheaper for them. Even better is sterling silver filled wire which is much thicker than silver plated. It's about 1/2 the cost of sterling silver the last time I looked.

I also use stainless steel (a silver-grey metal - use jewelry supply types for softer tempers unless you have strong fingers) and bright aluminum. The latter is not regular aluminum which leaves black marks on you and the wearer. Bright aluminum is popular with chain mail jewelry makers as it is inexpensive, shiny like silver and light too. The downside is it can become brittle if you over work it.

Check out my past blog posts :
______________________________
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 

19 comments :

WildGift said...

I have given some of my copper jewelry a few coats of metal acrylic lacquer. I offer this option to my customers and many opt-in for the sealing to avoid reaction with the skin and also to eliminate the tarnishing.

Olyveoil said...

Thanks for this post, Pearl, it's very helpful. Also, I like the suggestion by WildGift.

I bought a very lovely pair of copper wire earrings and had an awful reaction to the metal. Copper is one of my most favorite metals and now I'm going to seal these so that I may wear them.

Is the lacquer the only way to seal the copper (and other metals)or are there other materials that will work? I see that you mentioned Renaissance wax, so I'll get my hands on that, too.

Thanks,

Debbie...(O:
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The Beading Gem said...

Excellent suggestion, WildGift!

Olyveoil - try the suggestions and choose what works best for you.

Divya N said...

I had a reader suggest acrylic polish to me when I had complained about copper getting tarnished in one of the posts but somehow I am not for the effect it leaves on the jewelry.Another option is to leave copper jewelry without polish as the more you polish the faster it tarnishes and leaves residue. the unpolished ones remain as is for a long period of time

The Beading Gem said...

I've found the rate of tarnishing will depend on the individual, how often they wear the piece and whether or not they store in a zip lock plastic bag. But sooner or later, it will tarnish.

The Beading Gem said...

I agree with you Divya about acrylic lacquers affecting the look of the piece. Renaissance wax does not do that at all as it is virtually invisible.

Azure Islands Designs said...

A tough question to find an answer for Pearl...I'm still contemplating it myself. With the cost of silver right now I would like to use copper/brass more but as you say it doesn't sell as well...besides I really dislike the tarnishing effect. The skin turning green doesn't bother me, it washes off...but I do now it bothers others.

I'm going to try the patina route, I've ordered the product...I'll let you know what I think.

Enjoy your day
Cheers

Paper Demon Jewelry on Etsy said...

Hey, can we get a message to Kimberly? Because I want to say this: don't let anyone tell you you can't run a wonderful, successful jewelry business using entirely base metal findings!!!! Browse through Etsy and you'll see some of the most successful sellers use nothing but easily available and very cheap base metal ear wires and other findings. Sure there are the "artistes" who are very selective about their materials, and that's fine. But running a business is about meeting customer demand, and there is huge demand for innovative, unique jewelry that is easy to wear and easy to buy, and noone in that market objects to silverplate ring blanks, earwires, clasps, etc. You can always buy a small supply of sterling pieces and put in your description, "sterling available for an additional cost". The people who care will pay the extra money and you will not be out the expense.

Just my opinion! Karen

The Beading Gem said...

Patinaed copper is gorgeous too so good luck with the process.

Karen - thanks for your encouraging comment. I will forward it to Kimberly.

Almost Precious said...

All great suggestions and good, sound advice.

There is a product out that one can brush onto things like earwires to prevent metal reactions with the skin. It comes in a small bottle, much like nail polish, maybe it is nail polish? I can't remember what it is called and I've not used it, yet, but have considered purchasing it for my copper earwires.

Almost Precious said...

Eureka ! I found it...it is called Jewelry Shield and from what I read it sounds very much like clear nail polish only 3 times more expensive. :)

The Beading Gem said...

Thanks for the suggestion Anna. Jewelry Shield would likely perform better than nail polish. I tried the clear nail polish route myself years ago as I am allergic to some alloys. It didn't work very well for my earrings. Perhaps I did not coat it well enough.

dawn paton/humbleotter said...

just started enameling on copper and love the look of patina on copper with enameled pieces attached. I used liver of sulphur AND Renaissance wax and after a day of test wear my arm was green. I found this string while googling how to avoid the problem. Wish I could say the suggestions were more successful

Pearl Blay said...

Try more than one thin layer of Renaissance wax. Or switch to acrylic lacquer.

Shannon LeVart said...

Professional metal lacquers like Nicolas, Clear Guard and Permalac seal the bright, antiqued or patina-ted copper, brass and bronze metals and are safe to wear against skin and clothing.

To create additional protection between the treated metals and the wearers skin, apply 2 coats of Renaissance wax on top of the lacquer.

BUT after the additional costs of sealant and labor in applying you have a piece that will cost as much as sterling jewelry to make!

Niobium and fine silver ear wires help those sensitive to metals but will not help those allergic to metals (BIG difference in the two!)

Unfortunately there is NOTHING you can use that will last forever and this recommendation is made with the understanding that the handmade jewelry will be treated as fine china; taken out and used on occasion, cleaned and maintained regularly.
Shannon
missficklemedia.com

Pearl Blay said...

Excellent comments!

Angela said...

Thanks! Very helpful! I am in the EXACT same situation, I have been working with copper wire for my jewelry making and noticed recently that my fingers were turning green. I have been selling my jewelry at art fairs and online, and had no idea my jewelry would do that.. so I just ordered some sterling silver plated wire, I hope this does the trick, since I can not afford the good stuff.. :-)

Pearl Blay said...

I so share your feelings about the prices. Try sterling silver filled wire, Angela. It's better than silver plated as there is more silver in it!

Anonymous said...

Try to coat the part that will be touxhing tour skin with a clear nail polish. I heard this works. Mayve use it on a piece thats not importabt to try it first.

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