But is it worth shelling out to add it to your skincare routine?
Does your skincare collection have metal? The likes of copper peptides have been shown to support healthy skin by protecting collagen from free-radical damage and enhancing repair, while metal ions such as zinc oxide are known to protect skin against UVA and UVB rays, but the value of more precious metals in our skincare is less clear.
One such magpie-ish metal that crops up in skincare, but far more rarely than its more affordable cousin copper, is silver, and its medical and dermatological pedigree is time honoured. Silver has been used around the world as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory agent for centuries- it was considered one of the most important antimicrobial treatments before the wide scaled introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, with the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians using it topically to treat infections, and colloidal silver included in bandaging during the World Wars to encourage wound healing.
Colloidal silver is used in skincare preparations to this day for similarly purifying purposes, as founder of Allies of Skin Nicolas Travis explains:
“Colloidal silver is microscopic pieces of silver dispersed and suspended in water. These pieces are so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye. They are known for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, and they act by attaching themselves to the proteins on the cellular wall of the bacteria, where they penetrate into the cell of the bacteria to disrupt the metabolic processes of the bacteria, leading to the death of the bacteria. Think of silver as suffocating the bacteria- it helps to cut off its cellular respiration.”
Silver’s rep as a bacteria gobbling skin soother means that it’s most often included in skincare formulas that aim to treat acne and other reactive skin conditions, and the antibacterial component explains why it also crops up in deodorants, soaps and even workout wear (see lululemon’s Silverescent® range and Rhone’s Silvertech men’s line for anti-odour fitness fashion examples).
All isn’t quite as shiny and bright as it may seem where silver’s dazzling potential is concerned, however- for one, while not generally a problem when washed down the sink or put through the machine, silver nanoparticles in clothing can pollute the environment when we eventually throw our gym kit and anti-stink undies away. Scientists at the American Chemical Society published findings in 2016 showing that silver particles in clothing leached into the surrounding area when disposed of into landfill sites. The researchers also demonstrated that very little silver was required in garments to produce an antimicrobial effect, and given that toxicity was negligible when items were washed, it’s recommended that manufactures keep silver levels low, and that consumers curb ‘throwaway’ tendencies where silver sportswear is concerned in particular.
Back to skincare- history would suggest that colloidal silver is effective for supporting skin healing, and present day NICE recommendations state that dressings containing silver can “exert an antimicrobial effect”, but concrete evidence for its use in the treatment of acne and other skin conditions is both thin on the ground and currently inconclusive. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s possible to be allergic to silver (skincare expert Paula Begoun lists colloidal silver as a ‘sensitizing’ ingredient), which seems puzzling given its supposedly calmative effects, but then again you can to react to almost any ingredient under the sun, so if you do have sensitive skin, be sure to do a patch test before diving into any skincare face first.
Otherwise, colloidal silver and nanoparticles of silver are safe to use in skincare as long as they comply with EU guidelines (they wouldn’t be sold in the UK to you if they didn’t), and one advantage to its antibacterial effect in the case of acne is that it doesn’t induce bacterial resistance and isn’t necessarily as harsh as other topical treatments such as retinoids , although of course there’s not the bank of literature to backup its efficacy as there is with vitamin A derivatives. If you’re of the opinion that aeons of therapeutic use can’t be wrong, Nicolas recommends harnessing the benefits of silver in on specific skincare format:
“Colloidal silver is best utilized in leave-on formulas such as mists, moisturisers and sleeping masks. Rinse-off formulas don't allow the active ingredient enough time to work its magic. Colloidal silver is also safe to use topically both during the day and at night.”
If you’re swayed by silver, here are six ways to dip a toe in, but whatever you do, don’t be tempted to try silver supplements- ingesting silver is linked to an irreversible condition called argyria, whereby skin turns blue, and given that’s no evidence to suggest that it has any beneficial role when taken orally, we’d say don’t go there.
Argentum La Potion Infinie, £158 for 70ml
Yes, you read that price right, but this day and night cream goes big on silver in a way that no other product on the market gets near to- it contains the highest grade of colloidal silver available, meaning that the silver hydrosol that characterises this cream is as pure as possible. Silver aside, La Potion includes caffeine , aloe vera , emollient plant extracts and a rather unique addition named DNA HP, a patented polymer extract from salmon milt (aka, fish semen) that promotes elasticity, improves the skin’s capacity to hold onto water and smooths out skin texture. Unique, to say the least, and definitely one to swerve if you’re vegan…
Amly Silver Rich Face Mist, £45 for 100ml
By now you’ll be realising that turning your skincare regime silver ain’t cheap, but this face mist does double duty in that the aromatherapeutic blend stimulates your senses while ingredients such as copper peptides, hyaluronic acid and plant probiotics boost moisture levels. Silver citrate acts as a natural preservative.
Omorovicza Silver Skin Saviour, £65 for 50ml
New for September, this potent clarifying mask combines colloidal silver with salicylic and glycolic acids to cleanse pores and nix acne causing bacteria. I found it a little strong for my sensitive skin, but once the redness subsided my skin was far smoother than previously and my jawline breakouts did back off.
The leave-on treatment
Allies of Skin Promise Keeper Blemish Facial, £110 for 50ml
Silver’s not getting any more affordable over here but this bestseller gets rave reviews for its softening and spot reducing action over time. A fusion of colloidal silver, exfoliating AHA acids , calming honey and antioxidant pomegranate, mixed with hydrating ingredients such as glycerin, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid , it’s got legs where treating congested skin is concerned, although it packs a punch so be sure to patch test it if you’re reaction prone.
Cor Silver Soap, £15 for 10g
I’m going to stop banging on about price points soon but cor blimey, yes, this is costly. That being said, it’s not your bog standard bathroom bar- it’s designed to be used on your face and contains hyaluronic acid for a moisture hit as well as antibacterial silver, aloe vera, avocado oil, marine collagen extract and vitamins A and E. Obviously it’s a soap so you’ll be washing most of the good stuff off your face, but many swear by its ability to leave blemish prone skin clearer and softer.
Live Natural Crystal Liquid Roll-On Deodorant, £12.80 for 50ml
Colloidal silver is present and correct in this vegan roll-on to combat odour causing bacteria, alongside tea tree oil, aloe vera and fragrant rose and frangipani for fresher pits.