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If you live with persistent acne, you’ve likely tried a number of treatments in a bid for clearer skin.

While you have plenty of options to consider, traditional acne-reducing ingredients like retinol and benzoyl peroxide may not work for everyone. If they prove too strong for your skin, you might notice a cycle of inflammation, dryness, and redness that weakens your skin’s natural defenses and leads to more breakouts.

Perhaps you’ve heard of colloidal silver, a topical treatment currently gaining traction as a remedy for acne. This aqueous solution contains micro-sized particles of silver. Proponents say these particles deliver supercharged antimicrobial benefits without damaging the skin’s microbiome.

The claims are impressive, to be sure. But does it really work? Is it safe to use? Here’s what to know before trying it.

Colloidal silver was first used medicinally in 1891 to clean wounds. This use continued until the 1940s, when antibiotics came into play. Today, you can find colloidal silver in various skin care products, including:

  • lotions
  • masks
  • toners
  • serums
  • cleansers

“Silver has been shown to have antimicrobial properties,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

He goes on to say that applying it to the skin may have benefit as an acne treatment.

“The rationale is that silver can lower levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin that promote inflammation and pimples.”

Since bacteria plays a key role in acne, using a product that targets bacteria without harming the skin barrier make sense.

While experts aren’t certain, it’s generally thought that silver particles can puncture the cellular walls of bacteria, inhibit cellular respiration, and disrupt DNA and the replication cycle.

Most existing support for colloidal silver’s effectiveness is anecdotal. Still, you can find a number of dermatologists who recommend it.

One small randomized controlled trial from 2017 compared two different acne treatments:

  • silver nanoparticle gel (colloidal silver) with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide
  • clindamycin gel with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide

Researchers assigned 32 people with moderately severe acne to each group. Those in the silver treatment group:

  • seemed to notice slightly more of an improvement in inflammatory acne by the end of the study
  • said they were slightly more satisfied with the treatment after 6 weeks
  • didn’t report any adverse effects

Study authors didn’t find any major differences between either treatment, and they concluded silver nanoparticle gel was both effective and safe.

Still, more random controlled trials are needed to support the benefits of colloidal silver for acne.

Silver is used in the medical and dental industries, in personal care products, and in agricultural and industrial products.

You might also notice colloidal silver supplements marketed as an alternative healthcare product to boost immunity and fight cancers and infection.

To date, though, no scientific research validates these claims, and medical experts recommend avoiding these products completely.

Risks of oral use

Taking colloidal silver orally can cause plenty of negative effects, including what’s known as argyria. This permanent condition, a result of silver building up in the body, leaves your skin, eyes, nails, gums, and internal organs a bluish-gray.

This method of taking colloidal silver poses another problem, too. It may interact with some medications, including antibiotics.

Oral use of colloidal silver can also lead to other serious side effects, including seizures and organ damage.

In short, most experts consider silver unsafe to take orally.

Risks of topical use

As for topical use, clinical studies are limited, and experts have yet to determine the potential risks.

We do know silver isn’t considered an essential mineral. In other words, it has no function in the human body. Yet when you apply silver topically, your skin might end up absorbing small particles.

Silver allergies, though rare, remain a possibility, too. If your skin tends to react negatively to metal, you’ll likely want to steer clear of topical colloidal silver.

Another important consideration? Colloidal silver products aren’t standardized. That means the production, which includes the amount and size of silver particles, can vary from one product to the next. Investigating a brand before making a purchase is always your safest bet.

On the upside, colloidal silver seems to pair well with other skin care products and acne treatments.

If your skin care regimen currently features ingredients like salicylic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, or alpha hydroxy acids, adding a product with colloidal silver could offer a gentle way to enjoy a boost of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory benefits.

The most effective application of colloidal silver for acne will generally depend on the product you use.

You’ll want to follow the package directions to make sure you’re using a product correctly, whether it’s a mist, mask, or cleanser. If your dermatologist recommends a colloidal silver product, they’ll also provide instructions on how (and how often) to use it.

Often, you might use these products in the morning and again at night. You don’t need to do anything special to prepare your skin. Just don’t forget to follow up with sunscreen in the morning.

While you can find skin care products containing silver at many online retailers, you might want to start your search by asking your dermatologist for a recommendation. It’s always best to run any new products past an expert before adding it your skin care routine.

Colloidal silver may be turning heads as a gentle, effective option for treating acne, but evidence supporting its benefits remains largely anecdotal.

Some dermatologists may recommend it as a safe ingredient to add to your skin care regimen, yes. But others may suggest giving it a pass.

If you do decide to try it, it never hurts to do some research into a brand before making a purchase. And again, it’s always best practice to check with a dermatologist or healthcare provider before trying colloidal silver for acne.


Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.