Raw copper that is used in jewelry can have the tendency to turn your skin green. Why is this? When copper is exposed to an environment e.g. air (oxygen), acid or chemicals, as a base metal it goes through a reaction that changes the surface.
Oxidization is the natural process that occurs when copper is exposed to the air. The oxygen content in the air starts to cause a chemical reaction on the surface of the copper which creates a darkening of the shiny surface, known as a patina. It is a discoloration that forms over time until the copper goes completely dark and dull. With the right chemical exposure, copper can take on a really pretty green/blue patina as well.
When our body sweats, copper jewelry will naturally react with the oxygen in the air, the oils on our skin and the salty acidic water that makes up our sweat. Over time this causes a discoloration on the copper, which when worn against the skin, rubs off and forms a coating on the surface of the skin. Each individual has different body chemistry which creates a variety of effects when wearing copper jewelry. How tightly the jewelry is worn against the skin will also affect the oxidization process with the skin.
There is also an abundance of other chemicals on our skin that adds to the chemical reaction in the copper metal, from perfume, soap, moisturizer to make-up. This can add to how fast the oxidization process occurs, or to what extent. Everyone is different.
The oxidization process of copper and other nonferrous metals is not harmful to your health and can usually be easily washed off with soap and water.
Are GaleForce Design bracelets coated?
Most of the bracelets that I make (and the front sides of my earrings) are coated with a high quality jewelry sealer. This helps protect the color on the pieces. In many cases it also helps prevent the skin from turning green beneath the copper. However, the sealer can wear off if a person is rough on their jewelry, allowing the sealer to get scratched or scuffed up. The sealer may also wear off on the underside if the jewelry is worn tightly against the skin or if it is exposed to chemicals, lotions, perfume, etc. A person’s body chemistry can also affect the longevity of the sealer.
What does patina look like on copper?
Below are two photos of a bracelet that I made with my father’s handwriting on it. I knew this was a piece that I wanted to wear often and I knew that I would be pretty hard on any sealer, if applied, because this bracelet would be something that I would seldom take off, even during dish washing and showering. Because of this, I decided that I would not apply a sealer on the cuff. I would just let the metal patina naturally. The photo on the left is the bracelet newly finished. The photo on the right clearly shows what patina looks like on copper when it has been well loved.
Can I polish non sealed copper to keep the metal shiny?
You bet! Be sure to only polish non-sealed pieces though. Attempting to polish areas of jewelry that have sealer on it may render the sealer useless and may affect the colors that have been intentionally applied.
I recommend using Sunshine® polishing cloths. Be sure the item to be cleaned is free from dust and or other abrasives. Then very gently rub the surface to be polished with the yellow or blue sunshine cloth. Each cloth is impregnated with special chemical cleansing agents and non-scratching (blue and yellow) & scratching (pink) micro-abrasives.