71-year-old Rosemary Jacobs has had silver-colored skin for the past 60 years. At age 11, she developed a rare condition called argyria – caused by exposure to chemical forms of the element silver that makes the skin turn blue or bluish-grey. For Rosemary, the exposure occurred from nasal drops containing colloidal silver.
Rosemary’s story is unbelievable; Whoever heard of a real person turning silver after using silver nasal drops? You only get to see skin color changing in cartoons, but apparently the condition is real, and Rosemary has had to live a life of stigma because of it. Of course, her skin didn’t change color overnight. In fact, she was diagnosed with argyria four years after she began using the medication.
Rosemary, a retired Spanish teacher from Vermont, U.S., said: “When I was 11 years old, my mother mentioned to an ENT specialist that I always had a cold. He told me that it had to be allergies and prescribed nose drops that contained silver, recommending that I take them ‘as needed’.” She did as she was told, using the drops every time she had a stuffy nose.
At first, no could notice any difference in Rosemary’s skin, not even her parents. “The change in my color was so slow, I didn’t notice. My family and friends didn’t notice either because they saw me every day,” she said.
Photos: Rosemary Jacobs
A nurse finally spotted the difference in color and Rosemary went to see a dermatologist. A skin biopsy revealed that there were silver particles bound deep beneath her skin. Unfortunately, there was no cure for argyria in the 1950s, and it was too late to reverse the effects by stopping the drug. “They told me the color was permanent. It was devastating,” she said.
Rosemary has longed to be normal all her life. She has been a victim of discrimination and cruel comments for a very long time. Strangers would think she had a contagious disease and go out of their way to avoid her. “People point and stare, calling me names and telling me to take my Halloween makeup off. Some even say I look like the walking dead.”
Rosemary said she would often be asked where she was from and what languages she spoke. Many employers refused to hire her because of her appearance. “It’s really hurtful. Even though I have looked like this for a long time, I still long to look normal,” she said. One of her most embarrassing moments was when an airhostess in a plane tried to give her oxygen, thinking that the blood had drained from her face.
Photo: Rosemary Jacobs
Over the years, a few treatments have been attempted, with very little success. At age 36, Rosemary opted to undergo a skin dermabrasion – a procedure to remove the top layer of the skin, leaving it red and raw. Doctors weren’t sure if it would cure the condition, but she was willing to risk it. “The dermabrasion didn’t hurt at all,” she said. “It just looked awful for a while afterwards. It took about six months to know what the final color would be.” Unfortunately, when her skin grew back, it left her with a pink and blotchy complexion, with patches of grey still visible. “I don’t think I look much better now,” she said.
Rosemary, who has never dated or been in any relationships, is now spending all her time spreading awareness of the dangers of taking supplements and medicines containing silver. She believes that the number of dietary supplements containing silver has been on the rise, and that they should contain warning labels about argyria.
Well, it’s not just chemicals that can change a person’s color. Last year, we reported the story of a four-year-old who turned orange after eating carrots!