The popular Blue Man group couldn’t compete with the real life “blue man,” 62-year-old Paul Karason, whose permanently blue skin turned him into a Smurf-like Internet sensation. Karason died Monday after suffering a heart attack, reports ABC News on Sept. 25.
Karason’s face and body turned a distinct blue color in 2008, when he used a silver compound – colloidal silver – to treat a severe case of facial dermatitis. Colloidal silver products are manufactured as cure-alls or “essential minerals,” but are actually tiny silver particles suspended in a liquid.
Researchers are unclear how much of the compound it takes to change skin pigmentation, but ingesting the silver product – the same silver one would find in dental fillings or silverware – can build up and cause permanent damage, as it did in Karason’s case.
Most commonly, excess use results in argyria, a blue-gray discoloration of the skin, eyes, internal organs, nails and gums. Other than the obvious cosmetic concern, argyria on its own doesn’t pose a serious risk to the health. It is, however, irreversible and does not fade, even after you stop taking the silver product.
Paul appeared on the Today show in 2008, telling Matt Lauer that he put the colloidal silver directly on his face after suffering from severe skin problems and anxiety over the death of his father. When asked if a doctor prescribed the treatment, Paul said, “Oh no, I did it all on my own… I saw an ad for a colloidal silver generator in a magazine and the picture stuck in my head like a song might stick in your head.”
Karason said he did not know that the blue condition was a potential side effect, and never noticed any change to his skin color until he started to apply it topically. Karason said even though his skin was changing colors, the benefits outweighed the risk – Paul said his acid reflux, sinus troubles and arthritis all went away.
His strange condition earned him the "Papa Smurf" nickname, which would bother Paul depending on who said it.
"That was a nickname he didn’t appreciate," Paul's girlfriend at the time told Today. "If it was a kid who ran up to him saying 'Papa Smurf,' it would put a smile on his face. But if it was an adult, well..."
Colloidal silver was used in some over-the-counter medications until 1999, when it was banned by the FDA.