It’s said gold was part of Cleopatra’s arsenal of beauty tools, but can a pot of face cream containing this precious metal really help your skin? Eitan Benson finds out.
It’s alluring isn’t it, the idea that smearing a shiny golden cream on your face will transfer to your skin the same luxurious perfection that elemental gold seems to radiate. That this rare element, so revered throughout history, so singular in its uses in science, engineering, medicine – and mysticism – would have abilities to revitalise skin, remove wrinkles, eradicate spots, correct sun damage, to name but a handful of the claims attributed to it. But is any of it true?
Well, it depends on the claim, and some of the most common can be categorised into one of three groups:
- works for some people,
- unproven but theoretically possible, and
- highly unlikely.
So why do cosmetic producers include gold in their products? In theory, there is some scientific logic for their inclusion. Scientist are exploring the use of colloidal gold (nano-sized particles) as a delivery system for medications to target tumours and, like similarly-sized silver particles, studies have shown that these tiny particles, have anti-microbial properties that may be useful in reducing inflammation and wound healing.
But do those properties transfer in any meaningful way to cosmetic benefits when used in skin care products? Let’s take a look.
- Works for some people
These are the sorts of claims that are hard to test in a lab as they involve a perception rather that anything that can be quantified, and include the kinds of claims like ‘8/10 women said their skin looked better’. When it comes to gold products these types of claims include:
- Illuminating skin –giving it a more youthful shine or glow. There’s no reason to suggest that tiny golden flakes in a properly formulated suspension wouldn’t reflect light more favourably than a normal moisturiser, but it really depends on the skin. Naturally smoother skin will likely be improved more, but courser skin may retain the shine for longer.
- Lightening the complexion. Spreading gold on your face may make your skin lighter, or redder, or darker. It really depends on how far away your skin tone is from the colour the gold-infused cream is. As with many things, the best way to find out is to try it.
- Unproven but theoretically possible
These sorts of claims include correcting for minor skin abnormalities such as swelling or inflammation, or hyperpigmentation (dark spots).
- Treating inflammation- this is an important one. Small facial inflammations, resulting from damaged pores or bruises could, theoretically, be treated with colloidal gold. Gold therapy – otherwise known rather poetically as aurotherapy – has been used to treat the inflammation present in arthritis for decades. This uses gold salts but how this works remains a mystery, though it works far better if injected then if taken orally.
- Hyperpigmenation: Some users report that areas of hyperpigmentation can be reduced with gold products. These claims have not been scientifically controlled, nor the type of hyperpigmentation specified, but the idea is plausible. The mechanism is hard to predict, but the balance of biochemicals in areas of high pigmentation are inherently unstable, so a return to a pigment more in line with adjacent areas of skin does seem possible. Perhaps, but there is precious little research to back up the claims. It could be that any positive reports have more to do with other ingredients in the creams, such as vitamin C or A (Retinol).
- Highly unlikely
There are many claims that fall into this category, but let’s deal with some of the more outlandish ones.
- Boosting collagen: There is currently no valid scientific studies to back up claims that collagen production can be improved by applying gold in suspension or colloidal (nanoparticles) to the skin.
- Boosting cell regeneration. Some may claim that the electrical current it gives off with boost cell production, but again there is scant evidence to support this.
- Increasing cell life: again there is, unfortunately, scant supporting evidence.
We all know Cleopatra looked just like a young Elizabeth Taylor, but if you were hoping for any major transformative effect you may be sadly disappointed. Unfortunately the majority of claims printed on the boxes of gold-infused skin creams are not worth the cardboard they are printed on as currently there are no independently verified, published studies in respected, peer-reviewed journals that show gold will boost collagen levels or extend cell life. The products may well improve the glow, shine or tone of your skin, but that may be the best you can hope for. Any other benefit you may get from these product may be because of other ingredients, not the gold.