The world is packed full of products designed to play on people's insecurities and vanity. What better insecurity to target than the fear of aging and the slow loss of "beauty" we all experience? Pressures from every angle, from Hollywood actresses to Instagram influencers, push unrealistic standards and make the rest of us feel bad.
The trouble, of course, comes from the snake oil. There are thousands of products out there that do close to nothing, or literally nothing, or can even be harmful. It's extremely difficult for even seasoned beauty specialists to tell what works and what doesn't, not the least because science is still figuring out a lot of things about how the body works. Sometimes, something we thought didn't do anything is proven to have a very real effect. Sometimes, something we believed was effective is proven to not really help.
It's all made worse by the fact that, with modern marketing, brands selling a product can drown out science. That's why we try to do two things:
- Always make sure the products we sell are effective at what they claim to do.
- Try to produce content citing sources and backing up our claims.
So, that's what we're doing here today. We've recently started selling a new gold-infused face mask, and we're going to back up our decision to do so. Because, if you're anything like we were, you might think, "there's no way a metal like gold can have an effect, right?" Let's dig in.
Gold in Medicine
Gold is nothing new. It's been a valuable substance for about as long as we've been able to find it as a species. Glittery things are attractive, and since it's such a soft metal, it's easy to work into attractive shapes. But, we're not talking about chunks of metal jewelry today; we're talking about medicinal gold.
Medicinal gold isn't really all that different from normal gold. It's just gold that has been processed in some way to make it appropriate to use in medicine. Usually, this just means gold leaf, gold flakes, or other tiny particles that barely weigh anything. There's barely any gold in gold beauty products, which is why they're still relatively inexpensive. But, as we know from most medicine, it doesn't take much to have an effect on the body.
Gold has been used in traditional medicine for millennia. Records of it go back as far as 2500 BCE, and it has been found in medicinal texts in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and Arabic medicine. It has been used to treat a wide variety of issues ranging from asthma and rheumatoid arthritis to cutaneous lupus and the autoimmune disease Pemphigus Vulgaris.
The key is to recognize that gold is not inert. There are very few elements in the world that won't interact with your body in some way, whether applied to the skin or ingested. You might think of metals as tough materials you build structures and machines out of, but think about it; your body needs metals to survive. Your body needs trace amounts of copper, magnesium, chromium, and others to function. Iron is a critical component of your blood. Even calcium, sodium, and potassium are technically metals.
Gold is no less bioactive than these other metals. Sure, our bodies didn't evolve to need trace amounts of gold in our diet the way we did for other trace minerals, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have an impact.
What Gold Does
What does gold do to the body? Well, it's actually very similar to copper. It has three main properties you care about:
Copper does all of these as well, and so do quite a few other ingredients you might eat or use as part of a skin treatment. And, as you're probably well-aware by now, all three of these can be very helpful to the body.
Antioxidants fight off free radicals. Free radicals are a kind of molecule that carries a charge and is just waiting to latch onto – and damage – DNA in your body. While most of the time, all this does is kill a random cell, in some circumstances, it can trigger larger problems, including cascading damage and even cancer. Antioxidants make themselves big glowing targets for free radicals, so the charged particles attach to the antioxidant rather than the DNA, and both exit your system harmlessly.
Anti-inflammatories reduce your body's natural reaction to damage, inflammation. Inflammation is your body sending immune cells and other cells to the site of damage or injury. That damage or injury can be anything from a papercut to joint damage. It can also be caused by things like your existing diet, as your body struggles to process things it wasn't meant to, like processed sugar and flour. Inflammation can be acute (centered around a specific injury) or chronic (spread throughout the body) and can lead to a variety of other issues.
Not all inflammation is bad. It is, after all, a sign that your body's natural healing processes are working. However, inflammation can lead to other problems, and it can go out of control, such as in rheumatoid arthritis. That said, inflammation also contributes to skin issues like puffiness, redness, and acne, so reducing it can be helpful in looking and feeling your best.
Antibacterials are, of course, generally great for you. Your body relies on bacteria internally, like in your gut biome, but something like gold isn't going to purge your system the way medical antibiotics do. More importantly, for a skin treatment, antibacterial ingredients like gold can help cut down on the little nasties that cause acne and other skin issues and irritations.
There's also some evidence that gold can help reduce hyperpigmentation, which is those dark spots some people get as they age. Hyperpigmentation is essentially the cell going off-script and producing more melanin than it initially was supposed to. Gold may be able to reduce that and lighten up those spots, evening out your complexion.
Another commonly-cited effect of gold is that it supposedly "warms up" the skin and helps brighten it. This one has a lot less evidence backing it up. Most of us simply assume that it's an effect of having gold flecks on your skin, similar to how a glitter-infused facial treatment could brighten up your complexion.
Gold is also claimed to be a general anti-aging material. "Aging" is, of course, a long and slow process that affects everyone differently, so it's difficult to claim that gold can do anything specific about it.
Is There Scientific Evidence?
The question you probably want to be answered is, is there scientific evidence to support these conclusions?
The problem we tend to see is posts like this one from Instyle. The author of this post swapped out their skincare routine for a gold-infused routine and concluded:
"After seven days of using gold-infused products, I do feel like my skin looks more luminous than before. Most notably, the hyperpigmentation around my nose seems to have diminished, a benefit that Dr. Frank predicted. And, in my mind, results after only a week means these products all earn a gold star."
Do you spot the problems with this? There are three.
- This is a sample size of one person, for one week. That's not really enough to draw widespread conclusions. Maybe it did help this person, or maybe it's bias.
- There's no control for other variables. Maybe it was just cloudier that week, maybe a different ingredient in a skincare product had a more tangible effect, who knows?
- The post is packed full of links to buy the products in question. While they don't appear to be affiliate links, it's possible that Instyle has (or had, in 2015 when that post was written) a sponsorship relationship with those companies.
The only scientifically relevant information in that post is a single quote from a dermatologist about the potential benefits of gold, like what we wrote up above. No studies, no citations, not even comparison photos.
"Though scientific evidence is lacking, gold is thought to have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties," says Dr. Peterson Pierre, a dermatologist with the Pierre Skin Care Institute in Westlake Village, California.
In other words, there aren't really any studies that have been conducted into how effective gold may or may not be in a skincare product.
One common objection we see is that gold is a large, heavy molecule. How can a gold flake even begin to penetrate the skin? If you're not trying to fight a topical infection, how could it do anything?
The answer to that one, at least, is backed by science. Gold-infused skincare products typically use colloidal gold, which is gold nanoparticles suspended in a liquid that does penetrate the skin. From there, the gold has an effect on the surrounding tissue until your body's natural processes sweep in and carry it away.
A few literature reviews have shown indications that gold has a tangible effect on inflammation in general and on certain skin conditions. There is, however, very little study on the more typically-promoted benefits, like general skin lightening or anti-aging.
Our perspective is simple: we're not going to try to convince you that it's a miracle ingredient, and we readily acknowledge that at least some of the purported benefits of gold are blown out of proportion through a combination of people selling it and saying anything they can to do so, and the general perception that gold is valuable.
Can Gold be Harmful?
Another concern with any substance you use on your skin, particularly one that can penetrate the skin like colloidal gold, is whether or not it has any side effects. You've probably seen pictures of "blue people" who took colloidal silver. Will gold do something similar?
The answer is no. Colloidal silver is more reactive than gold, for one thing. For another, reactions like Argyria require long-term, high-dosage use of ingested colloidal silver. Something like a gold face mask, even if you use it every day, will never reach that level of usage.
Gold can be reactive on the skin, though, and it's something you should check for before you use it in a skincare product. Some people are simply allergic to certain metals, gold included, and the gold can cause a rash if left on the skin for too long. It's easy to test, though; simply put a dab of gold skin cream on your skin somewhere, like the back of your hand or the inside of your wrist, and wait a bit to see if anything happens. Chances are pretty good that you'll be fine, but it's not something you want to slather all over your face, only to discover it will cause you a rash. Surveys have indicated that about 1 in 10 people have a gold allergy.
Other than that? No, gold won't do any damage or harm you. Allergic reactions are pretty much the only possible side effect, and they're easy to test for.
Should You Get a Gold Skincare Product?
In our opinion, yes! Our gold mask combines a number of different active ingredients to synergize their effects into something truly potent. Added to your skincare routine, it will help reduce lines and dark spots, brighten up your skin, reduce puffiness and inflammation, and can even help with acne and other skin conditions.
That said, if you have a serious skin condition or major concerns, including unexplained dark spots, you should consult a dermatologist. Sometimes, a serious condition might need targeted treatment or a strongly medicated treatment to get it under control before you can establish a healthy skincare routine.
If you have your skin more or less under control and just want to add a little kick of something shiny to your routine, a gold face mask can be a great way to do it. It's not a miracle cure, and it's not going to turn your life around, but it's certainly worth trying to see if you like the results.