Precious metals in skin care are not a new thing. This little jingle has been ringing for some time now – “gold / silver / pearls (pick one) in your face cream / mask /serum will make you younger and more amazing in every way!” Younger and more amazing in every way? Sign me up. What’s more, all the brands reference Cleopatra, who allegedly slept in a mask made of gold every night. No wonder she died before she was 40 – who the hell gets a good night of sleep by wearing a metal mask? Well, guess what? One New York Times journalist actually called up a Cleopatra biographer, and asked him if there was a chance of that. The man who spent his life researching any little thing related to Cleo said “err… UNLIKELY”. So, that’s bullshit point #1. Let’s carry on.
I was curious to see if there were any actual studies related to gold use in cosmetics. To my surprise, I found a few. First, there are the ongoing cancer studies, which discovered that the use of gold nanoparticles can destroy malignant cells in the body. That was the straw that all the cosmetics companies immediately picked up to justify the use of precious metals in their skin care products. That’s in addition to the “ooo gold!” factor. But where is the link between cancer treatment and wrinkle reduction? Hell-oo! There isn’t one. The way the gold nanoparticles work when used to treat cancer is by absorbing light and turning it into heat, which in turns destroys the malignant cells. What use the gold generated heat has with regard to your skin is currently a big question mark. “Hey, my face is warmer now that I spread some gold infused serum on it, so ..what happens now?”
Mostafa El-Sayed, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who is also an expert in the gold nanoparticle field, said it was ridiculous to think that gold could fight wrinkles because of its use in cancer research. “The way it takes care of cancer, the nanoparticle goes only to cancer cells, none of the healthy cells.”
Then there’s another fascinating study that was conducted by Tatsiana Mironava, PhD, from Stony Brook University. She discovered that the size, concentration and frequency of application of gold nanoparticles play a major part in determining if gold is toxic. Gold nanoparticles are being increasingly used in skincare with the argument that the tiny size allows gold to penetrate deep into the skin layers and do more good – or possible damage, as Tatsiana argues.
Too small, too often or too much – the wrong choice of gold nanoparticle application can lead to a disruption of cell movement and cell replication, and collagen contraction. So basically, the exact opposite of what you want for aging skin. Furthermore, any small wounds on your skin (such as acne) will have harder time healing. Tatsiana explains: “If your skin is wounded, collagen fibers must contract to pull the wound close. Therefore, wound healing is suppressed with toxic levels of the gold nanoparticles.”
“Nanoparticles are promising because they have unique properties, but it is not clear if gold nanoparticles are completely safe,” notes Tatsiana. “On the microscale, gold is inert, completely safe and approved for internal medicine, but on the nanoscale, the properties of gold are different.” Whoa. I’m now feeling like staying the hell away from anything with gold nanoparticles in it.
But I am not one to simply say yes or no to things without properly researching the subject first, so I had to find out more about this whole nanoparticle business. Just how small is the nano size? Well, imagine a single human hair strand and then downsize the width of that hair 80,000 times, and you’ll get to the NanoVillage. And when you make something that small you enter a whole new world. Literally, things start to act differently, they acquire new properties and lose some of the old ones. Of course, cosmetic companies are attracted to nanotechnology because it allows for an entire new billion-dollar making revenue stream: “Get Gold Deeper Into Your Skin!” Cosmetics giant Estee Lauder entered the NanoMarket in 2006 with a range of products containing “NanoParticles”. L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, is devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to Nano patents, and has patented the use of dozens of “nanosome particles”.
You should know though, that not all of this is nonsense. Scientific studies proved that nanoparticles can indeed penetrate skin, as cosmetic companies promise, and penetrate it more readily if skin is broken. The presence of acne, eczema and wounds enhance the absorption of nanoparticles into the bloodstream and may lead to further complications. A preliminary study found that nanoparticle penetration was deeper in skin affected by psoriasis than in unaffected skin. That checks out with my logic too. If you have lesions or openings on your skin and you spread peanut butter on it, you would end up with peanut butter not just on your skin, but also in your skin.
To conclude – the gold nanoparticles do penetrate the skin and they do DO something. How exactly they affect your skin cells no one can us with certainty, not even the skin care companies selling gold-infused potions, including that 24k gold mask – I know what you look at on Instagram! Dermatologists are unified in their sceptical attitude to gold, saying that it can cause a range of adverse reactions, including but not limited to inflammatory reactions like contact dermatitis, which is when your skin becames red and inflamed, and causing allergic responses. In fact, gold was named “allergen of the year” in 2001 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. I bet you didn’t know they had a society. I’d suggest you start peeling off that 24k gold mask now. What the cosmetic companies are saying I’m not even going to bother with – they will tell you whatever it takes to sell their insanely overpriced product. I mean, 600$ for a thumb sized bottle. Really, La Prairie? REALLY?
Get that golden glow some other way, girls. I suggest a good drink of water at equal intervals during the day!