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Today we’re talking about gold facials — yep, a facial where they slather skin-soothing ingredients and real gold on your face.

Businesses that provide these facials claim that gold has many skin-boosting properties.

But does science-backed evidence really confirm these claims? That’s where we come in!

Really. Some salons offer gold facials with 24-karat gold included in services, due to the metal’s purported anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties.

While gold facials are a recent invention, there’s evidence that goes as far back as 2500 B.C. of gold used in traditional Chinese, Indian, and Arabic medicine.

For example, Swarna bhasma (which translates to “gold ash”) is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat:

  • asthma
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • diabetes mellitus
  • nervous system diseases

In fact, gold compounds have been used off-label to treat skin conditions like cutaneous lupus and pemphigus vulgaris, says Dr. Brendan Camp, a dermatologist with Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York City.

Oral medications containing gold, such as auranofin, were also once used as a second- or third-line agent to reduce joint inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

“This is not common practice anymore, and it is linked to inducing specific rashes on the skin,” says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care in Beverly Hills, California.

Advertisements for gold facials often claim that gold has a host of skin-improving benefits, including:

  • reducing inflammation and redness
  • protecting against free radicals
  • supporting collagen production
  • fighting aging

“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.

Some makers of gold beauty products claim that gold flecks warm your skin to help with circulation. But most gold skin products are made with colloidal gold. These are nanoparticles suspended in liquid that are tiny enough to penetrate your skin.

Although scientific research and reviews suggest that gold compounds may interfere with processes in your body that lead to inflammation, “currently there are no FDA-approved indications for gold specific to dermatology,” says Camp.

Skin care companies claim that gold products and facials can:

  • reduce wrinkles
  • calm inflammation
  • increase absorption of other skin care products

However, “there is no scientific data that gold can do any of this when applied to skin,” says Shainhouse. “Gold may have some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but there is no evidence that it’s better than any other more commonly used ingredients that have more scientific data.”

Sure, gold facials may benefit your skin — but it’s likely because the gold is mixed with other, more effective ingredients.

A few common ingredients added to gold that make it truly effective include:

  • Peptides. Peptides are naturally occurring amino acids that make up proteins in your skin. Research, including a 2009 review, suggests peptides may help repair skin aging and sun damage and improve your skin’s barrier function.
  • Antioxidants. Antioxidants like vitamin C have been shown to neutralize normally occurring free radicals in order to treat sun damage, skin aging, and inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis.
  • Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are frequently used in skin care peels to regenerate and thicken skin as a treatment for acne, scars, dark spots, and age spots.
  • Glycerin. Studies suggest that glycerin helps boost your skin’s barrier function to lock in moisture and protect against irritants.
  • Hyaluronic acid. This substance, which your body naturally makes, binds to water. Research shows that hyaluronic acid may help increase your skin’s hydration and decrease the appearance of wrinkles. It may also help treat mild to moderate eczema by improving your skin’s barrier function, according to a 2011 study.

The tiny nanoparticles in colloidal gold also give skin a shimmery glow that might make it look immediately brighter and slightly bronzed, adds Shainhouse.

“This visual effect can make skin tone appear more even and younger, as the particles reflect light,” she says.

Spas throughout the United States offer gold facials, including:

A quick Google search will help you locate the service that’s closest to you.

You can also give yourself an at-home facial using a gold mask or face cream. Here are some you can buy online:

Based on a review of salons offering gold facials, you can expect the service to run from $100 to $200 for a 60-minute treatment. This cost is relatively comparable to many salons’ deluxe facial treatment packages.

You can also buy gold masks and creams at beauty supply stores or online. You’ll pay anywhere from $55 to $500, but keep in mind that you’re likely paying extra for an ingredient that’s unproven at best.

What’s more, like all over-the-counter beauty products, the FDA regulates but doesn’t approve gold masks. That means you could be paying a very big premium for a very tiny amount of gold.

Some research on North Americans suggests that nearly 1 in 10 people are allergic to gold. Gold was even named allergen of the year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2001.

So, if you’re considering a gold facial, be sure you aren’t allergic to the metal first.

“Allergic contact dermatitis to metals such as gold is well documented,” says Camp, adding that it can present with symptoms like redness, scaling, itching, and swelling.

If you think you’ve had an allergic reaction to gold in the past, your dermatologist may recommend a patch test, Camp adds. During the test, the suspected allergen — in this case, gold — is applied to a patch that you wear on your skin for the next 48 hours. Irritated skin can indicate an allergy.

If you want to test yourself for allergies to an at-home gold facial product, Pierre suggests applying a small amount to the inside of your forearm for 3 consecutive days.

“If you’re allergic, a reaction should develop,” he says.

Gold facials are trendy but mostly flash. Gold can be a fun add-in for serums, facials, and makeup products to impart a washable glow, says Shainhouse.

“Gold facials are great for eye-catching Instagram photographs, but the benefits of applying gold leaf to the skin are unclear,” says Camp. “Other ingredients included in the facial, such as antioxidants like vitamin C or humectants like hyaluronic acid, may contribute to overall skin wellness.”

Pierre, too, remains unconvinced.

“You’re probably better off spending your money on products and procedures that are well studied and have enough scientific data documenting the effectiveness to justify the expense,” he says.


Colleen de Bellefonds is a Paris-based health and wellness journalist with over a decade of experience regularly writing and editing for publications including WhatToExpect.com, Women’s Health, WebMD, Healthgrades.com, and CleanPlates.com. Find her on Twitter.