Go for Gold (or Silver, or Pearl): Precious Metal-Infused Skincare

Days before donning their wings at the 2016 Victoria’s Secret show in Paris last December, models including Alessandra Ambrosio, Sara Sampaio and Izabel Goulart paid a visit to facialist Mimi Luzon. In typical fashion, they documented the event on social media, entertaining their followers with selfies of their gilded faces. “It’s the most photogenic mask ever,” says Luzon of her Instagram-famous treatment, which involves Luzon applying her Corrective Anti-Wrinkle Mask and layering 24K gold leaf on top, which she then massages into the skin. (For those of us who can’t hop on a flight to see Luzon, she sells a take-home version on her website for $300USD.) On its own, the corrective mask is one of Luzon’s bestsellers, loaded with peptides and hyaluronic acid (“we call it the Cinderella mask, because you put it on at night and in the morning you look totally different,” she says), but adding the precious metal to the mix takes the treatment to the next level. “It’s all about the gold,” says Luzon.

If you’ve surveyed the skincare aisles lately, it’s apparent that it’s also all about the silver, platinum, and pearls, too. Beauty brands are mining jewellery boxes for ingredients that can do everything from boost radiance to battle breakouts. In fact, according to trend forecasting agency Mintel’s 2016 report on skincare, products infused with “precious metals like gold and silver” are the current beauty industry darlings.

The use of these luxe ingredients in beauty isn’t a new phenomenon. Pearl powder—a key ingredient in Los Angeles-based Moon Juice’s Gwyneth Paltrow-approved Beauty Dust supplement—has long been a staple of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, ingested to achieve lustrous hair and skin, and was historically used topically for its brightening properties.

Chanel’s new Le Blanc Serum is infused with Akoya pearl, which not only imparts a shimmery veil, but also helps hydrate a thirsty complexion, says Armelle Souraud, international scientific communication director for Chanel. “The fine pearl protein restores the ideal level of hydration by trapping water inside the cells” and “increasing the expression of two different markers” that strengthen the skin’s barrier, which helps to lock in moisture.

A mist of Estée Lauder’s Re-Nutriv Ultimate Lift Floralixir Dew Regenerating Water delivers a one-two luxury punch: it’s infused with pearl extract for an instant-gratification glow and 24K gold to quell irritation, while skin-strengthening floral extracts help to boost collagen, explains Dr. Nadine Pernodet, vice president of global research and development in the skin biology and bioactives group for Estée Lauder Companies.

It turns out that gold also has a stake in beauty’s history. Actress Marlene Dietrich “insisted that real gold dust be sprinkled into her wigs to make her appear more luminous onscreen,” writes Fred Basten in his book on silver screen makeup artist Max Factor. (Dietrich’s obsession with glittering hair could easily have been the origin story behind Oribe’s cultish gold-flecked pomade, which has since birthed a spin-off: Gold Envy Luminous Face Mask, which is part of the celebrity hairstylist’s new skincare range.) For those who could afford it, the popularity of gold as a wrinkle-fighting, complexion-brightening beauty treatment has been around for centuries.

“The anti-aging benefits of gold can be traced back 5,000 years ago to Cleopatra, who is said to have slept in a gold face mask every night,” says Margaret de Heinrich de Omorovicza, co-founder of her namesake skincare line, which features a range devoted to gold, including a body oil and moisturizer. “Both the Romans and Chinese have extolled the healing and anti-inflammatory effects,” adds Omorovicza, who became a fan of gold after using it to calm her acne in her teens.

But Toronto-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Nowell Solish isn’t as convinced of the precious metal’s skincare abilities. “I haven’t seen a study that says gold is superior to all the other antioxidants,” says Solish. “Just because it has gold in it doesn’t mean it’s more effective than something that’s inexpensive.” Silver, on the other hand, is something Solish uses regularly in his practice. “It’s antibacterial, so it’s good at keeping wounds clean and stimulating [skin cell] growth,” he says. Prior to the discovery of modern-day antibiotics like penicillin, silver was a go-to for fighting infections, with physicians administering it on wounds during World War I. It was this reparative prowess that led Joy Isaacs, founder of skincare brand Argentum Apothecary, to create an entire collection around the element. (The company’s moniker is Latin for silver, notated as Ag on the periodic table.) As a child, Isaacs’s mother used a silver spray to heal her daughter’s scraped elbows and knees. But what really won Isaacs over was when doctors applied silver-infused dressings over her incisions after a major surgery she had.

When it’s not performing post-operative miracles, silver is also known for being effective at battling breakouts, and is a less harsh alternative to other acne-fighting ingredients, says celebrity facialist Sonya Dakar, who created her Silver Clarifying Wash after researching the metal’s merits. “I fell in love with it because it’s so effective in treating tricky acne, without stripping or irritating skin,” says Dakar. Silver is also notable as a way to detox skin damaged by pollution and other environmental stressors.

It’s why Strivectin made it the hero ingredient in their Silver Peel-Off Purifying Mask, which, much like Luzon’s selfie-friendly facial, racked up plenty of likes. Clearly these luxe skincare ingredients aren’t just good for our complexions—they also pay off in social media power.

By Sarah Daniel.