Spas worldwide are on the lookout for natural therapies to revitalize dull, dry and aging skin. In recent years, gold facials have been the high-ticket item, and gold’s association with Ayurvedic medicine gives it a certain legitimacy that may not be warranted. While gold facials are a regular menu item at spas in Japan, in the United States gold facials are available at a few select luxury spas.
Gold, Arthritis and Alchemy
Fifteenth century alchemists used gold, which has known antibacterial properties, in a number of different preparations intended to treat a wide variety of ailments including smallpox. The World Gold Council reports that gold is still widely used as a tonic in India, using 1-2 mg of gold in herbal suspensions. In the United States, colloidal gold (suspensions of gold in water) or gold salts were first used in 1927 to treat arthritis.
Until the introduction of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the 1970s, gold was a popular arthritis remedy. Despite its popularity, not everyone responded well and side effects, which were common, included a slight risk for the development of drug-related lupus. However, by the time drug-related lupus was identified as a distinct illness, colloidal gold’s role in arthritis had become limited. Now used primarily in progressive polyarticular rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis, gold is known to induce a variety of autoimmune responses and diseases that are well documented in the medical literature (Bigazzi 1999).
Allergies and Autoimmunity
Gold is recognized as one of the most common allergens. In some countries, gold is only second to nickel in the etiology of cutaneous (skin related) hypersensitivity reactions. In addition, reports of a rapidly progressive interstitial lung fibrosis in a goldsmith have raised the possibility that occupational exposure to gold may have pathologic consequences. This is especially suspect because there have been previous reports of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis in patients receiving gold therapy. Gold has a number of immune system effects that help reduce inflammation. Other immune effects include the production of autoreactive cells that react with nuclear antigens and platelets, causing a variety of autoimmune disorders.
The American Association of Autoimmune and Related Diseases reports that the possible role of exposure to various metals in autoimmune disease has been explored for the last two decades, primarily through laboratory and animal studies. It has long been known that most metals inhibit immune cell proliferation and activation, with notable exceptions. Mercury, gold, and silver, for example, can induce lymphocyte proliferation and subsequent autoimmunity. In experiments, genetically-susceptible mice develop a lupus-like condition when dosed with mercury, silver, or gold.
Gold in Facials
Advertisements for gold facials tend to report that Cleopatra used pure gold as a nightly face mask, which is claimed to be responsible for her beautiful skin. Gold is frequently reported to regenerate new cells. Gold does cause cell regeneration as a result of the skin cells exposed to gold becoming irritated. Gold’s role in the past treatment of arthritis is used to describe its anti-inflammatory effects. Gold is also reported to have antioxidant properties that help prevent premature aging of the skin and reducing melanin production, thereby presumably reducing the appearance of sunspots.
The skincare company Hylunia, which is rooted in Ayurvedic principles, introduced one of the first gold facial creams and now has a variety of gold infused serums and lotions used for facials. In 2007 the Japanese company Umo introduced a gold leaf facial known as the Luxe 24 Karat Gold Facial. Gold facials typically range from $170--$400 for a one-hour session. Because gold doesn’t penetrate the skin the way plant-based antioxidant substances do, a gold-based cream is suspended into solution and applied as nano-particles. The gold facial includes a thorough skin cleansing, an application of gold cream, which is frequently mixed with honey to exfoliate the skin, and the application of a gold gel or mask, which may be combined with aloe vera and turmeric. After the mask has set (10-20 minutes) the skin is treated to a conditioning mask and rinsed. Other ingredients often used include saffron, which helps impart a golden glow, and lavender with its own anti-inflammatory properties.
In a CBS news interview on November 29, 2007, Susan Taylor, MD, questioned whether gold could improve the skin and whether it could penetrate the skin’s layers. Others besides Dr. Taylor are skeptical and see the gold facial as more of an indulgence than an effective spa therapy.
American Association of Autoimmune and Related Disorders. 2006. Environmental Factors, What Role In Autoimmune Disease? InFocus Newsletter, September, accessed June 1, 2010.
Bigazzi, Pierluigi, Metals and Kidney Autoimmunity. 1999. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 107, Supplement 5, October.