Are Gold- & Gemstone-Infused Products Total BS?

Photo: Miguel Pereira/ Getty Images.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend, the old song says. This may have been because diamonds are sparkly and pretty to look at (and there's probably some antiquated nod at engagement rings in there, too). But with the recent appearances of diamond-infused beauty products, it may be their complexion-enhancing powers that qualify these jewels for BFF status. In fact, we’re seeing plenty of products made with other precious gemstones — and gold, too. So what’s the deal?

They certainly sound like something we’d like to get our hands on; at the same time, though, they set our gimmick-O-meter on red alert. Could gems actually be good for our skin? Here, a handful of experts field some hard (as diamonds?) questions to find out.

Gemstones, including diamonds, are used in two primary ways: to add shimmer and to exfoliate skin. “Most gems in products are using the glimmer aspect to create a glowy appearance to the skin,” says Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD. “The light reflectance from the flakes of pearl, gold, and diamond dust makes skin appear healthy and radiant.”

In addition to depositing shimmer on skin or hair, crushed and powdered gemstones can also work as effective exfoliators by removing dulling skin and stimulating healthy cell turnover. It is important to note, however, that these stones are very hard and must be crushed very finely in order to prevent micro-tearing or other damage to the skin.

“The light reflectance from the flakes of pearl, gold, and diamond dust does makes skin appear healthy and radiant.”

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For some, gemstones may take on more a spiritual role versus an aesthetic one — with claims that they nourish your soul. This Organic Gemstone-Infused Massage Oil by Aquarian Soul includes jewels that the Rodale's website says are carefully “selected for their metaphysical and healing properties.” This claim stems from ancient times when gemstones were used to promote health and wellness. Each gemstone was believed to hold its own specific healing properties — and to this day, people choose to carry and use crystals or gemstones for these reasons, though we don't have empirical proof of the stones' "powers."

As for gold, there’s much debate around it as a beauty ingredient. Some swear by it, building entire lines around the shimmery stuff; others are skeptical of product claims. “Golden micro-pigments give a subtle, natural-looking glow — a look of vitality and energy,” says Daniel Stangl, PhD, director of innovation at La Prairie. This glow can help combat dull and lackluster skin, which is often one of the first signs of aging.

But Dr. Shainhouse doesn’t buy into the gold rush. “Gold is touted as an element that will tighten skin, reduce wrinkles, calm inflammation, and facilitate absorption of other topical products,” she explains. “There is no scientific data that gold can do any of this when applied to skin, though. Yes, oral consumption of gold was used in the past as a second- or third-line agent to reduce inflammation in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients; however, this is not common practice anymore.”

When it comes to effective products, the truth is it’s the other ingredients in the gem- or gold-infused elixirs that are really doing the magic.

When it comes to effective products, the truth is it’s the other ingredients in gem- or gold-infused elixirs that are really doing the magic. “Many skin-care products with gemstone ingredients are teamed up with proven anti-aging actives, and these could be the reason you’re seeing results,” says Joel Schlessinger, MD, dermatological surgeon and frequent contributor at RealSelf.com. “Until there is more conclusive evidence that gemstones lead to youthful skin, it’s best not to rely on these ingredients alone.”

Dr. Schlessinger adds that “the best anti-aging ingredients are the ones backed by clinical studies and proven results. Peptides and growth factors, for example, have proven again and again to diminish wrinkles and other signs of aging.” He says that while trendy ingredients like gems can be tempting (and ultimately harmless), you shouldn’t rely on untested ingredients to transform your skin. Your best bet is to look for ingredients that are supported by research and results.

You probably already gathered as much, but to recap: There’s no verifiable, stone-cold evidence that proves these ingredients effective — especially where long-term effects are concerned. If you like the temporary glow they provide, though (and you don’t mind the price tag), use them all you want.

Jennifer Reichel, MD, a Seattle-based dermatologic surgeon, agrees. “Less glamorous products and ingredients are technically better for you,” she says, noting again that proven ingredients are your safest investment. However, “If you like them and the product feels good to use on your skin, and if it adds moisture from other ingredients included, I say go ahead.”
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