Does gold-infused skincare really work or is it an expensive waste of time?



In search of the Midas touch.

Earlier this year, I read a story about a gold leaf encrusted sandwich that cost $228. Is it bad that I wanted to try that sandwich? No, I think it’s human nature. Is it bad that I wanted to know if the sandwich was single? Yes, that’s a bad reflection of my character. 

The world of gilt-y pleasures extends beyond food: there’s a gold rush happening in the beauty industry right now. Social media is awash with glittering skin peels and gold flecked serums, shimmering body lotions and metallic eye masks.

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Much like that expensive fuckboy sandwich, these products often come with a hefty price tag. But are cosmetic carats all they’re cracked up to be? I’ve been using golden skincare for the last two months to find out. 

The theory

Gold is often lauded as a natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Supposedly, it calms swelling, reduces redness and protects against free radicals that lead to skin damage. Iconic beauty Cleopatra reportedly slept in a mask of pure gold every night (and you think mascara on your pillowcase is bad) and it seems her luxurious legacy lives on.

The guinea pig

My skin is the epitome of fine. I’m pale and freckly. My face is mercifully clear, minus a scar on my forehead in the shape of the Air Jordan logo, acquired when I fell out a window. Although I don’t feel comfortable going make-up free, I don’t feel like I have ‘bad’ skin.

That doesn’t stop me, however, from spending an inordinate amount of time and money on it. I’m on the top rung of the Mecca Beauty Loop Rewards program, and my bathroom cupboard heaves under the weight of serums, moisturisers, masks, creams and exfoliators. Or, as my dad calls it, “expensive goop”. So, here it is, my golden goop adventure. 

AHC Brilliant Gold Toner, $109

The claim: AHC’s real gold flecks impart a rich glow and help make the skin healthy, youthful and radiant. According to Adore Beauty, “There’s nothing more luxurious and exquisite than a toner with real gold flecks inside (did someone just say ooft?).”

The instructions: Often overlooked in skincare routines, a toner should be applied after cleansing, and before everything else. Think of it as a ‘prep step’, helping your skin better absorb moisturisers and treatments. AHC recommends five to six drops gently spread over the face after cleansing.

First impressions: Wow. This product is seriously stunning. 140ml of shimmering glamour, the bottle feels like a regal bathroom statue. The toner has the consistency of a thick gel, and every drop contains a little gold leaf. If Jeff Bezos released a hand sanitiser, this is what it would look like. 

The verdict: Spurred on by the Adore Beauty website, I was desperately looking for my ‘ooft’ moment. When I applied AHC, my skin shimmered with the golden flecks, but week after week after week I didn’t see any long lasting results. Each morning I washed off my gold leaf freckles, with no residual glow, sheen or radiance. The closest I got to my ‘ooft’ moment was unboxing the bottle.

Get it here.

This Works Skin Deep Golden Elixir, $91

The claim: A sumptuous youth-boosting serum that transforms skin using shimmering, 24-carat gold.

First impressions: Skin Deep doesn’t promise long-lasting results, just a glow once applied. One pump and the lotion looks like a moisturiser with a slight sheen. 

The instructions: Shake and lather on! 

The verdict: This product is basically high shimmer body lotion that makes you shine like you’re standing inside the sun. I felt like fucking Beyoncé in this. I was a powerful, untouchable, dazzling queen. My one concern was that this product would transfer to my clothes. And do you know what? It absolutely did.

And do you know what else? I loved every minute of it. Because the lotion doesn’t have pigment like fake tan, there was no colour left on my clothes, only tonnes of shimmer. I wore this on dates, at work, and to cheer myself up during lockdown. I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

Get it here.

The expert

As a mere skin pleb, I enlisted the help of world-leading cosmetic chemist Belinda Carli to tell me whether gold skincare really is the gold standard. Carli is the director of the Institute of Personal Care Science, an industry-recognised professional training college for cosmetic chemists, formulators, R&D chemists and regulatory affairs. 

“I have not seen any clinical evidence or efficacy data to suggest that gold has any benefit in skincare,” she said. Ever the straight-shooter, she looked at the products I’d been using and noted, “The product would work the same without the gold.” 

So, is gold just a ploy to get you spending big? “I wouldn’t call it a ‘ploy’, as even a small amount of gold would add a lot to the cost of a product. I would question why add it, when that cost could be better invested in clinically proven, more efficacious ingredients.” 

She went on to explain that when gold is used in products, the amount is usually so small you can’t even see it. But what about those beautiful ‘real gold’ flecks in the AHC toner? Carli had some bad news for me. “Any ‘visible’ gold flakes you see are not actually gold. You can watch me make ‘gold’ flakes in this video. I am using a mica that gives a reflection of a gold sparkle. It is not gold, but it looks like gold flakes, and I make it easily in my lab.”

All that glitters…

…is not all it’s cracked up to be. Sadly, the two-month quest to transform my perfectly mundane skin into true Olympic gold didn’t yield any long-term results. However, there were times I just liked the way the products looked on my skin for a short-lived burst of opulence. On the nights I was covered in gold flecks, or shimmered like a disco ball, for a moment, I felt like a bullion-aire. 

In conclusion? It seems gold in skincare is like lipstick on a pig. If it’s a cute pig already, then great, but if your pig is a dud, the lipstick ain’t helping. It’s the same story with the bougie-ass sandwich. If you’re going to spend $228, it should be because you love ALL the ingredients, not just the gold sprinkled on top.

For more on gold-infused skincare, try this.

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