New York: For most people, bathing in diamonds and gold is as likely an occurrence as washing the car with truffles. And yet it now appears that the endless search for smoother and younger-looking skin and the tireless acquisition of conspicuous signs of wealth have collided at the cosmetics counter. The result is an array of topical products almost too precious to be anywhere near a sink drain.
Bling might be less noticeable in fashion magazines of late, but the gems and precious metals have not disappeared; they have simply migrated from jewelry boxes into medicine cabinets.
Beauty companies are making use of an ever-expanding list of exotic — and pricey — ingredients, hoping to create the next new thing. So it is hardly a surprise that they are trotting out items like gold-flecked Perfect Cream for Body from Carita ($275 or Rs11,178 for 6.7 fluid ounces); La Mer’s diamond powder Refining Facial ($75 for 3.4 ounces); and products from Aveda charged with tourmaline, multicoloured gems that resemble rubies and emerald.
A diamond necklace or gold ring can do little more than create envy, but manufacturers claim that, when pulverized, distilled or blended with oils, precious metals and stones can tighten, clarify and reverse the signs of age.
In recent years, many skin products were derived from unglamorous substances like bovine collagen and hyaluronic acid from cockscombs. Dermatologists are unsurprised at the latest cosmetological shift.
“A few years ago, there was caviar in everything. Next year, it’ll probably be champagne,” said Dr. Michele S. Green, a dermatologist with a practice on the Upper East Side who has been paid as a consultant to develop and test products for numerous cosmetics companies.
The real future isn’t gem or gold creams, Dr. Green said. “But it doesn’t sound sexy to say you’re rubbing marine algae on your face.”
In its defense, gold was once commonly used to heal leg ulcers. Research published last year by the American Chemical Society also suggested that nanoparticles of it (combined with radiation, among other things) could possibly help treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
But Dr. Vincent DeLeo, chairman of the dermatology department at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Centers in New York, is doubtful, especially of the products that shimmer after application.
“Some metals might have antioxidant effects because metals can react with free radicals, theoretically,” he said. “But if you can see it after you use it, it’s not doing anything but sitting on a dead layer of skin.”
He added that 5% of people who have contact dermatitis are sensitive to wearing gold, let alone spreading it on their faces.
Liquid silver is an ingredient in products from Julisis, a 3-year-old German skincare company. Other Julisis products contain essences of diamonds, gold, rubies and copper.
Julius Eulberg, the company’s founder, said he hit upon the idea to make products using precious metals and gemstones after reading the writings of Paracelsus, a 16th-century Swiss alchemist.
“They’re very special, amazing, wonderful products,” Mr. Eulberg said. “They act on a cellular level. The gold helps to strengthen every single skin cell and there are microparticles that help with glandular function.”
(Of course, Paracelsus also made astrology part of his medicine.)
Wesley Rowell, the public relations director of New London Pharmacy on the West Side of Manhattan, said customers regularly buy all of the 18 Julisis products ($2,400 for the line). The store also stocks Roses & Diamonds, an organic “age-erasing” facial oil with a .06-carat brilliant-cut diamond at the bottom of every $250 bottle. The maker is Ray Simons, a company in Amsterdam.
Similarly marketed oils from Shiffa, a company in Dubai, are sold for as much as $455 for a 3.4-ounce bottle at the Peninsula Spa in Beverly Hills, Calif. Every bottle contains a small ruby, emerald, sapphire or diamond.
The squinting involved in actually seeing the stones in these products is enough to bring on early crow’s-feet. Nonetheless, they sell.
“In the last year, I’ve seen more and more people who would normally spend $200 on a department store face cream coming in wanting something completely natural,” Mr. Rowell said. Products by Burt’s Bees are often the gateway to the world of organic cosmetics, but the line doesn’t satiate all cravings.
“There are people who don’t want the stuff in the recycled box with the granola-hippyish bad fonts,” Mr. Rowell said. “But they’re saying, ‘If I can’t read all the ingredients in this cream, I don’t want it.’ ”
Many of the “precious” products aren’t organic, but some consumers want to be able to at least understand, and visualize, some of the ingredients. Gold is easier to picture than, say, retinol.
Tiny gems would seem a natural for products like scrubs and companies like Jewel Therapy have obliged. Its gritty, pink-hued facial scrub is said to contain 100 carats of precious and semiprecious stones, including one carat of diamonds. In the infomercial, a perky host says, “There are a lot of carats in there — don’t you wish you had those on your fingers?”
The infomercial for the product, available at Jeweltherapy.com shows what the company says are magnified images of the scrub that make it look like a tiny sea of Harry Winston gems — or at least Lucky Charms. And though the image is somewhat less than truthful (under a microscope, most of the coloured flecks look more like glass shards than faceted jewels), it is effective at hinting at more luxury than you can normally expect for $29.99 (if you call now!).
The commercial also plays into the obsessiveness that surrounds rubies and diamonds and propels the plot of many a James Bond movie. “This product has renewed my faith, and I don’t want to live without it,” says Dyana, one of the talking heads.
“We use jewels because of all the ancient healing philosophies,” said Amby Longhofer, a founder of the company, which is in Beverly Hills. “Jewels hold vibrational qualities. The body actually can get in synch with the vibration that they give off.”
Paula Begoun, who has her own skin care line and is the author of several books on shopping for beauty products, including Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (Beginning Press, 2003), said these stones might indeed be good exfoliants. “But so is a washcloth, or even rubbing your face on the floor,” she added.
And what of their good vibrations? “All I know is that I wear diamonds near my face, and I still have wrinkles,” she said.
Still, when it comes to the jeweled and gilded creams and oils, many consumers are highly appreciative. Bettina Kozlowski of Chicago first tried La Prairie’s glittery Cellular Radiance Concentrate Pure Gold when she received a free sample last year. The product contains flecks of 24-karat gold (as well as a hefty dose of skin-plumping hyaluronic acid).
“My dad is a plastic surgeon and he’d laugh me out of the room if I’d told him I was even considering using a product like this,” she said.
Not only did Ms. Kozlowski try the product — she loved it. She even went back and bought a one-ounce bottle for $525. When that ran out, she filled it with water to milk the dregs.
But she did it all with a heavy conscience.
“I think it’s unethical to spend that kind of money on a skin cream when you could spend that money on humanitarian causes.” she said. “I don’t want to proliferate that insanity.” But occasional yearnings for Cellular Radiance Concentrate still occur. Cue Shirley Bassey: She loves gold!
“It’s a desire that I’ve mostly curbed,” Ms. Kozlowski said. “The idea of spending another half a thousand dollars on it is enough to make my skin break out.”