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Gold Dust for Acne—Does It Really Work?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Using gold dust for acne treatment might sound like an absurd luxury, but is there a chance it could actually work? We generally advise readers to be wary of internet fads, and there’s no question that gold acne masks have become a selfie sensation online. But every now and again, an internet sensation actually lives up to the hype, and that may be the case with gold dust for acne. According to the most recent research, gold microparticles actually have many properties that could be helpful in the treatment of acne.

Gold dust has recently become a potential therapy in treating acne and blemishes.

How to Use Gold Dust for Acne Treatment

Currently, there are several ways you can use gold dust for acne treatment, but some methods may be more effective than others. The gold masks you’ve seen online, available at most drugstores or beauty shops, are the most affordable option, but also the option least likely to work. These masks simply haven’t been studied the way high-end gold acne treatments have been, so it’s hard to say how effective they are.

Fortunately, we do know more about two other forms of gold acne treatment: gold nanorod suspensions and a combination of gold microparticles and infrared laser pulses. Both of these treatments have been studied closely, and the combination therapy has even been approved for acne treatment by the FDA. They each have their own benefits for treating acne and work best for different skin types.

Topical Gold Nanorod Suspension

First, let’s go over what a “gold nanorod suspension” is. It’s actually pretty simple: a suspension is a mixture of particles in a fluid, and gold nanorods are extremely tiny rods made of gold that are only a few nanometers thick. According to one study, gold nanorod suspensions have antibacterial properties that can be used to fight acne1.

Bacteria play a key role in acne formation, especially when it comes to pimples or cysts. But it’s not just any kind of bacteria. Acne seems to be associated with one particular type of bacteria, known as Propionibacterium acnes, or p. acnes for short. These bacteria actually always live on the surface of our skin and are a healthy part of our skin’s natural bacterial biome. However, if their numbers grow too large or if they get trapped in a pore, they can generate a minor infection, which is what causes pimples and cysts. Many people with pimples see positive results when they use an acne-fighting product with the specific goal of reducing p. acnes bacteria. Two of the most popular ingredients used for this purpose are benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil, but it turns out, gold nanorod suspensions can do the trick as well.

According to the previously mentioned study, gold nanorod suspensions have antibacterial properties and are able to kill p. acnes specifically. Given these properties, the study found that gold nanorod suspensions would make a good treatment solution for those with acne. You may want to reach out to your dermatologists’ office about a gold nanorod suspension treatment if you typically deal with pimples or cysts, but if you have particularly oily skin, you may want to try the next solution.

Topical Gold Microparticles and Infrared Laser Pulses

People with all skin types can develop pimples and cysts, but if you have a particularly oily skin type, this therapy that combines topical gold microparticles with infrared laser pulses may be the ideal solution for you. It has officially been approved by the FDA, and studies show that it can significantly reduce the number of inflammatory acne lesions (AKA, pimples)2. So how does it work?

First, you have to find a dermatologist office that offers the service. When you go in, the dermatologist or aesthetician will apply a serum containing gold microparticles to your skin and allow it to sit for a short amount of time. This should deliver the same positive effects as a gold nanorod suspension, but this treatment differs slightly because there is also an added laser pulse. The laser is typically infrared, which is a long-wavelength form of light that, when combined with the gold serum, gently damages your sebaceous glands2.

“Gentle damage” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s actually an ideal way to treat excessively oily skin. The sebaceous glands produce sebum, the oily substance our skin needs to protect itself from irritation, but when these glands are overstimulated, typically due to hormones or genetics, the excess sebum can clog pores and lead to acne. Dermatologists don’t want to destroy the sebaceous glands entirely, because your skin does need a certain amount of sebum to stay healthy and protected, but damaging them slightly so that they produce less sebum is a great way to control oily skin. The research shows that this method for “gentle damage” really works, significantly reducing oil production and acne3.

Are There Any Downsides to Using Gold Dust for Acne?

The research shows that gold can be an effective acne treatment in several ways, so why is it not the gold standard for acne treatment? Well, there is one major downside to using gold dust for acne: the cost. Gold is a precious metal, meaning it isn’t cheap, and gold acne treatments are rarely covered by insurance. Three rounds of treatment using gold microparticles and an infrared laser costs somewhere between $1,200 and $1,500, making it far too expensive for many people.

Alternatives to Expensive Gold Dust Treatments

Luckily, there are more affordable alternatives. If you’re really dedicated to giving gold dust a chance, you can always try the gold dust masks available at the drugstore. There isn’t enough research for us to say whether or not they are effective, but they’re fun and might be worth a shot. If you’re more excited about the idea of reducing your oil production or acne-causing bacteria, then we recommend looking for products containing tea tree oil or getting acne light therapy treatment.

Research shows that tea tree oil can effectively kill p. acnes bacteria4 and significantly reduce acne5. Plus, tea tree oil products are widely available over-the-counter and relatively affordable. Acne light therapy is slightly more expensive and needs to be performed by a professional, but it’s still far more affordable than the gold treatments. Most acne light therapy treatments cost somewhere between $40 and $75 per session. Studies have found that blue light therapy is effective in killing p. acnes bacteria6, while red light therapy can gently damage the sebaceous glands and reduce oil production7. Many dermatology offices offer these lights together to reduce all kinds of acne.

References

  1. Mahmoud M., et al. Antibacterial activity of gold nanorods against Staphylococcus aureus and Propionibacterium acnes: misinterpretations and artifacts. International Journal of Nanomedicine. 2017;12:73111-7322.
  2. Paithankar D., et al. Acne treatment based on selective photothermolysis of sebaceous follicles with topically delivered light-absorbing gold microparticles. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2015;135(7):1727-1734.
  3. Fuchs C., et al. Acne treatment with light absorbing gold microparticles and optical pulses: an open-label European multi-centered study in moderate to moderately severe acne vulgaris patients. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2019.
  4. Raman A., et al. Antimicrobial effects of tea-tree oil and its major components on Staphylococcus aureus, Staph. epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes. Letters in Applied Microbiology. 1995;21(4):242-245.
  5. Enshaieh S., et al. The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology. 2007;73(1):22-25.
  6. Halstead F., et al. Antibacterial activity of blue light against nosocomial wound pathogens growing planktonically and as mature biofilms. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2016;82(13):4006-4016.
  7. Li W., et al. Low-level red LED light inhibits hyperkeratinization and inflammation induced by unsaturated fatty acid in an in vitro model mimicking acne. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2018;50(2):158-165.
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