Precious Metals: Skin Loves Gold, Silver and Copper


There is little as valuable to the individual as a precious piece of jewelry. Whether in gold, silver, platinum, bronze or copper, that locket from dad, or your wedding ring, I.D. bracelet or class ring often holds higher sentimental value than it could ever confer intrinsically. While these personal effects impart emotional wellness to their owners, the metals from which they are built can impart skin benefits—when formulated into products. This article discusses gold, silver and copper in skin care, and highlights which skin care manufacturers use them and how.

Gold Standard

Pardon the pun but gold, especially in nanoparticle form, has a “wealth” of pharmaceutical and medical uses. That’s why it’s used to signify first place and is one of the most expensive choices for jewelry. Gold nanoparticles can deliver other materials, making them strong candidates for drug delivery and interesting prospects for skin care.1

Anti-acne. In a recent worldwide patent,2 the company Sebacia Inc. explored the use of gold nanoparticles having silica cores to treat acne. The particles were delivered through hair follicles, sebaceous ducts and glands, and their delivery was further enhanced by massage, acoustic vibration (10 Hz-20 kHz), ultrasound, alternating suction and pressure, and microjets.

In relation, in a study3 published in the April 2015 Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers also found that selectively heating sebaceous follicles with topically-delivered, light-absorbing gold microparticles was a safe and effective treatment for acne.

How does it work? According to R. Rox Anderson, M.D., professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and the study’s senior author, the gold is put into the gland to allow the laser to heat and destroy it.

“[Gold nano shells] are made with a very thin layer of gold wrapped around a glass core. [This] structure absorbs more light than just about any other material.”

The infrared wavelength that is then used to heat the sebaceous gland is 800 nm—the same used in laser hair removal, which means the light source is already in widespread medical use around the world. “That’s an advantage,” said Anderson, “but it also means that some pigmented hair may be removed during this treatment.”

Anderson thinks this approach appears to be as effective as today’s most popular antibiotic and topical treatments, although not as powerful as oral isotretinoin.3

Wound healing. In 2012, another study, from Fu-Jen Catholic University and SKH Hospital, both in Taipei, Taiwan, examined the use of a topical combination of gold nanoparticles, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and alpha-lipoic acid. Together, these ingredients were shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which increased wound healing.4

More recently, researchers from Turkey also reported5 how collagen structures incorporating gold nanoparticles could be used as effective wound-healing agents. Furthermore, doses at < 20 ppm and particle sizes > 20 nm were not found to be toxic to skin cells including keratinocytes or fibroblasts. The authors suggest these results indicate that gold nanoparticles could be used in collagen sponges as skin substitutes for future wound healing.7

Size and dose. While nano-gold and other gold-containing skin care products have flooded the market, some controversy has stirred over the safety of gold in products—primarily related their nanoparticle size and concentrations. Tatsiana Mironava, who led a 2014 study6 on gold nanoparticles at Stony Brook University, stated “Since they have been considered inert and essentially harmless, it was assumed that pure gold nanoparticles would also be safe. Evidence to the contrary is beginning to emerge.”7

Her findings, published in Nanotoxicology, found that small amounts of exposure to gold nanoparticles interfered with cell division and collagen contraction, both of which are needed to heal wounds. Unfortunately, disrupting these processes can accelerate wrinkle formation, among other negative effects. Mironava concluded, “We have learned that careful consideration and the choice of size, concentration and the duration of the clinical application of gold nanoparticles is warranted.” So as always, the safety of any ingredient is a matter of the dose and exposure route.

Spa gold. Gold is primarily used in spa skin care for its anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits. Bella Schneider Beauty, for example, uses gold micro-particles in its Glow Facial, specifically in its Gold Leaves and Glow Serum. There, the microparticles hydrate and firm the skin and help it to retain collagen. The particles are easily absorbed into the skin, creating an instant glow and increased moisture. Meanwhile, the Caviar and Carat Facial uses gold extract for instant repair and anti-aging benefits.

On the use of gold in treatment products, Bella Schneider commented, “Gold-based treatments are gorgeous to look at and an indulgence to experience; they effectively increase skin cell metabolism and function, leading to reduced inflammation and breakouts, more firm and hydrated skin, and a beautiful glow.” She added, “Gold visibly reduces hyperpigmentation, serves as a known antibacterial agent, antioxidizes skin and provides luminous shine and moisture.”

Gold is utilized by Lira Clinical, too, in its colloidal form in products such as its Hydrating Mineral Masque, Firming Serum and Mineral Jessner Rebuilder. According to Tiffany McLaughlin, director of education for the brand, “Gold brings an automatic luxury component into skin care products while stimulating healthy cell growth. Gold’s strong conduction properties grant other active ingredients a better transdermal pathway and enhance machine facial results such as microcurrent. Anti-inflammatory and wound healing benefits complement gold’s skin regeneration advantages for all skin types and conditions.”

Casmara also offers as Gold Mask 2080 that harnesses 24-karat gold to nourish and revitalize the skin.

The Silver Lining

Antimicrobial. Silver is known in skin care for its microbe-killer instinct. As one patent application described,8 a combination of nano-silver, salicylic acid and moisturizing and soothing ingredients effectively treats the underlying causes of acne, i.e., bacteria and oil, and soothes skin. In this particular case, nano-silver refers to particles of approximately 5-100 nm in size.

Biocides based on water-soluble silver salts also have been shown to preserve skin care products.9 Silver is effective at low, parts-per-billion levels and has a broad spectrum of activity. At the recommended levels, it is also nontoxic to humans. Silver acts by binding to and disrupting the cell walls of unwanted microbes. It then binds to enzymes in the microbe and incapacitates its energy source, leading to cell death. To add insult to injury, it also binds to the microbe’s DNA to stop it from replicating.9

Furthermore, due to silver’s mode of action, cells cannot adapt and become immune.

Rebuilding skin. Scientists in India report that topical gels based on silver sulfadiazine and silver nitrate can effectively treat infections and speed healing.10 Also, micro silver is used in Europe in the medical field for wound care, root canal fillings and even hip implants11—in addition to topical skin care. Micro silver can be transformed into sponge-like pure silver particles during manufacturing. These adhere to the surface of the skin, resting in skin folds and releasing silver particles over time, effectively eliminating bacteria.

While micro silver is used to treat everything from acne to anti-aging, researchers have found especially effective at reducing inflammation and subsequent signs of irritation and redness. In fact, studies have found micro silver to improve atopic dermatitis by 57.5% and acne symptoms by 61.3%. And because rosacea symptoms are linked to microbial activity on the skin, micro silver is being used to treat this malady with significant results.12

Size and dose. Like gold nanoparticles, the use of micronized silver calls to question whether it might penetrate the skin and cause damage. One study found that silver is non-toxic if it is washed in solution or carbon-coated. But can unwashed, uncoated solution penetrate compromised skin, as some have suggested? Additional studies are needed.13 Furthermore, it is important to note the potential for silver allergies.

Spa silver. Think you’ve heard of micro silver in the spa industry? Micro silver is used in Repêchage’s Hydra 4 Red-Out Facial Calming Cleanser and Red-Out Serum to reduce the irritation and redness associated with rosacea and sensitive skin. Lydia Sarfati, Repêchage CEO and founder explained that micro silver not only reduces redness and irritation in rosacea, but also contributes antimicrobial effects.

“These microscopic ‘sponges’ adhere to the surface of the skin longer than other silver powders, resting in skin folds and releasing pure silver particles over a longer period of time.”

Lira Clinical uses the colloidal form of silver to soothe and heal skin in a number of products, such as its Hydra Infusion, Firming Serum, Caviar Crème and Mineral Jessner Rebuilder, among others. McLaunchlin furthered, “Perfect for post-resurfaced skin, colloidal silver boosts the skin’s immune system, regenerating healthy skin through its potent wound-healing abilities. Colloidal silver can be ingested; therefore, it is the ideal form to be utilized in skin care formulations. Its powerful anti-inflammatory properties calm and soothe skin.”

Silver is also part of a silver and copper zeolite complex in Osmosis Skin Care’s Catalyst Plus + (Sensitive), where it assists in natural preservation. Together, the complex delivers copper into the skin in a stabilized way.

Why copper with silver? As you will learn in the next section, “Copper is a key component in collagen and elastin manufacturing as well as DNA repair. It is key to the process by activating enzymes like lysyl oxidase. We are careful not to use too much, as it can oxidize in the epidermis,” said Ben Johnson, M.D., founder of Osmosis. What a perfect segue into copper. . .

The Bronze (Anti)Age

Bronze actually is mostly made of copper, which delivers anti-aging benefits that are certainly are not third-tier, as the medal suggests. As previously reported,14 when copper is bound to peptides, it can stimulate collagen and elastin. It does this by increasing an enzyme called lysyl oxidase. In fact, a new copper peptide containing the amino acids lysine and histidine has been shown to effectively reduce the signs of aging. According to Induchem, the ingredient supplier, it acts by re-energizing fibroblasts with cellular energy.Bronze actually is mostly made of copper, which delivers anti-aging benefits that are certainly are not third-tier, as the medal suggests. As previously reported,14 when copper is bound to peptides, it can stimulate collagen and elastin. It does this by increasing an enzyme called lysyl oxidase. In fact, a new copper peptide containing the amino acids lysine and histidine has been shown to effectively reduce the signs of aging. According to Induchem, the ingredient supplier, it acts by re-energizing fibroblasts with cellular energy.

Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology in NY, agrees that copper plays an important role in maintaining skin health. As he told Harper’s Bazaar, in an interview,15 “[Copper] helps to develop collagen and elastin, which maintain the strength of the skin, and it promotes the production of skin-plumping hyaluronic acid.” He added that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which help to prevent infections.

Another article16 explained how at high concentrations, the copper peptide has been found to stimulate collagen synthesis, but (there’s the but) copper also has been found to induce premature senescence (cell death) in human fibroblasts, even at subtoxic concentrations. Interestingly, a different format of copper peptide at one-tenth the use level has been shown to enhance wound repair proteins, so this warrants further investigation.

Spa copper. Copper is a popular ingredient in professional skin care formulations, often found in a peptide form for its anti-aging effects. DermAware uses copper as part of a Retinoid Copper Peptide complex in its Cool Copper Facial, targeting advanced regenerating effects against acne and aging. Gül Zone, founder of the brand, furthered, “Copper is an essential mineral for the skin. Many enzymes that drive biochemical reactions are copper-dependent and cannot propagate reactions without it.” She added, “Copper also has been linked to reductions in advanced glycation end-product formation and inflammation, and to keeping stem cells viable and enhancing wound-healing or tissue regeneration. We like to combine it with peptides to promote renewal and control the signs of aging.”

Neova also combines peptides with copper for enhanced delivery. It utilizes its Copper Peptide Complex (CPC) to allow the body to recognize and accept its tripeptide, to trigger the skin to repair itself. “Neova Power Defense is a serum formulated with CpC, which targets photodamaged skin and helps to visibly repair it,” added Lenn Patt, Ph.D., research and development for Neova.

Copper also is used in peptide form by RapidLash, this time as copper tripeptide-1, and for hair conditioning and stimulating effects. “[Our copper peptide] delivers revitalizing and stimulating properties that are highly beneficial in improving the appearance of lash and brow hair. It helps provide protection against breakage and support the beautiful, youthful appearance of lashes and brows,” explained Nicole Pigott, brand manager for Rocasuba.

Copper tripeptide-1 is employed in iS Clinical’s Youth line and other products to increase collagen production for anti-aging benefits. Copper PCA is used in the brand’s Copper Firming Mist and TriActive Exfoliant to regulate and normalize sebum production in oily skin and skin having recently undergone a procedure. “Copper is a useful ingredient in skin care and has various benefits depending on the formulation. The chemistry of the ingredients and manner in which copper is combined in the product determines the specific action,” noted Charlene DeHaven, M.D., clinical director for the brand.

The element is used for its antioxidant effects by Bioelements in its Remineralist Daily Moisture lotion. “Atmospheric stressors (exhaust, industrial smoke, ozone, free radicals) will prematurely age, weaken, dehydrate and sensitize the skin. [Our] copper-rich malachite acts as a pollution magnet and helps support skin’s natural cellular “damage protection” system. Copper is an essential trace element that helps neutralize everyday skin-aging oxidative stress,” added Teresa Stenzel, director of education for Bioelements.

A Shiny Future

Gold, silver and copper can provide a host of benefits for skin. As demonstrated, they can add anti-aging, hydrating, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, among others. Research and development continues to surround these metals, therefore the spa industry can undoubtedly look forward to new forms and formulations as time goes on.


  3. DY Paithankar et al, Acne treatment based on selective photothermolysis of sebaceous follicles with topically delivered light-absorbing gold microparticles, J Invest Dermatol (2015)
  8. US Patent Application 20110091572, Acne treatment compositions comprising nanosilver and uses, RE Davidson (Apr 21, 2011)
  10. Jain et al, Silver nanoparticles in therapeutics: Development of an antimicrobial gel formulation for topical use, Molecular Pharmaceutics (2009)
More in Ingredients