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Metals in skincare

Metals in skincare

Something that can be described as “precious” has a built-in allure.

Metals such as gold, silver and platinum instantly signal opulence, while workhorse minerals such as copper and zinc suggest a familiar strength and dependability.

When used in skin care products, these elements not only have name recognition for the average consumer, but they effortlessly deliver the “everyday luxury” consumers have come to expect, yet with a natural, of-the-earth quality that appeals to those seeking “clean” products for their wellness routines.

Metal- and mineral-based skin care isn’t new. Cleopatra is said to have applied gold to her skin, and gold, silver, zinc and copper have been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat various diseases for millenia. Gold’s therapeutic uses have included treatments for ulcers, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

What is new about the use of precious metals in today’s skin care lines is nanotechnology. A growing body of research suggests that nanoparticles of metals and minerals in topical skin care not only improves the elegance of the formulation, but also increases the ability of these actives to penetrate skin.

Following are some of the most promising uses of metals and minerals in skin care topicals:


Research of gold’s use in cancer therapy, where it is used to absorb light, convert it to heat and selectively destroy tumour cells, has shown that the precious metal also offers anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making it a promising addition to anti-ageing topicals.

It has anti-inflammatory properties that calm the skin. It has antioxidant benefits to prevent free radicals from targeting and breaking up cells, and it also helps with pigmentation. All Fitzpatrick skin types can benefit from gold.

Micronised gold is also used to help deliver peptides, which have poor penetration but powerful mechanisms of action in ageing and damaged skin.

The efficacy of colloidal gold has to do with the fact that it is chemically modified and combined with peptides, which upregulate collagen and elastin production.

Gold does not stimulate collagen and elastin production on its own, but it can protect against free radicals and deliver actives, such as peptides, to the fibroblasts. The main character at play is the peptide. However, without the colloidal gold, the peptide will never reach the cell target. It would either not penetrate through the skin or would be destroyed by the skin’s protection ‘surveillance’ system.


Studies support silver’s use as an antimicrobial, antifungal and it also helps with pigmentation.

The National Institutes of Health (in USA) notes that topical silver can be effective in treating burns, wounds and skin infections, which is why it’s used in bandages, deodorants and even exercise gear to combat bacterial growth. Silver “eats” bad bacteria, leaving the good bacteria behind, and is excellent for calming inflammation.

Unsurprisingly, product formulators are exploring colloidal silver’s use as an effective treatment for acne— as a spot treatment and in washes for acne-prone skin as it is gentler than benzoyl peroxide and retinoids. Silver is popping up in non-acne related products as well, including anti-ageing masks, serums and mists thanks to its skin-calming qualities.


Cancer research has uncovered skin benefits of platinum, a rare precious metal, although the mechanisms of how it works are not well understood.

An October 2014 study published in PLoS One concluded that platinum nanoparticles function as antioxidants and improved skin thinning of mice without causing any cellular damage.

A November 2012 study in Inflammation Research found that platinum nanoparticles are effective anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour agents.

It has antioxidant properties and therefore, as an ingredient in skincare, may help protect the skin from exposure to UV rays & pollution.

Colloidal platinum increases epithelial thickness by stimulating the keratinocytes. This also happens with the dermal cells, where an increase in active fibroblasts produces structural proteins, such as collagen and elastin, which improve skin firmness and reduce a saggy appearance.

In addition to improving the appearance of skin laxity, wrinkles and fine lines, the antioxidant activity of platinum helps to reduce inflammation and damage caused by free radicals while protecting the outer skin. This in turn leads to brighter, healthier and stronger skin that is more resilient.


A known antifungal that has been shown to be effective in wound healing, copper exhibits anti-inflammatory properties when applied topically, and with less allergy risk than other metals.

As with other metals and minerals, copper also acts as an antioxidant. It can inhibit the effects of free radicals, which cause accelerated ageing.

Copper peptides may also help boost collagen. Peptides are short chains of amino acids linked by peptide bonds, and neuropeptides are a heterogeneous group of peptides that act as chemical messengers. In the skin, they can be synthesised by keratinocytes or endothelial cells, or they can be released into the skin from nerve endings, where they modulate the release of neurotransmitters.


Mineral oxides, such as zinc oxide (ZnO) and titanium dioxide (TiO2), protect the skin from photodamage by reflecting and absorbing ultraviolet radiation.

Zinc oxide isn’t the easiest material to work with, so there’s been a lot of work in the industry to improve the particle to make better formulas with lighter textures and less of a white cast. Innovation areas include finer particle size, surface treating the zinc oxide particles, and more research into support ingredients that help with spreadability.

Nanoparticle zinc is a boon for darker skin types, for whom the white film of zinc oxide is more difficult to blend in. Micronised zinc has been the major protector of our skin from early accelerated age changes as it inhibits the major cause of premature skin ageing, which is UVA damage. It also has antimicrobial activity and is a cofactor of many metalloenzymes.


Studies dating back to the 1990s support topical selenium’s ability to protect skin from the effects of ultraviolet rays. Like copper and zinc, selenium’s main benefit is to prevent photodamage and block oxidative stress and premature ageing.

A March 2019 study, published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, noted topical selenium’s use as an antifungal and anti-inflammatory treatment for seborrhoeic dermatitis.

One concern with the growing use of metals in skin care is the risk of allergic reaction. Allergies to metals such as gold, silver and copper are extremely common, however, it is possible to include a very minimal amount of the active to help achieve the skin benefits you are looking for without triggering an allergy, itching or symptoms of discomfort.

The Vintage Avenue Team x

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