Which Facial Treatments Really Work? Part 1 - It's All About The Hype

My wife complains that going for a facial is more stress than bliss nowadays. "Too many options and choices ... I don't know if I should go for a deep-clean cream cleanser or a blemish-relief clarifying one; would a diamond polishing be better than a ultrasonic exfoliation; and is a gold or propolis mask better for my skin?"

While most beauty options are entirely a matter of personal choice, the sheer number of treatment combinations available can be overwhelming. Most people rely on the beauty therapist's recommendations of the best options for their needs, but how much is this recommendation is based on your facial needs rather than the commission that she hopes to pocket at the end of the month? How many options at the beauty salon are designed with real skin care benefits in mind? 

Here's a closer look at some of the latest trends in facial treatments, do they live up to their hype, and does the science really prove they work?


A gold facial is a facial therapy involving the application of a sheet of 24-karat gold leaf to the face. Said to have been an age-old Ayurvedic skin treatment, even ancient Egyptian beauty Cleopatra was supposed to owe her perfect skin to gold facials (this fact has been disputed by Egyptologists). Claims for this treatment include improved skin elasticity, relaxed wrinkles, blemish and scar lightening, anti-pollution cell therapy and a youthful glow.  

Gold facials are touted as the ultimate in luxurious skin treatments, with modern techniques such as nano-misting and healing light added to boost the absorption of beneficial minerals. This strikes me as curious; if gold was such a beneficial therapy that has been used since ancient times, why is there the need for the nano-mist that helps the gold to be absorbed? Gold is also a substance that has been shown to cause contact dermatitis (see this study), and is often considered second only to nickel as an allergenic. 

New York dermatologist Dr. Jeannette Graf also commented in a New York Times article that “there are absolutely no scientific studies that show that gold has any effect in firming or revitalizing the skin, nor that it reduces wrinkles or gives skin a plumped, golden glow.” The same article quotes other scientists as saying gold can be toxic when injected in high dose into mice, but there are no known studies about the effects of gold infusion into the skin. Most doctors agree that the post-facial glow most probably comes from the moisturizing, massage or exfoliation that comes with the gold facial.


Diamond skin products are very popular, possibly because of the luxe factor. There is little evidence, however, that diamond-studded creams and potions are worth the inflated price tag. 
Diamonds have one proven use in skin care: as an exfoliator. Diamonds give great exfoliation and don't wear out as easily as sand or other exfoliating tools, so are often used by dermatologists. There are, however many other products that work just as well for daily exfoliation purposes, and cost much less, too. Diamond facials that claim to provide more benefits than exfoliation should be taken with a grain of salt. Some cosmetic products do contain diamonds for their illuminating and light-reflecting properties, but these benefits are only temporary, lasting only as long as the diamonds remain on the skin. Diamonds don't provide any nutritive or healing benefits as they cannot be absorbed into the dermis.

Snail Mucus

Snail mucus gels and facials are arguably the trend with the greatest 'ick' factor, but proponents swear by their collagen-boosting and hydrating properties. With a snail facial, live snails are allowed to crawl all over the face, covering it with slime as they go. The snail gel provides the same benefits in a bottle for daily use. Snail mucus is reportedly rich in antioxidants, beneficial proteins and hyaluronans, a hydrating component very much like hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a proven skin moisturizing agent, but hyaluronan molecules are significantly larger and cannot be absorbed into the skin. 
The snails used for the facials are supposedly a special breed from Africa, fed with organic foods and kept in a sterile environment. But how do you cleanse a snail before you apply it to your face? 
Could snail mucus be the answer to all your aging woes?
Some dermatologists are concerned about the risk of cross-contamination since the snails will be used again and again on different clients' faces. Others raise the question of allergic reactions to the protein molecules from the snail slime. Like other treatments, there are many who will swear to the treatment's beautifying benefits, regardless of the lack of supporting scientific evidence. Dr. Williams Stebbins, a professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center says effects of the treatment are most likely only temporary with no lasting benefits. 

Bee Venom

Another trending ingredient which claims ancient roots is bee venom. There have been many scientific studies into the medicinal applications of bee venom, particularly for the treatment of hyperallergy and arthritic conditions. Bee venom contains compounds that have powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as various peptides, enzymes and proteins. Used in skin care, it is said to work like a cream version of Botox, blocking nerve signals that cause muscle contractions.   
Yale Medical School Dermatology professor Dr. David Leffell says that no legitimate scientific studies on the subject of bee venom in skin care have been published, so he "remains skeptical of the extent that bee venom can smooth or tighten skin." Dermatologist and author Dr. Debra Jaliman concurs, saying "I've never seen clinical studies on bee venom; I really think it's just another expensive fad." 
On the other hand, celebrities such as Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Hollywood actress Gywneth Paltrow have both praised the effects of bee venom products. Skin care experts do agree that the honey extracts that are often added into these products are probably responsible for the positive effects of their use. 


Caviar facial masks and skin-care products have also been growing in popularity - the world's most expensive skin cream, LaPrairie's Jeweled Skin Caviar Luxe Skin Cream, lists caviar as one of it's main nutritive components -  but there is little evidence of how caviar benefit the skin. Although caviar is known for being rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, as well as being a good source of vitamins and minerals, all the studies have shown benefits when caviar was eaten, not applied on the skin.
Skin experts agree, for the best beauty results when it comes to caviar, apply the caviar to your tongue instead of your face. 

--- Cosmetic Medicine, MD

Dr. Liow Tiong Sin is an aesthetic practitioner who practices in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, Malaysia. He has more than 12 years of expertise with non-surgical cosmetic treatments, and conducts training courses for other doctors from all around Asia. 
To connect with Dr. Liow, Like Cosmedmd's Facebook page, visit Beverly Wilshire Medical Centre's website at http://www.beverlywilshiremedical.com or drop him an email at cosmedmd@gmail.com

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