Gold dust skin therapy sounds like the kind of gimmicky, glittery face masks favoured by celebrities such as Kate Hudson and Stella McCartney.
But now dermatologists are using gold particles — together with a laser — to treat adult acne, and believe it has the potential to replace harsh drugs.
Tiny grains of silica wrapped in gold are massaged into the pores and travel down to the oil glands, where they are heated by a laser passed over the skin. The heat absorbed by the particles creates a controlled burn, over time shrinking the oil glands.
As many as 80% of people experience acne at some point, characterised by unsightly and often painful spots on the face, back or chest.
More than 5 per cent of women and 1 per cent of men over the age of 25 have ongoing problems with it. Outbreaks are caused by oil blockages in the pores combined with infection by the Cutibacterium acnes bacterium.
The effect of the novel gold and laser treatment, called Sebacia, is similar to Roaccutane; it shrinks the oil glands, where acne begins, but unlike drugs which have an effect throughout the body, Sebacia works only on the oil glands where it is applied. It involves three treatments given one week apart, though it can take six months to a year to see the full effects.
‘You have to wait for these glands to shrivel up properly and die off, and you may have slightly unstable moments during that time where they try and recover and you’ll have a little blip in your spots,’ explains Dr Saqib Bashir, a consultant dermatological surgeon at King’s College Hospital and Skin55 on Harley Street, one of the clinics offering the therapy.
A study conducted at nine private practices in Europe and presented at the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery conference in October showed a 79% improvement six months after treatment.
‘Gold is used because it is an inert substance,’ explains Dr Chew, who offers the treatment to her private patients at Skin55. ‘It can deliver the pigment to the skin without causing harm.’
‘First, a liquid containing gold microparticles is painted on the face and massaged in,’ explains Dr Bashir. ‘The microparticle, which is actually black in colour, is tiny enough to glide down the pore into the oil or sebaceous gland at the bottom of it. Then we use a laser to “zap” all over the face.
‘The pigment of the particle acts as a target for the laser. When hit by the laser, the gold heats up, administering a controlled burn and effectively cauterising the oil gland so it shrivels up and can’t make oil any more.’
Laser treatment for acne is not new. ‘When you use a laser to treat acne normally, without the gold particles, what they are doing is killing bacteria,’ explains Dr Bashir. ‘But they don’t alter the oil gland itself.’