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The gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in modern-day beauty products

Who knew that centuries later, beauty brands would put the Three Kings’ offerings into formulations and sell them as exotic

Three wise men once travelled miles with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Those weren’t things they’d just cobbled together or regifted! They were well-thought-out presents valued for their healing properties.

Historians of medicine have found textual as well as archaeological evidence of myrrh and frankincense being used to treat wounds, toothaches, even leprosy. Ayurveda has long recognised gold’s therapeutic properties, using it as gold ash or swarna bhasma, to treat problems like ulcers, acne, blisters, and blemishes.

In recent times, with modern medicine beginning to take more of an interest in these substances, beauty brands, big and small, are beginning to romance them, too. While scientific research is limited on all three, what we do know is, they all have anti-inflammatory properties. However, as with anything new you try on your skin, you need to do a patch test first — natural products can cause allergies, too — especially if you have a history of them.


From the neighbourhood parlours peddling gold bleach and facials, to gold flecks in shower gels and lotions, this precious metal has been around for a while. “The ions present in gold help in stimulating the cells, nerves and veins in the body, which leads to improved blood circulation. This increases the metabolism of skin cells, which then helps to hydrate and maintain the skin’s moisture level,” explains Dr Sharad Kulkarni, in-house Ayurvedic expert, Kama Ayurveda. “Gold also helps to transport oxygen molecules into the skin, to promote cell renewal, and the small particles of gold give you a rich glow.”

Most beauty products use gold either as gold dust or as gold leaf or foil. While on the one hand, gold is known for its rejuvenating, hydrating and anti-bacterial properties, some studies have discovered it can cause allergies, though this is rare and also depends on the formulation. “Gold can cause allergic contact dermatitis,” says Dr Jaishree Sharad, author of Skin Talks and Skin Rules and Medical Director, Skinfiniti Aesthetic Skin and Laser Clinic, Mumbai.

The gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in modern-day beauty products

A study being conducted at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, for a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, had to be discontinued when patients given gold salts ended up with gold-induced skin rashes. Another study found that it is possible to have an allergic reaction to gold jewellery and crowns, too. So, the good news is, if you’re likely to be sensitive to gold, you probably already know that.

More good news: The studies all found that even if you did suffer a reaction, there were no lasting effects from it. Plus, such instances are rare. Another word of caution, though. “Gold may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, causing you to break out in a rash after being in the sun, or worsening an existing skin rash,” explains Dr Kulkarni. “As a precaution, when using products with gold, it is best to stay out of direct sunlight, wear protective clothing and use a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or more.”

Products: Jhelum Loves Goldrush Face Oil; Forest Essentials Soundarya Radiance Cream with 24K gold and SPF25; Peter Thomas Roth 24K Gold Mask


Myrrh essential oil is extracted from the dried resin of the commiphora myrrha tree, and is known to have antiseptic properties. It is also great for dry and mature skin types, and is being used for skin rejuvenation and to treat wounds. “The essential oils of myrrh are high in antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals that can damage or destroy healthy cells,” says Dr Kulkarni. “It can also destroy bacteria that can lead to acne or fungus that can cause red itchy skin.” The best way to use it is by mixing a few drops into a carrier oil. He recommends jojoba, almond and sesame.

The gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in modern-day beauty products

However, you can’t use myrrh if you’re pregnant or lactating. “Myrrh is a sensitiser,” reveals Dr Simi Sugathan, risk assessment scientist and founder, Safety Monitor Research Foundation, Bengaluru. “Myrrh oil regulates and stimulates menstruation, which can lead to a miscarriage, if used too often,” explains Dr Kulkarni. It is also best avoided if you’re on certain medication, such as beta-blockers.

Products: Just Herbs Myrrh Sandalwood Facial Toner; Juicy Chemistry Lavender, Myrrh & Wild Forest Honey Night Cream; Kama Ayurveda Turmeric & Myrrh Skin Brightening Soap


Frankincense is said to be an antioxidant, and has been linked to anti-tumour activity. “It is a natural astringent that helps regenerate healthy cells and keep existing tissue healthy and strong,” explains Dr Kulkarni. “It is this power to protect and repair skin cells that makes frankincense your most powerful anti-ageing essential oil. It reduces acne, prevents wrinkles, lifts and tightens skin and soothes eczema.”

The gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in modern-day beauty products

For the most part, however, frankincense is only available as an essential oil, which should never be applied directly to the skin, as it can irritate and cause a severe allergic reaction because it is so strong. Dr Kulkarni suggests adding just a drop or two into a carrier oil, such as jojoba, sweet almond or sesame, or putting a few drops into your bath water. “You can also inhale it by sprinkling a drop or two onto a cloth or tissue, or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporiser,” he says. “But you should never ingest it.”

Products: Fabindia Honey Frankincense Face Wash; St Botanica Frankincense & Almond Face Serum; Juicy Chemistry Frankincense & Hemp Seed Acne Control Serum

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    Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 11:53:24 PM |

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