Women and men have been beautifying themselves for thousands of years. The history of cosmetics is fascinating for it shows the lengths people go through to make themselves more attractive and look younger, sometimes with deadly results. The best known killer was lead oxide, used as a whitening agent right until the 19th century - the pale look was highly desirable because people wanted to show that they were rich enough not to labour in the sun.

In recent times, the parade of the next sure thing in bottled beauty have included bovine collagen, alpha-hydroxy acids and marine algal extracts. But none have the rich and glamorous appeal as the latest fad for gemstones in skincare. Fabsugar did a three part article "Bring on the Bling" where she featured several cosmetic companies who use crushed or powdered diamonds, pearls, tourmaline, topaz and a mixture of unstated gemstones in their products.

The obvious question is, do they work? Some products do indeed provide exfoliating action such as Jewel Therapy's Treatment Polish and Artemis Woman's Topaz Body Polish. Very finely crushed stone will slough off dead skin and thus speed up a natural renewal process which slows down with age. However, as author and self-styled cosmetics cop, Paula Begoun ("Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me") said in newspaper articles, a washcloth would do the same job.

The pearl powder in Jenju's Pearl Cream is made from genuine crushed pearls. Pearls and mother of pearl have been used in Asian cosmetics for centuries - the Imperial Chinese Court had a thing for crushed gemstones. Its claim to fame is its anti-aging properties. But pearls are really mostly calcium carbonate in origin, otherwise known as chalk.

Calcium carbonate has many uses - it as an antacid for eg TUMS. But its primary use by the cosmetics companies is as a pigment. Like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, calcium carbonate is an effective sunblock when applied to skin because it reflects light.

Therefore it seems such a shame to pulverize something as beautiful as a pearl which has taken the oyster or mussel years to make just to put into cosmetics when regular calcium carbonate or any other good sunblock would suffice to protect against the ravaging effects of excess sunlight.

No scientific study has ever shown gemstones to have any real benefit to skin. Paula Begoun herself did an exhaustive search on tourmaline, and came up with nothing. Users who do profess a positive effect may well be experiencing a placebo phenomenon - a positive response based only on suggestions made by, in this case, cosmetics companies.

So you might as well spend the money on jewels to wear. Sonja Henie (1912-1969) the Norwegian figure skater, Olympic gold medallist and actress said it best : "Jewelry takes people's minds off your wrinkles."

References :

Beauty Secrets from Ages Past: A Brief History of Makeup
Brief History of Beauty and Hygiene Products
Paula Begoun's Book
New Hope at the Beauty Counter: Bling in a Jar

Crushed pearls in cosmetics
Patent for antisun product
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