You've probably heard about diamond beauty products in the context of ridiculous-sounding celebrity spa treatments (Mila Kunis, for example, made news in 2011 after she reportedly received a $7,000 ruby-and-diamond facial before an awards show), but it's much less clear whether they actually work.
Thanks to an industry that strives to offer “aspirational” products — and consumers who often believe that expensive ingredients are better — we’re in a new era of pricey skin-care products. Now you can find diamond serums, masks, BB creams, nail polish, and even shampoos on the market. Before you laugh about all the gullible people dropping $500 on diamond serums, it turns out that diamond powder does offer some potential benefits as a beauty-product ingredient — with a whole bunch of caveats.
First of all, finely ground diamonds definitely exfoliate. Dr. Amy Wechsler, a top New York dermatologist, uses a diamond-encrusted wand for in-office microdermabrasion procedures. The wand, she says, has become an industry standard: “I chose the DiamondTome systems over the other systems that have particles and sand because I never liked those," she said. "I found them messy, and those granules would get in people’s hair, and it was not a pleasant experience, and it even hurt. The diamond-encrusted wand exfoliates without damaging the skin.” She follows the process up with a serum (like Chanel Hydra Serum), since the microdermabrasion helps with absorption.
Then there’s this procedure, which firmly belongs in the don’t-try-this-at-home category: teeth exfoliation with diamonds. (Yes, this exists — and I tried it.) Cosmetic dentist Dr. Emanuel Layliev applies a scrub containing diamond dust and other secret ingredients to teeth before he performs tooth whitening because it helps to open up pores. (Who knew teeth had pores, right?)
“The diamond powder exfoliates very gently to remove the surface stains right before the whitening,” Dr. Layliev said. “It opens up the enamel pores in order to allow better penetration of the peroxide so that it can break down the stain molecules that are deeper.” It’s applied with an electronic toothbrush and feels like any standard dental cleaning. (I wonder if I swallowed any diamonds in the process. It’s a fun thought.)
You can buy exfoliating scrubs that contain diamond powder for your skin (unfortunately, not your teeth) for use at home. Here’s where you should be skeptical, though: Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of BeautyStat, warned that it’s mostly marketing hype. “There are other types of exfoliators that work just as well,” he said. “The manufacturers are spending more to put it in the product, and they’re then able to command a higher price for it.”
So I’ll concede that diamonds are effective — if not always necessary — exfoliators. But companies also frequently use diamond powder as a brightener and optical diffuser in products, and that's where it gets a little shadier.
Optical diffusing is a big buzzword in beauty right now. “Brightening” products often contain ingredients like mica that sit on the surface of the skin and disguise fine lines and imperfections by reflecting light. You’ll often see this referred to as a “blurring” effect on packaging and in ad copy. When diamonds are finely crushed, they can definitely provide luminosity and brighten the skin, but “it’s not the best brightener that could be used in skin-care,” Robinson said.
It also depends on how much diamond is in the product, which a consumer really has no way of knowing, and chances are high that diamond content is low. Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist, editor at the Beauty Brains, and author of the book It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick, said that to get luminizing benefits from certain diamond powders, products should ideally contain about 5 percent of the diamond mix, which realistically, probably isn’t happening. Finally — and this is an important point — Schueller pointed out that the beauty benefits you get from diamond powder are temporary. Diamonds are inactive. Unlike an active ingredient like, say, retinol, they’re not providing any sort of long-term benefit for your skin. When you wash your face, you’re washing off the diamonds, since they don’t penetrate skin and pores.
Still interested in diamonds for your face? All you need is about $400 to blow — and this handy guide.