Status symbols may be harmful to your health
by Hong Minh
"There are no ugly women, only lazy ones!" is an aphorism that housewife Lai Ngoc Hoa, 25, has taken to heart. Even though she is still relatively young, Hoa cares very much about her beauty and updates it with the most popular and newest styles at famous salons around Ha Noi.
And when the trend of applying 24 karat gold leaf face mask to renew facial skin was introduced to Ha Noi some four to five years ago, she was quick to adopt the method.
"One rejuvenation course takes five to six times of applying the treatment over two months," Hoa says.
It costs her about VND2 million (US$95) each time, roughly $500 for the whole course, quite a lot when there is no evidence it has any effect.
However, Hoa says from her observation the number of customers coming to salons to apply the gold-leaf mask is increasing, evidenced by her beautician who says gold leaf applications account for 60 per cent of the salon's work.
"I don't know whether the gold thing really has any effect," Hoa says. "But it's gold and I believe it's good anyhow."
Her beautician has advised her to use the treatment as many times as she can afford since there's no harm and it's helpful for her beauty, she says.
However, a qualified scientist does not agree. Ngo Xuan Nguyet, head of Bach Mai Hospital's Dermatology Department, doubts the authenticity and quality of the gold used in the service.
Nguyet explains that in the past gold was used as a skincare product for rich people and the metal actually does whiten facial skin, but she urges careful consultancy when applying it for a long term.
"As a heavy metal, using gold in medicine and dermatology needs a doctor's guidance," she says. Long-term use could be dangerous.
Gold has also become popular in food and drinks for wealthy people.
Bakeries have added gold powder to cakes and gold is also mixed with wine.
Nguyen Thi Phuong Lien, a wine shop owner on Lo Duc Street, says wine mixed with gold-leaf and gold powder has been requested by customers in recent years.
Lien's shop offers Russian vodka and Japanese sake with 24-carat gold, with prices ranging from VND800,000-1.2 million ($39-$59) per bottle.
Lien says there are also wine products containing gold from Germany and South Korea.
"I can really earn from this kind of wine," she says, adding that it's popular during the likes of Tet (lunar new year) or for other special occasions, when wine with gold has become a luxurious and valuable gift.
Lien says she believes gold in the wine is not harmful, and that it can cure diseases of the blood and innards and acts an aphrodisiac for men.
But Vu Duc Loi, head of the Institute of Chemistry's Analytical Chemistry Department, refutes the statement, saying there is no scientific research to prove beneficial effects.
He explains that due to it being a metal, gold cannot be digested.
"It means that when you eat or drink it, it won't have any effect," he says, adding that this theory has been proved in experiments with rats.
Loi says that due to the value of gold and people's fondness for it, many people tend to use gold in their daily lives.
"Gold is a symbol of prosperity, so it's understandable that people like to have it around," he says.
He adds that there have not been any gold poisoning cases reported at Bach Mai Hospital's Poison Centre, but warns against ingesting gold without a clear source.
"It will be dangerous if it's not pure gold," he says. "Gold mixed with the likes of heavy metals such as tin, copper, nikle and lead is very harmful to the body."
The chemist agrees that the amount and cost of gold used in a cake or wine is very small.
It's just the fondness for gold things that makes such products saleable at a significant markup in price, he says. — VNS