Oxygen Facials. Oxygenating Moisturizer. Triple Oxygen Eye Cream. I hear these terms thrown around a lot & loads of skin care products and spa treatments claim to infuse the skin with oxygen. But is this really possible? According to science the answer is unclear. What is clear though is plenty of controversy and differing opinions on the subject of oxygen!
Oxygen Treatments vs. Oxygen Products
First I should point out there is a big difference between oxygen facials and products that claim to be infused with oxygen – these are two completely different animals and I will address each separately.
In a FutureDerm interview with Dr. Leslie Baumann she stated that “many active ingredients that are used as buzz words in skin care cannot penetrate the skin, leaving them useless, for instance: Oxygen, Stem Cells, Hyaluronic Acid, and Peptides”.
Dr. Ellen Marmur of Mount Sinai Medical Center goes on to say that:
“Of all the amazing things the skin can do, breathing is not one of them. Oxygen, as a topical ingredient, is completely ineffectual. Although I’m sure that an oxygen facial makes your skin glowing and radiant; the effect has nothing to do with oxygen.
“The machine used for this facial treatment has a hose-like attachment that discharges pressurized oxygen along with a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum. The moisturizing mist is what plumps the skin and makes it temporarily look and feel dewy.
“The use of oxygen cosmetically claims to have a wound-healing effect on the skin. This may stem from the fact that hyperbaric oxygen treatment has been proven to help heal wounds, but placing a patient in a pressurized hyperbaric chamber to increase the amount of oxygen in the lungs, which in turn delivers it through the blood to injured tissue, is not the same as having air sprayed onto your face.
“It is impossible to infuse skin cells with oxygen from the outside. It cannot purify or moisturize the skin, although too much oxygen has been known to generate toxic oxygen radicals (free radicals) that damage skin. For that matter, I have no idea how a cream or lotion could contain a stabilized form of oxygen, which is a gas.”
Manufacturers of oxygen facial machines claim that because they are blowing oxygen under pressure onto the face the treatment resembles a hyperbaric treatment and thus will produce the results of hyperbaric therapy. This is an exaggeration since they aren’t fully recreating a true, hyperbaric environment.
What’s more, hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber where the air pressure is raised up to three times higher than normal air pressure, which allows your lungs to gather up to 3x’s more oxygen. Your blood then carries this oxygen throughout your body, stimulating the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing (Mayo Clinic). This is a far cry from what is actually going on during an Oxygen Facial.
My research into products claiming to be “oxygenating” led me to put them into two categories, the first of which includes products that claim to be “breatheable” but since skin does not breathe this makes absolutely no sense. Here is one example of an ingredient list form an “oxygen-rich, breatheable moisturizer”:
Aloe Barbadensis Gel, Glyceryl Stearate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Cetyl Esters, Decyl Oleate, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (yeast) Extract, Stearic Acid, Sodium PCA, Vitus Vinifera (grape Seed) Extract, Triethanolamine, Butylene Glycol, Tocopherols (vitamin E), Lecithin, Salicylic Acid, Citric Acid, O-cymene 5-ol, Cetyl Alcohol, PEG-100 Stearate, Potassium Sorbate, Camellia Sinesis Oil.
Some nice ingredients, but no oxygen here…
The second category includes products that all have one ingredient in common – hydrogen peroxide – which is said to infuse the skin with oxygen upon contact due to an enzymatic decomposition.
A company out of San Diego called Aura Research claims to have introduced the first “stabilized emulsion of hydrogen peroxide” to the United States in the 1990’s”. They explain that their hydrogen peroxide emulsion delivers oxygen to the skin in this way:
“When hydrogen peroxide meets the skin, it always breaks down to water and oxygen. Instead of the oxygen being released on the skin, and escaping back into the atmosphere, as in aqueous solutions, the oxygen released from the emulsion penetrates the skin. Why this happens is very simple. The oil phase of the emulsion offers a resistance to the oxygen, and the skin becomes the path of least resistance. When hydrogen peroxide changes from a liquid to a gas, which is instantaneously, it increases in volume 22.4 times. This increase in volume is what causes the pressure and why it penetrates the skin.”
Aura goes on to claim that “Skin application of the oxygen emulsion creates a local hyperbaric oxygen treatment…” Screeching halt! There is simply NO WAY that applying hydrogen peroxide to the skin in any way creates a hyperbaric environment.
However, I did find a 2010 study which concluded that “topical dissolved oxygen can penetrate skin and may be useful to aid chronic wound healing”, which appears to validate that Aura’s emulsion does work but…making exaggerated claims like the one above turn me off to any product, brand or ingredient, valid or not. What about you?
What we really need are more tests to understand the processes that occur and the potential of these products.
There is a whole lot of additional controversy surrounding the use of hydrogen peroxide. According to Wikipedia, hydrogen peroxide is a significant oxidizing agent. In fact, the oxidizing capacity of hydrogen peroxide is so strong that it is considered a highly reactive oxygen species – a free radical! This might make you ask, “How can this be good for your skin?” Wikipedia goes on to say that “Hydrogen Peroxide…destroys newly formed skin cells.”
But there’s more…this from Paula Begoun: “There is a great deal of current research showing that hydrogen peroxide is problematic as a topical disinfectant because it can greatly reduce the production of healthy new skin cells (Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery).
A review of the scientific data supporting oxygen facial treatments was found to be scarce, anecdotal, and not well-documented (Aesthetic Plastic Surgery journal, 2011). While glowing results are typically reported these results are temporary in nature and have nothing to do with oxygen and far more to do with what else is present in the products and facials. So, if you’ve got a special event & you want your skin to look its best an oxygen facial is not a bad idea.
On the other hand, “oxygen-infused” skin care products require much more critical investigation as there are myriad unsubstantiated claims, supporters, and detractors. My suggestion: Spend your money wisely by looking instead for products that contain ingredients which are scientifically validated, like Vitamin C, Retinol, and/or CoQ10.
Need oxygen? Just breathe… 😉