Oxygen is essential for a young-looking, radiant complexion, since it plays a role in the regeneration of new skin as well as in the production of collagen and elastin. The body's ability to deliver oxygen to dermal tissue naturally declines over time, causing skin to look dull and to accumulate signs of aging like fine lines. It is believed that replenishing the skin's oxygen at the cellular level will detoxify the epidermis from environmental pollutants internally and thus improve the appearance of skin externally. Cosmetic products and services touting this indispensable gas are marketed as a way to re-oxygenate the skin and restore its youthful glow.

Last week an esthetician tried to sell me on upgrading my facial with an oxygen treatment, but I declined based on the fact that Madonna is a big fan and, quite frankly, I'd rather not look like her. A blast of cooling oxygen sounds like a lovely way to finish off a facial and to achieve dewy skin, but it may in fact upset the skin's physiological balance. As a Special Chem article explains, an excess of high-pressure oxygen applied to the skin's surface can theoretically generate high levels of free radicals and degrade oxidizable molecules, such as some beneficial components of essential oils. Though oxygen treatments have been popular in spas and clinics for years, topical applications, which seem less marred by adverse side effects, are gaining steam.

Dermacyte is one of the latest brands to enter the cosmetic oxygen arena. Owned by Oxygen Biotherapeutics, Inc, Dermacyte's two preliminary products, the Oxygen Concentrate and the Oxygenating Eye Complex, are formulated with a proprietary perfluorocarbon (PFC) oxygen carrier. Read more about PFC in this 2009 Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine article. Capable of transporting many times more oxygen than hemoglobin, this PFC was initially designed to enhance oxygen delivery to damaged tissues and speed up the healing process. After extensive research and aided by modern technology, the PFC was found to transfer large amounts of dissolved natural oxygen without the use of chemical activators like hydrogen peroxide, which has been associated with drying, bleaching, and damaging the skin. Its two introductory products aim to sequester atmospheric molecular oxygen and deliver it to the skin for cosmetic purposes.

It all sounded like high-tech mumbo-jumbo to me, but I figured maybe my skin could use a breath of fresh air. City life seemed to be taking a toll and my skin was looking particularly dull. Perhaps I needed more than organic botanicals and anti-aging peptides to bring back the fresh-faced glow that I hadn't seen in months. It makes sense that skin cannot replenish the nutrients it needs without oxygen. Could Dermacyte's oxygenating products be just the ticket to support my skin's cell metabolism and restore radiance? Relegating my usual regimen to the back-burner, I simultaneously set out on testing the Oxygen Concentrate and Oxygenating Eye Complex, supplemented only with a daily moisturizer and sunscreen.

The Oxygen Concentrate disappointed right from the outset. Instead of breathing new life into my skin, I felt as if my skin was being suffocated under a worthless coating of chemicals. I expected slightly more for $84. Besides the patented perfluorocarbon, there is not much to the Oxygen Concentrate other than water, a surfactant, a polymer, a solvent, and a preservative. Yes, it's a beautifully minimalist formula with the star active in the highest concentration.

But unless you fully subscribe to the theory that oxygen can be delivered topically to purify, replenish, moisturize, heal, and revitalize your skin, then all the Oxygen Concentrate does is essentially add a layer of synthetic fillers on your face. It is a rather uncomfortable layer at that, since the solution doesn't seem to fully absorb and sits on the surface of the skin like a slick film. My microscopic .33 oz. container (the full-size version) lasted me less than two weeks. Granted, I used it as an all-over serum rather than a spot treatment, but in that time, I noticed no difference in my skin's health. The Oxygen Concentrate neither brightened my complexion nor minimized wrinkles. It brought none of the miraculous benefits attributed to oxygen skin care, leading me to believe that, like other brands touting special oxygen delivery systems, this concept is full of hot air.

The Oxygenating Eye Complex is at the very least superior in terms of texture and formula. The lightweight, residue-free cream is absorbed readily as it moisturizes and subtly brightens. In addition, there is a large supply of back-up ingredients in case the glorified oxygen carrier doesn't actually fulfill its destiny. Once you get past the synthetic skin-conditioning agents, you'll find beneficial botanical emollients like shea butter, meadowfoam seed oil, sunflower oil, and avocado oil. There are also nourishing vitamins, like antioxidant-charged ascorbyl glucoside, a stable form of vitamin C combined with glucose, and niacinamide, a soluble form of vitamin B that maintains moisture levels in the skin.

The eye cream's brightening effects might come from licorice root extract, an anti-inflammatory with skin-lightening properties, and from N-hydroxysuccinimide, an acidic ester that activates the elimination of pigments responsible for the dark color and inflammation which result in under-eye circles. A few of our favorite anti-agers even make an appearance, though closer to the bottom of the ingredients list. Palmitoyl oligopeptide and palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 together make up Matrixyl 3000, which is believed to boost the growth of connective tissues and naturally increase the production of collagen. Unfortunately the good ingredients trail off toward the end, when controversial preservatives like chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol take over.

Although I appreciated how my sleepy under-eye skin adapted to the Oxygenating Eye Complex, I was hardly blown away by a dramatically healthy-looking change. The cream certainly hydrated my skin and slightly improved its elasticity, but these effects were thanks to the formula's emollients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories more than any dose of atmospheric oxygen. Another bonus over the restrained Oxygen Concentrate is that my half-ounce of eye cream (at $95, that's $190 per ounce) lasted over the full trial of four weeks. However, I have experienced far better eye creams with a far smaller price tag and a far smaller collection of icky chemicals.

It took a team of scientists fifteen years to develop Oxygen Biotherapies Inc's oxygen-based treatments for medical conditions and adapt them to cosmetic formulations. I'd be willing to bet that Demacyte's products are priced so high to offset the costs incurred during those fifteen years of research and development. Three additional products are slated for launch later in 2011 to expand Dermacyte's line. Based on the performance of its inaugural pair of products, my interest in oxygen delivery to skin has fully cooled off.

Dermacyte Oxygen Concentrate:
Perfluorot-Butylcyclohexane, Purified Water, Poloxamer 105, Gluconolactone, Poloxamer 338, Sodium Benzoate, Calcium Gluconate.

Dermacyte Oxygenating Eye Complex:
Water, perfluorot-butylcylohexane, cyclopetasiloxane, propanediol, caprylic triglyceride, butylene glycol, glycerin, butyrospermum parkii, dimethicone, cetyl phosphate, stearic acid, limnanthes alba seed oil, glyceril striate, PEG-100 stearate, ascorbyl glucoside, helianthis annuus seed oil, unsaponifiables, persea gratissima oil unsaponifiables, faxinus excelsior bark extract, avena sativa kernel extract, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, niacinamide, pamitoyl oligopeptide, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7, acrylates/dimethicone copolymer, steareth-20, silanetriol, N-hydroxysuccinimide, chrysin, polyurethane-40, silica, potassium citrate, polysorbate 20, carbomer, disodium EDTA, sodium hydrocide, caprylyl glycol, chlorphenesin, pheoxyehtanol, fragrance, green 5.