The other day, I posted on oxygen treatments for acne and not for the first time I began to think that oxygen facials might be nothing more than hot air. Oxygen as an anti-aging treatment got some marketing oomph a few years ago when Madonna told Harper's Bazaar that she keeps an oxygen machine in every one of her homes. Even though a blast of cooling oxygen rounds out my own monthly facial treatments, I've never been entirely convinced and then I came across an article on the cosmetic trade website, Special Chem, that suggests that oxygen facials may do more harm than good.

The oxygen paradox is that while it is essential for (most) life, it can also cause untold damage. It is powerful oxidizer that can attack biological molecules and lead to free radical formation. Not a good thing. The body, thankfully, can regulate this free radical production with enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, which transform the reactive oxygen species into hydrogen peroxide or water. Assuming all is working well, Madonna's body's enzymes will spring into action the minute excess oxygen is squirted onto her face.

The author of the Special Chem article, Marie-Claude Martini, points out that in any case oxygen doesn't easily pass through the skin. Even oxygen creams (of the type touted as acne treatments) which generally contain a small amount of hydrogen peroxide that releases oxygen effectively (as long as the it is stabilized) is unlikely to cross the stratum corneum.

But while all that suggests that oxygen treatments are mostly a waste of time and money, there is worse to come. Ms Martini is certainly not going to be heading to her esthetician for an oxygen facial any time soon. She says that "applying high-pressure oxygen to the skin's surface will change the direction of gaseous exchange which, in theory, disturbs the skin's physiological balance. What is more, the large excess of a powerful oxidant will overflow enzymatic regulatory systems and generate high levels of free radicals. Then in addition, active oxidizable molecules such as some constituents of essential oils could be degraded when they come into contact with oxygen."

If Ms Martini is right, oxygen facials could actually be making Madonna age more quickly. Certainly, only someone bordering on senile would wear a lawn in public.