the truth about oxygen

Oxygen has been trending. It keeps coming up in skin care products and not just because Madonna supposedly has oxygen facials. But are the supposed benefits of oxygen little more than hot air? Or is there real substance to support including oxygen in your skin care regimen? Oxygen is a paradox — while it is essential for (most) life, it can also cause untold damage. So let’s take a deep breath and find out the truth about oxygen for the skin, what’s potentially bad and what forms are the best to look out for.

The Oxygen Paradox

Most living things needs oxygen, and we would die without it. However, oxygen is also a 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. By the age of 40, oxygen levels in the skin drop by 50%.

Oxygen as a Wound Healer

Oxygen has been demonstrated to heal wounds, and oxygen increases blood supply and cell metabolism in the skin. Some doctors use oxygen therapy after cosmetic procedures. Research shows that applying oxygen to a wound will optimize healing and reduce infection. Surprisingly though, there isn’t much research on how oxygen speeds up wound healing (source).

Oxygen Facials

Even though a 30-second blast of cooling oxygen rounds out my own monthly facial treatments, oxygen facials are controversial, and this article Special Chem, suggests that oxygen facials may do more harm than good. The author of the Special Chem article, Marie-Claude Martini, points out that in any case, oxygen doesn't easily pass through the skin. And as far as facials go, 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.”

Oxygen and wrinkles

In 2010 a Japanese study found that mice placed in an oxygen chamber developed fewer wrinkles and less epidermal thickness. 

Hydrogen Peroxide

You might come across this in some creams, such as Bliss Triple Oxygen +C Cream, hydrogen peroxide (HP) based. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is hydrogen with oxygen. HP is commonly used as a mild disinfectant for cuts and scrapes by releasing oxygen to destroy bacteria. HP causes damage to the human body as it destroys cell membranes in a non-specific manner and, therefore, is not a good idea to apply to wounds. The body already fights infection by manufacturing its own HP, which it self-regulates (by releasing an enzyme) to keep HP levels low in order to avoid undue cell death. So what’s it doing in a face cream? Well, it’s a cheap way of brightening and whitening the skin. But at a cost.

Why You Should Look Out for Perfluorocarbon

An ingredient that I’ve been taking a strong interest in is perfluorodecalin, a perfluorocarbon that mimics the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the skin cells. It is used in wound healing therapies (source) and for treating acne. Although I haven’t found research to back this up, it is postulated that perfluorodecalin promotes collagen production. On the other hand, there is research showing that perfluorodecalin boosts moisture in the skin. It allows the skin to breathe to optimum levels and to self regulate better in polluted environments. Also, it boosts SPF performance by improving the distribution of the sunscreen actives. (source).

Products with Perfluorocarbon

Lumavera Oxygenating Masque ($70 in the shop) has it in the form of perfluoroisohexane, which essentially works in the same way to dissolve oxygen. The soon to be launched Truth Vitality Treatment Gel contains perfluorocarbon, green tea, vitamin C and milk thistle