Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Oxygen in Skincare Products and Treatments – Update October 17, 2013

I’ve discussed the subject of oxygen in skincare products and treatments before (please see my previous posts Does Your Skin Need to Detoxify/Breathe? and Oxygenation Treatments: The Case For and Against), but since the subject continues to be addressed in other places I thought I would share some new information that I came across.

Before I share some new information I learned I should mention that the argument about oxygen in beauty products usually, though not always, boils down to a product manufacturer saying that oxygen in a product or a treatment is great for the skin and a doctor saying just the opposite.  For example in the The New York Times article Oxygen Bubbles Into Facial Care Products Robin White from the skincare company Philosophy states:

“Oxygen is known to give skin brightness and clarity. It works on clogged pores and dullness, and brings back radiance and freshness.”

Or check out these other two examples from the same article:

“As we age, the oxygen in our body is depleted, which results in lifeless skin,” said Michael Ann Guthrie, vice president for retail for Natura Bissé. “Our oxygen products are based on stabilized hydrogen peroxide, which delivers molecules directly into the skin. This active ingredient breaks down into water and oxygen, and then supplies the skin with oxygen, which enables it to breathe.”  …

Bliss has also created a number of oxygen-infused products. In 2010 and 2011, they introduced the Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Mask ($54), Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Cleansing Foam ($28), and Instant Energizing Eye Mask ($50). In the spring of this year, two new items will be added to the line, including a rich oxygenating cream. The company’s spas also offer two oxygen facials, a 75-minute treatment and a 30-minute one. Both promise luminosity, include an oxygen spray, and are among the spa’s most popular, said Susan Grey, regional vice president of spa operations for New York Bliss Spas. “Oxygen increases circulation, which increases the delivery of nutrition to the skin, and gives your skin energy,” she said. “It also kills bacteria which keeps post-facial breakouts away.” And, she said that as oxygen travels through the body, the skin is the last to receive it. “By time it gets there,” she added, “it’s a little tired.”

And for the dissenting opinions:

… “There’s no scientific evidence that oxygen can penetrate the skin or that it can stay in the product,” said Dr. Bruce Katz, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the director of the Juva Skin and Laser Center in New York. He added that very few products can penetrate the stratum corneum, the outer layer of the skin.

Celeste Hilling, the chief executive of Skin Authority, a skin-care company in San Diego, is one cosmetics-industry professional who needs convincing; she believes better results can be achieved with other elements, like vitamin D or peptides.

“Oxygen is an inert ingredient, meaning it’s nonactive,” Ms. Hilling said. “We need it in the bloodstream to breathe and to live, but oxygen is what’s aging our skin. It’s oxidizing it. Plus, skin can’t absorb it.”

The apothecary giant Kiehl’s is another dissenter. “Oxygen is a gas and cannot be incorporated as a stand-alone ingredient,” said Chris Salgardo, the company’s president. “Products on the market that speak to ‘oxygenating’ usually use hydrogen peroxide, or other ingredients that will generate oxygen as the product is applied to skin.” To obtain the benefits oxygenating products are typically used for, like dark spots, wrinkles, pore size and elasticity, Kiehl’s uses other ingredients like vitamin C and calcium.

But products promising oxygen continue to make appearances. According to the NPD Group, a market research company, total oxygen-infused facial skin care products generated $4.1 million in department store sales from January through October 2012 in the United States, an increase of 54 percent, compared with the same time in 2011.

“Oxygen is appealing in concept because everyone knows it’s very good for you,” said Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, a facial plastic surgeon and the director of advanced facial aesthetics in Chestnut Hill, Mass. “But it’s not clear that adding oxygen to the skin is going to improve someone’s appearance. We also get enough oxygen to our skin by having healthy lungs and not smoking.”

So who is right?  Does our skin even need oxygen to be healthy?  According to Drs. Draelos and Pugliese in their book Physiology of the Skin, third edition (pages 249-253):

The skin uses very little oxygen.  In fact, it uses only 12.8 milliliters per minute, just a tad over two teaspoons of oxygen, which is only 4.8% of the oxygen taken into the lungs each minute.  Every 100 grams of skin uses only 0.3 mL/min.  One hundred grams of skin is a lot if you consider only the epidermis, because the dermis uses almost no oxygen.  …

Such a small amount of oxygen does not require the blood supply found in the skin.  This tells us that the skin is not an oxygen-using tissue.  In fact, it prefers to metabolize without oxygen.  …

Oxygen Therapy

Peroxides.  There are two forms of oxygen therapy used by estheticians.  One form is peroxides of some type – hydrogen peroxide, zinc peroxide or other basic elements such as calcium.  All of these compounds decompose to release oxygen and the hydroxide of the base element.  In the case of hydrogen peroxide, the most commonly found oxygen source in cosmetics, water and oxygen are produced.  As the oxygen is released, it reacts on the skin surface with anything that it can oxidize.  It becomes an effective bleaching agent and a weak germicide on the surface of the skin.  But that is all.  It cannot penetrate the skin.

Oxygen is a gas, and gas will diffuse into other gases before it will dissolve in anything else.  You can’t affect anything other than the outer stratum corneum with these topical products.  Any claim that oxygen penetrates the epidermis, or goes to the deeper layers of the epidermis, must be highly suspect.  All other benefits from so-called oxygen generating products are not based on true science.

Oxygen as a gas

This form of oxygen therapy is a waste of time and money.  Here is why.  One molecule weight of oxygen will fill 22.4 liters of atmospheric pressure.  No matter how much pressure is in the tank, that comes out will be at atmospheric pressure when it hits the air.

If you spray this oxygen over a face that is dry, what will happen?  Nothing.  It immediately will go into the air, as oxygen does not diffuse into dry protein.  OK, so wet the face.  How much will dissolve in the water, or whatever fluid used?  Under atmospheric pressure, or 152 mm Hg, 5 micro liters of oxygen will dissolve per milliliter of water, written as 5 µL/mL of water.  Think about that for a minute; the water you are using consists of 1,000 mL of oxygen in the air or 1 million micro liters of oxygen.  How much water can you get on the face at one time?  Maybe an ounce, or even two ounces if a cotton cloth was used.  Now you have 60 mL of water in which 3 X 60 or 180 µL of oxygen at a maximum can be dissolved.

Of the one liter of oxygen that you have used, you have, at the very best, an opportunity to have 0.180 mL dissolve in the solution on the face.  You have wasted 500 times more oxygen.  Now here is the sad part.  None of the oxygen gets into the skin to do any good.  Even if it did, by some unknown law, it still would be of no benefit to the skin because of the skin’s physiological makeup.  Increased skin oxygen is only beneficial if the skin has an insufficient oxygen supply.  It is not possible to aid skin oxygenation of the skin already has as much as it needs.

Summary

…  The skin uses very little oxygen since 90% of the metabolic process in the skin is anaerobic, or does not require oxygen.  Oxygen does not penetrate the skin at atmospheric pressure or in a solution.  The action of oxygen is mainly a surface action; as an oxidant it is an effective bleaching agent and a weak germicide.  Gaseous oxygen has no basis of use in topical system since it does not penetrate dry skin and has very limited solubility on wet skin.  The medical application of gaseous oxygen is limited and difficult to use.  No data exists to support the use of topical oxygen for any non-medical application, but it may be of value to persons with wounds that are receiving insufficient oxygen.

New developments in skin oxygenation include the use of oxygen-releasing foams and oxygen-releasing skin care products.  The problem with evaluating this type of technology is that the oxygen is always used with a moisturizer.  Separating the effect of the moisturizer on the skin versus the oxygen is almost impossible.  It is for this reason that the value of topical oxygen has never been proven.

Now that you’ve read both sides of argument what do you think?  Yay or nay on oxygenation treatments or products with oxygen?

Further Reading:

Image from openwalls.com

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2 Responses to “Oxygen in Skincare Products and Treatments – Update”

  1. Tammy Says:

    Great article. I have never believed in oxygen therapies myself. Thanks for breaking this down for readers. 🙂

  2. Rae Says:

    This article makes sense. Why would you ‘oxygenate’ your face when people are all about using antioxidants.


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