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Oxygen and your skin



For a while, I’ve been wondering how did good old O2 became fashionable in the beauty industry when you can just drink plenty of water. You see labels like “oxygenated” and “oxygen-infused” everywhere these days. I’m like, how do they put a gaseous substance into a product? And even if they did, how do we know if the oxygen remains stable for weeks or even months on store shelves? Some of you smartypants already know that unstable oxygen is simply free radicals, the #1 cause of skin aging. With all these questions in my head, I did the natural thing I do: Google for hours before I make some expensive purchase … and this is what I learned with my  healthy dose of skepticism.

All living cells require oxygen to survive. The normal concentration of oxygen mass in your body ranges between 90-100%. Go anywhere below that, and you start to compromise the proper functioning of important organs, such as your brain and heart (anyone who’s felt foggy often and hyperventilate easily knows this feeling best). When it comes to oxygen’s topical use though, the information out there gets a little blurry.


It flows everywhere

Theoretically speaking, your skin is in touch with oxygen right now, and for as long as you live it’ll always be so. It’s the oxygen in the air, and if you’re fortunate enough to live close with nature, your skin enjoys more oxygen than the average person (as you know that plants inhales CO2 and exhales O2). Unfortunately, we’re not breathing the same air as our great grandmothers used to breathe. You have to tolerate with more CO2, more chemicals, more toxins, more pollutants and all sorts of crap in the air these days, and this doesn’t stop making your skin requiring oxygen to breathe (yes, of all the things your skin does, breathing isn’t one of them).

Topical oxygen treatments began in hospitals. People with burns are treated with pressurized oxygen (it’s called hyperbaric therapy) to hasten the healing process. The oxygen saturation here is stable, and what it basically does is increasing skin cell metabolism. A speedier cell turnover brings along a host of other skin benefits, namely you get a major boost in circulation, better hydration, a leg up in collagen repair and regeneration, and just an overall brighter complexion.


Means of transportation

But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Remember Biology 101? It’s impossible for oxygen to penetrate the skin directly from the outside. It needs a mediator: Your respiratory system. O2 is first absorbed by the bloodstream in your lungs, then carried and delivered throughout the body in your blood. The blood is its vehicle: No blood, no oxygen. So if you want to increase oxygenation around your skin, you have to have healthy red blood cells circulating under your skin as well as more red blood cell count to carry more oxygen.

This is why people with anemia tend to have duller complexions – they lose more red blood cells than their body can form, not to mention there are multiple lifestyle factors that contribute to low blood count (like this). So while you can count on oxygen facials to make you glow instantly, it’s not necessarily a sustainable regime, unless you make as much money as Madonna or you’re Wolverine, or any other superhuman who doesn’t age.

Oxidation – not to be confused with oxygenation – is a fact of life. You will lose red blood cells and they will inevitably lose integrity as you age. By then, maxing out on oxygen skin care won’t do much difference because you won’t be able to deliver it anyway. In fact, you may be doing more harm than good when you metabolize more oxygen than you can chew (which is then broken down into reactive oxygen species and therefore more oxidative damage, a.k.a. hello free radicals and tissue decay). It’s like trying to steal all the fresh O2 in the mountains when your skin is already wrinkling and your blood’s thinning – you have more of it available, but not necessarily more of it penetrating your skin. Even it it does, your cell metabolism can either make you or break you.

With some of the most common misconceptions cleared, a more appropriate question now is, how do we maximize the skin benefits of oxygen?


Oxygen facials

More often than not, it’s the ingredients added into the treatments that do the work. These are usually retinol, peptides, hyaluronic acid, and hydrogen peroxide, 3 ingredients you want to always look for in anti-aging skin products. As we’ve covered so far, increasing the availability of oxygen do work, but only for so long. This means you have to do your oxygen facials on a regular basis for the long haul to keep you looking soothed, youthful, and plump, and you might have to do it even more frequently as the aging process catches up on you.

I’m broke so I haven’t experience one myself :s But thanks to Auntie Google, now I know I should only trust specialty hyperbaric equipment (similar to the compressor used in hospitals that creates high-pressure oxygen) when going into spas (see this NYTimes report). The most well-known is one from an Australian-based company, Intraceuticals, which became an instant sensation when Madonna’s publicist revealed she swears by it before her concerts. Other high-profile celebrities who follow the oxygen-facial ritual religiously include Eva Longoria, Gwyneth Paltrow, Miranda Kerr, Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, and Stella McCartney, just to name a few.

If you know where to get an oxygen facial locally (in Jakarta), do let me know because I’d like to give it a try. Yes I’m gonna be dead broke.


Oxygenating products

Now here’s where most of us broke girls get lost in the world of marketing – you can’t always trust the ‘oxygen’ label. Just because the word ‘oxygen’ conveys clarity and cleanliness doesn’t mean you stop having control over your hand before it grabs a product that has absolutely zero oxygenating ingredients in it. Check the ingredients list all the time – you simply can’t isolate  the gaseous atom into a stable ingredient in a product … no matter what, the oxygen saturation in the air is still going to be higher than whatever spray, mist, and emulsion you put on your face, which is why if you’re truly serious about oxygen skincare, you’ve got to get the pros to do the work (i.e. le expensive hyperbaric facial therapy).

What to look for instead: Ingredients that promote tissue repair and regeneration, and by that I mean oxygenation in its literal sense. These would be the tried-and-true ingredients you already know, such as retinol, peptides (soy, copper, zinc), hyaluronic acid, hydrogen peroxide, antioxidants (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, etc), green tea extract, fruit enzymes and extracts, AHAs and BHAs (lactic acid, malic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid). I really, really love the super dewy effect you get from Ole Henriksen’s Pure Perfection and the clarity from using Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate over time (here‘s my review of it).




Most of your blood volume is water, and those H20 flowing around you is constantly lost through simply breathing, skin evaporation, sweat, and urine (read more). Without replenishing your body with the lost fluids, you won’t be able to get as much oxygen from the gallon you just gulped to be delivered to skin cells. So yes, it’s a matter of frequency – not quantity.

Your skin’s primary function is to act as a protective barrier for your body so you won’t suffer from too much fluid loss, which leads to dehydration. Even if you’re sitting still all day long, you lose a lot of fluid from homeostasis alone, so you need to take control of your fluid balance in order to keep the oxygen coming and keep looking hydrated. It’s important to note that the moment you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.


Deep breathing

If there’s anything you can control in life, it’s your attitude toward it and your breath. We do it about 20,000 times a day, and yet most of us are too busy to pay attention to it, and we do it involuntarily anyway to stay alive. But here’s a philosophical question for ya: Do you want to merely survive, or do you want to thrive?

When we were born, we naturally take deep breaths from our abdomen, which is what your yoga teacher would refer to as diaphragmatic breathing. Just take a look at happy baby videos on YouTube and watch how rhythmic and relaxed their breathing patterns are. Whatever happened as we grow up, most of us became more accustomed to shallow breathing, i.e. breathing through the chest. It’s an inefficient way to distribute oxygen across your vital organs and tissues, not to mention that your skin is one of the last place to get “fed”. That brain-dead feeling when you’ve hunched all day at your desk? That’s you holding your breath as work piles up, causing too much carbon dioxide stored up inside – you need to let the oxygen in to continue a more efficient gaseous exchange.

Take a break and go outside. Walk, and breathe easy. Instead of puffing up your chest, simply let your belly rise and fall. If you can’t go outside, find somewhere you can lie down and just chill. Breathe in through your nose, not your mouth. It also helps if you do your breathwork with closed eyes.


Regular sweat 

There’s nothing quite like breaking a sweat – not the sauna kind, but the kind that gets your heart rate up. When you exercise, you get the juices flowing and stimulate the growth factors of all the cells in your body, including your skin. You’re moving things around faster and harder through every capillary in your body. The result? That vibrant complexion you see in the mirror, thanks to the skin cells freshly-pumped with oxygen (and other nutrients in your blood).

Another thing that regular sweat sessions do is training your sweat glands to get rid of toxins as it triggers your facial skin to produce its own natural oils. It’s amazing how working up a good sweat cleanses you from the inside-out and leave you with a plumpier, dewier skin.


High-ORAC foods


ORAC = Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or in laymen’s term, high-antioxidant foods that minimize the oxidative damage you’re undergoing every minute. Things that come to mind might probably be blueberries, acaiberries, kale, wheatgrass, pomegranates, and some other unheard-of exotic foods or other ones that are hard to pronounce. But adding more antioxidants onto your plate doesn’t have to be so hard – some of the most common herbs and spices is ranked higher than these foods on a 100g serving. Just take a look at this chart from the USDA Database: Cloves, cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, even cacao powder, are right at the top. You can easily garnish parsley on top of your pasta and sprinkle loads of dried oregano on your rice dishes: Not only do adding herbs and spices add more flavor to your food, you’re also less likely to grab a second helping when you do so.

The only downside to this skincare ritual? It’s no quick-fix, especially if you’re not a big fan of plant compounds to begin with. Try introducing these skin superfoods little by little everyday for a year, and see the healthier glow and clearer complexion for by the time the next year rolls around.


Bottom line here: To get more of oxygen’s skin benefits, inhale, exhale. Repeat, choose healthy, and don’t smoke.



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via Fox News Magazine / USDA Database


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