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Don’t Fall for the “Add Oxygen to your Skin” hype. It could actually damage your skin.

Oxygen Bubbles Into Facial Care Products

Some of the latest oxygenating skin-care products on the market.

By ALIX STRAUSS  January 9, 2013

OXYGEN bars may be a relic of the late 1990s, but the element is popping up as a beauty-industry buzzword of the early 21st century — no plastic hose necessary.
The skin-care company Philosophy, known for its food-scented body washes and minimalist packaging, has begun selling Oxygen Boost Daily Energizing Oxygen Elixir, which will cost $24.50, and Take a Deep Breath Oil-Free Energizing Oxygen Gel Cream Moisturizer ($34). The company’s In-Home Oxygen Peel ($55) has been a top seller since its introduction in 1996, said Robin White, the director of international education and global press for Philosophy, adding: “Oxygen is known to give skin brightness and clarity. It works on clogged pores and dullness, and brings back radiance and freshness.” The new products contain a conditioning agent, perfluorodecalin, “which allows us to diffuse oxygen into the skin where it’s most needed,” Ms. White said. Natura Bissé, a skin-care company based in Barcelona, has been offering an oxygen-themed line of six products, including the addition of a jell ($85) and a foaming cleanser ($48), in October 2012.

“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.” In 2009, the brand introduced a portable “oxygen bubble,” a sealed environment purportedly containing 99.9 percent pure air that has been used as a promotional gambit before red-carpet events; V.I.P. customers have also been receiving complimentary treatments in the bubble as it floats through various spas, boutiques and luxury department stores.

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.”

But not everyone is inhaling. “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.

The word “oxygen” conveys cleanliness, freshness and revitalization, though, and that is probably why spas other than Bliss are adding it to their menus. The Kimara Ahnert Makeup Studio, at Madison Avenue and 83rd Street, offers three oxygen-themed treatments. As with a shot of espresso or wheatgrass at a beverage bar, you can also add an oxygen blast (an enriched serum spray with pure blue oxygen) to any facial.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, a company called Oxygen Pür produces Oxygen Pur Spa, a water oxygenation system used to transfer high levels of dissolved oxygen (20 to 30 times the average amount) into water for supposed anti-aging, beauty and therapeutic benefits. The Spa at Mandarin Oriental offers this system in its therapeutic vitality pools, and the company’s products in its oxygen facials.

As people age, their capillaries break down and there is less blood flow and less oxygen delivered to the skin, said Gerry Merz, the president and chief executive of Oxygen Pür, which also recently began selling oxygen-infused skin serums. “This lack of oxygen within leads to less collagen production, fine lines, wrinkles and age spots,” he said. “Our serums enter the dermis, and immediately elevate tissue-oxygen levels in excess of 15 times the norm.”

Mr. Merz cited a peer-reviewed paper published by the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology in April, attesting that oxygen can indeed be absorbed into the skin. “Many practitioners haven’t caught up to the advanced technology yet,” he said. “The reason there are naysayers is because they’re unaware of the research conducted. The biggest hurdle was creating the technology to deliver oxygen to the skin. The next hurdle is getting people to accept and understand it’s real.”

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.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 10, 2013, on page E3 of the New York edition with the headline: Oxygen Bubbles Into Facial Care Products.

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