oxygen facials

Have you heard? Rumour has it oxygen facials are the secret behind Madonna’s youthful complexion.

According to celebrity makeup artist Gina Brooke, “Madonna indulges in this lavish beauty treatment before every concert, and is often seen carrying around her own oxygen facial device.” 

Should you do the same? Here’s everything you need to know about oxygen facials: what they are, what they do for you skin, and if they’re really worth it:

What Are Oxygen Facials?

Oxygen facials are treatments that claim to infuse your skin with oxygen.

The procedure involves an oxygen facial machine that uses a stream of pressurized oxygen to deliver a hyaluronic acid serum or other hydrating moisturizer into your skin.

Unlike other facials, this one is pretty basic. There’s no massage, aromatherapy or all the other relaxing treats of a typical spa day. Bummer!

Instead, the aesthetician cleanses and exfoliates your skin, analyses your skin to figure out what the best serum for your needs is, and promptly applies it all over your skin.

That’s where oxygen comes in. The aesthetician uses a facial oxygen machine that delivers a continuous flow of 90% pure oxygen under hyperbaric pressure into your skin to help the serum better penetrate it.

It feels like your skin is being blasted with cold hair, but it’s not painful or uncomfortable. The whole process takes about 30-60 minutes.

Oxygen Facial Benefits: Is It Good For Your Skin?

The whole point of oxygen facials is to increase the amount of oxygen in your skin. This has several benefits:

  • It makes skin plumper and brighter (that glow is real!)
  • It reduces inflammation
  • It encourages the growth of stem cells and growth factors to help skin heal faster

That’s what spas tell you anyway. Let’s take a look at the science to find out if these oxygen facial benefits are real.

What’s The Theory Behind Oxygen Facials?

An oxygen facial is a treatment inspired by hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Recommended for wounds that won’t heal or carbon monoxide poisoning, hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your body can carry. In turn, this helps heal tissues and fight infections.

It works like this: the patient breathes pure oxygen in a pressured chamber, where the air pressure is three times higher than normal hair pressure. This means that your lungs will get up to three times more oxygen.

What does your body do with all that extra oxygen? Easy. Your blood carries it all over your body to stimulate the release of growth factors and stem cells – all things that help your body heal.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works, no doubt about it. But does blasting oxygen onto your skin has the same effect?

Related: The Truth About Stem Cells In Skincare: Do They Really Work?

The Truth About Oxygen Facials: What The Science Says

Manufacturers of oxygen facial machines claim they can reproduce the results of hyperbaric therapy and deliver more oxygen into the skin.

But oxygen facial machines can’t recreate a true hyperbaric environment. Don’t take my word for it. A review of the scientific literature around oxygen facials shows that the “overall amount of scientific data supporting these methods was found to be scarce, anecdotal, and not well documented.”

Translation: there’s no scientific proof oxygen facials work.

So, How Do Oxygen Facials Work?

Your face does glow and look healthier after an oxygen facial treatment – no doubt about that. But if oxygen doesn’t perform this magic, what does? Why are you seeing results when you shouldn’t?

Experts have two theories:

1. The Hyaluronic Acid Serum Plumps Skin & Makes It Glow

The oxygen facial machine sprays a serum on your face. This usually contains hyaluronic acid, a well-known skin plumper.

Hyaluronic acid works by attracting water from the air into your skin. It’s so powerful, it can bind up to 1000 times its weight in water!

All that extra moisture plumps up skin, so fine lines and wrinkles look smaller. Plus, it makes it softer and gives it a subtle glow.

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine, No Matter Your Skin Type

2. It’s An Inflammatory Response

There may be an even more sinister explanation. After claiming “the concept that high-pressure oxygen would do anything to help the skin is such nonsense as to be laughable”, Dr Christopher B. Zachary, professor and dermatology department chairman at the University of California, suggests this plumping effect could be an inflammatory response caused by the blast of oxygen. And that’s NOT good for the skin.

Does An Oxygen Facial Have Any Side Effects?

Oxygen facials are safe for everyone, including pregnant women, acne sufferers and people with sensitive skin.

(You could experience side effects only if you’re allergic to one of the serums/creams used with the facial).

Do Oxygen Facials Cause Free Radical Damage?

You’ve probably heard that oxygen facials are bad because they produce free radicals.

I totally get how this rumour started. Oxygen itself DOES generate free radicals, the nasty molecules that give you wrinkles and dark spots. Why would you want to get a treatment that gives you more free radicals and makes you age faster?!

Good news: there’s no evidence that oxygen facials cause serious free radical damage. On the contrary, a few studies on wound healing show this potential side effect is insignificant. Phew!

How Long Do The Oxygen Facial Results Last?

Here’s the bad news: the results last for only 4-7 days.

That’s cool if you’re doing it before a special occasion, like a friend’s wedding or a holiday. But if you want longlasting results, you need a session every week for six weeks before cutting back to once a month.

That’s too expensive for the results you’re getting if you ask me. Just use a hyaluronic acid serum instead.

Related: The Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums For All Skin Types

How Much Does An Oxygen Facial Cost?

A lot. We’re talking an average of $150/200 a session. Higher than most facials. For dubious results and frequent maintenance…

Free radicals are those nasty little things that cause premature wrinkles. Too much oxygen can generate them. So, even if oxygen could penetrate skin, I’m not sure why you would want it to.

Can You Do An Oxygen Facial At Home?

What if you can’t fork out $200 a session? Can you do oxygen facials at home instead?

Not really. It’s true you can find plenty of oxygen-infused masks at Sephora these days, but they’re not the same as a proper oxygen facial (much like an oxygen facial has little in common with hyperbaric oxygen therapy). Here’s why:

For starters, you can’t put oxygen in a cream (it’s a gas, remember?). You have to dissolve it in perfluorocarbons (man-made compounds containing just fluorine and carbon) and put those in masks and creams.

When you apply the product on your skin, the oxygen starts fizzing out slowly like bubbles in your coke. But fun factor aside (it’s pretty cool to see), it doesn’t do anything for your skin.

Most of the oxygen gets “wasted” to form bubbles. Very little penetrates deep enough into your skin to plump it up and heal it. *sighs*

P.S. Perfluorodecalin and Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether are most common per fluorocarbons in skincare, but anything with “perfluoro” in it belongs to this family.

Related: Are Bubbling Masks Just A Gimmick?

Oxygen Facial Vs HydraFacial: Which One Is Better?

I’m team HydraFacial all the way. You can read my review of this treatment here.

Here’s the short version: a HydraFacial is a multi-step treatment that cleanses, exfoliates, extracts blackheads, and treats skin with a powerful blend of antioxidants and peptides.

The twist?  A HydraFacial uses a vacuum-like tip with a vortex suction that deeply cleanses and exfoliates pores and delivers actives deeper into your skin.

Exfoliation alone does wonders for your skin. It smoothens out your skin’s texture, reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and gets rid of blackheads and blemishes.

And those are the benefits of just one step! Compare that to the dubious benefits of oxygen facials… I know where I’ll be splurging my money.

Related: HydraFacial: Is It Really Worth The Hype?

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The Bottom Line: Are Oxygen Facials Worth It?

I don’t know about you, but splurging up to $200 on a treatment science and experts say doesn’t work is a waste of money in my book. I’d rather invest in a good skincare routine or try a HydraFacial instead.

Have you ever tried an oxygen facial? Share your experience in the comments below.