Oxygen Facials: A Guide To Madonna's Swear-By Beauty Treatment

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Whether you love her or not, at 59 years old, there's really no denying that Madonna’s skin looks incredible. Maybe it’s her *very* expensive skincare line. Maybe it’s yoga. Or, maybe, it’s oxygen facials. Oxygen facials have increasingly grown in popularity over the years, specifically in Hollywood, thanks to HD cameras pointing out literally every wrinkle! 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.” Apparently, she owns her own oxygen facial machine, and keeps one in each (of her six!) homes. So, I couldn’t help but wonder, are oxygen facials the next place I should be spending all my imaginary cash?

So, what are oxygen facials?

Oxygen facials might sound like this new, fancy treatment. But to my surprise, the technology has been around for well over a decade, and was introduced back in 2002 by the Australian company Intraceuticals. Fun fact: the machine that they invented was actually eerily similar to the one that Australians used to administer chemotherapy to skin cancer patients. Here's how a typical appointment will go down. Since oxygen facials are usually offered in more medical environments, you shouldn't expect the same extras you'd get with a regular facial (no aromatherapy, no facial massage). It's a no-frills, results-oriented experience. First, the skin is prepped by using an exfoliating acid or enzyme treatment to get rid of the top layer of dead skin cells and allow the products to better penetrate the skin. Then, a customized hyaluronic acid serum is applied, followed by a pressurized stream of 90-95% oxygen which is applied to your skin via an airbrush-like wand. When pressurized, the oxygen helps the skin to absorb the serums, and pushes the ingredients into deeper levels of the skin. The whole treatment lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes and costs $150-300.

What are the benefits?

The top few benefits of oxygen facials include increased hydration and improved skin circulation. Also, according to aesthetician Gunna Covert, oxygen facials “instantly smooth out wrinkles and give the skin a youthful glow.” The result is skin that looks firmer, fuller, and youthful, and the perfect canvas for makeup application. Covert also says, “Oxygen itself can be used to kill bacteria so it’s often helpful for breakout prone skin.” 

Any reasons we shouldn’t start booking an appointment?

Thankfully, unlike other more clinical facials, oxygen facials are totally painless (and actually can feel really refreshing!) And because it’s totally noninvasive, the treatment is pretty much safe for all skin. Unfortunately, though, the effects of oxygen facials don’t seem to last very long, and require a lot of time and money to be spent to keep up with the desired results. And according to Dr. Whitney Bowe, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical center, “Most of these so-called plumping effects are likely the result of temporary inflammation and swelling.”   And the most concerning drawback of oxygen facials? People have voiced concerns that the facial might cause oxidative stress. 

You know all those anti-oxidants we’re told to apply to protect our skin? Well, the theory is that concentrated oxygen might lead to the release of free radicals into the skin and promote cell death (skin oxidation is one of the leading causes of skin aging). According to Plastic surgeon Dr. James C. Marotta, “the effects of concentrated oxygen are not known and there is the theoretical danger in that oxygen can generate free radicals, which can lead to more skin damage." The evidence to back up this claim is very limited, and even “theoretical,” but even so, we thought it would be worthwhile to do a further investigation on the effect of oxygen on skin.

The Oxygen Paradox

Oxygen is a double-edged sword when it comes to skin. On the one hand, enhanced oxygenation is really doing your skin a favor. On the other, oxidation takes place. Oxygen is essential to the health and maintenance of skin cells.  Young skin gets plenty of oxygen from the environment because it still works efficiently enough to process the oxygen it gets with regular exposure to air. But as your skin ages, it loses the ability to metabolize oxygen, and therefore repair and regenerate collagen, as efficiently. An oxygen facial treatment enhances the available oxygen to the skin, and the theory is that high concentrations of oxygen tigger the body’s own healing process. Oxidation, however, is the decaying process that occurs when cells metabolize oxygen.  (for example, why an apple turns brown when it's exposed to air). Even though oxidation is natural and vital to cell turnover, a small percentage of cells get damaged in the process and turn into free radicals which can worsen the external signs of aging. The truth is, to a certain extent, oxidation is totally normal - and the oxidative stress from an occasional oxygen facial are probably negligable, expecially if you follow up with an antioxidant serum.   Bottom line: if you have a big event coming up, and you’re looking for a temporary way to smooth out, and plump, your skin, then why not. But since I’m not walking down any red carpets in the foreseeable future, I’ll leave this treatment to the celebs.

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