What is an Oxygen Facial

Heather Stephen


What is it?

When the oxygen facial first popped up in salons people thought it was a bit of a passing fad but 15 years down the line this treatment is still in demand in clinics around the world.

People rave about the rejuvenating effects and celebrities like Cher, Madonnaiii and Gwyneth Paltrow are enthusiastic fans. But what is all the fuss about and does this treatment live up to all the hype?

The oxygen facial was introduced by the Australian company Intraceuticals in 2002 with claims it helped push beneficial ingredients like hyaluronic acid, antioxidants and peptides into your skin.

This aesthetic treatment evolved from hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) first widely used in medicine in the 1930s to treat decompression sickness in divers and later serious infections and wounds.

During HBOT the patient breathes in concentrated oxygen in a special chamber for up to two hours. Introducing high levels of oxygen to the body helps fight bacteria and stimulates the growth factors and stem cells which promote healing, so, in theory, it made sense when this process was adapted to improve the health of our skin as well as our body.


What is it like? 

In preparation for the treatment the aesthetician cleanses and may exfoliates your skin to make sure it is free from dirt and excess oils. Then they assess your skin needs to choose a serum to either:

  1. Diminish fine lines and wrinkles,
  2. even skin tone and make it brighter
  3. soothe acne and prevent further breakouts or
  4. firm the skin and plump the lips

After the serum has been applied the practitioner uses a small wand-like applicator to blow concentrated oxygen over your face.  The oxygen is at a concentration of 90-95 per cent, compared to the 18-21 per cent normally found in the atmosphere.

The final step is to apply a moisturiser and you can buy booster creams to use at home to prolong the effects.

The process feels like a blast of cold air on the skin but is not painful or uncomfortable.  It takes between 30-60 minutes and as it is not regarded as a medical procedure can be carried out by a beautician.


How does it work? 

The theory behind the treatment is that the highly pressurised oxygen pushes moisturising agents like hyaluronic acid that are applied to the skin into the skin, but there have no clinical studies to prove this.

Some scientists say hyaluronic acid molecules are too large to be absorbed by the skin but applying them in this way can still be beneficial as they sit on the epidermis locking moisture into the skin.

Many people report a glowing result with this treatment. Doctors say this is either due to the mild inflammation caused by blowing oxygen onto your face or is connected to the moisturisers used in the process.


How good is it? 

Although, scientific evidence for the treatment is still thin on the ground, one 2010 study stated ‘topical dissolved oxygen can penetrate skin and may be useful to aid chronic wound healing’. And a 2014 study concluded that oxygen therapy had been found to reduce wrinkles formed through UV irradiation – although the researchers say more studies need to be carried out to explain why this happens.


What are the risks and side effects? 

There are not usually any side effects such as stinging, itching or redness associated with this treatment. This is a gentle procedure so is good for people with sensitive skin and those who cannot tolerate injections or harsh treatments. Normal activities can be resumed straightaway and makeup and lotions can be reapplied immediately after treatment.


How much does it cost?

This treatment varies in price from just over £30 to £125 for a one-hour treatment so it pays to shop around and bear in mind you may be shelling out more for plush surroundings than the quality of the procedure.


So is it worth it? 

The effects are very short lived – lasting four to seven days so the treatment is fine if you want to look good for a special occasion such as a wedding but don’t expect long lasting results.

And it could work out a very pricy way to look good.  A course of six weekly sessions, followed by monthly top-up treatments, is recommended to keep the skin looking its best so if you opt for a course at £125 a go it could cost you an eye-watering £2,000 a year.

Some critics say this treatment could actually create wrinkles by causing free radical damage to the skin, as free radicals are created through oxidation, but there is no evidence to support this concern.

Oxygen cannot penetrate the skin but the treatment could still be of benefit for people with acne and rosacea as it has been shown to kill bacteria on the surface of the skin and reduces inflammation and swelling.


Is there anyone who shouldn’t do it? 

This is a very gentle process and can be used by anyone. People with sensitive or damaged skin may experience some redness but this is usually temporary.

And it has not been tested for safety amongst pregnant and lactating women so this group is advised to check with their doctor before having treatment.