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The Practical Use of Topical Oxygen

Peter T. Pugliese, MD September 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
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This article is written to provide the esthetician with a working knowledge of oxygen as a therapeutic modality. It is important to understand that oxygen is not a miracle remedy; it is, however, a very effective agent to treat many skin conditions that the esthetician sees almost daily. Although this article won’t go into great detail about the science of oxygen or free radical theory, it will touch on these topics lightly, as well as what skin conditions respond best to oxygen and why. The conditions to be covered include oxygen use in the treatment of acne, rosacea and aging skin.

Oxygen in the atmosphere

About two billion years ago, oxygen first appeared in the atmosphere as a by-product of single-cell metabolism. These creatures ran out of the initial food stuff in the oceans and had to synthesize their own food. Three raw materials were available to them: water, air (carbon dioxide) and sunlight, and from these, they synthesized sugars, or carbohydrate compounds. Water was split into hydrogen and molecular oxygen; carbon dioxide was split into carbon and oxygen; and the sun, in the form of photons, supplied the energy necessary to do all this work. Although the details are a fascinating read, this is not the place to go into depth with them. One important fact that you need to know is that this process produced a lot of molecular oxygen in the form of O2. Now keep in mind that all the organisms on Earth this time lived with oxygen (anaerobic), so oxygen became toxic to them and many hundreds of thousands of species died because of the toxicity of atmospheric molecular oxygen.

Some species obviously adapted to the presence of oxygen and survived, otherwise people would not be on the planet today. These species had mitochondria, which enabled them to make maximum use of oxygen as an energy source along with the sugars. The take-home lesson here is that oxygen is essential for life, and it became involved in the development of humans during the course of many millions of years in many ways. Even today, not every biological function of oxygen is known.

Oxygen and energy

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Figure 1

Figure one depicting oxygen skin delivery

Figure 2

Figure 2 depicting how oxygen kills bacteria

Metabolic Processes That Require Oxygen

Oxygen is so important to life that humans cannot live without it. After three minutes without oxygen, the brain begins to lose consciousness; the brain cells will die in eight minutes without oxygen; and many cells will suffer irreversible damage in 10 minutes. Following are some crucial metabolic process that require oxygen.

  • Respiration
  • Metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins
  • Collagen and elastin metabolism
  • Many enzyme reactions
  • The destruction of bacteria
  • Thousands of everyday biochemical reactions

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