Ozone: The Air Down Here


What do you think of when you hear the word ozone? Likely the ozone layer, a portion of the stratosphere, which protects life down here from the damaging effects of UV radiation. But did you know the chemical constituent of the ozone layer (ozone or O3) emitted from your esthetic devices can be used to disinfect water and can be used to treat a variety of skin and medical conditions? Let’s learn more about ozone.

Ozone was initially discovered by Dutch chemist, Martinus Van Marum when he detected an unusual gaseous smell emitting from an electrostatic generator. At the time, Van Marum was intrigued with the activity of this gas, but was unware of the extent of ozone’s capabilities. Some 50 years later, German-Swiss chemist Christian Fredrich Schönbein was experimenting with the electrolysis of water and detected the same gaseous scent and activity. Schönbein further described and named the “odor of electrical matter” as ozone. Schönbein was the first person to research the mechanisms of ozone and organic matter.1 Many scientists followed Schönbein in using ozone for water disinfection, medical applications and general industry.

Start at the Spark

To understand how ozone works, it is perhaps best to begin with nature, chemistry and physics. Ozone is a molecule that consists of three oxygen atoms (O3). It is unstable and has a short half-life. Ozone will also revert back from oxidation to its original form of O2. In short, ozone is oxygen with an extra high electrical charge that will bind to other materials, but will eventually result in a stable oxygen molecule.1 Ozone may attach itself to viruses, molds and bacteria such as E. coli and Giardia lamibia, which has been found in drinking water. One of the most important early applications for ozone was the widespread purification of water.

Ozone can be created in several ways, artificially and by nature. During a thunderstorm, a corona discharge (spark) from lightning in close proximity to oxygen creates ozone. Ozone can also be created from the atmosphere in the presence of UV light from the sun or even from a waterfall. A corona discharge spark splits the oxygen molecule into other oxygen atoms. These atoms will take on a negative charge and will bond quickly with another oxygen molecule to produce ozone. The corona discharge can also be created by electrical generators for the purpose of harnessing ozone for medical treatment. The electrical discharge created by a generator can also produce ozone by passing through the electrical field or UV light to create UV ozone. The use of UV lamps to generate ozone has been in use for many years. Depending on the device, the frequencies emitted by this application can be low (50–100 Hz), medium (100–1000 Hz) and high (1,000+ Hz).2

Tesla and Other Technics

Nikola Tesla is probably the most reputed inventor credited with the development of the high-frequency device, however, the “violet ray” electrode used with the high-frequency apparatus was developed by Frederick Finch Strong in 1896. The effectiveness of high frequency is due to its high voltage, low amperage, alternating current and the uniquely shaped glass electrodes. Glass electrodes of early design were made from borosilicate glass and contained either mercury vapor, neon or argon gas with a partial air vacuum. The degree of the vacuum pressure within the electrode tube and the color of gas generated determines therapeutic effect.

The value of high frequency is reputed for its ability to improve blood supply, eliminate germs, increase oxygenation of blood tissues, increase leukocytosis, increase phagocytosis and increase elimination.1 High-frequency devices are one of the most widely used instruments in esthetics and the popular direct method application with the electrode may produce what is called “sparking.” By slightly lifting the electrode from the contact with the skin, sparking will result in ionizing the air between the electrode and the skin producing nitrous oxide and ozone. Each application of high frequency produces a detectable emission of ozone.

Hazard or Hype?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other agencies have proposed what is referred to as Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) values for ozone. This number represents the amount a human is allowed to be exposed to a specific agent and during a specific time period. The OSHA MAC values for ozone (both environmental and indoor) are 0.06 parts per million (PPM) for eight hours per day, five days per week. For a maximum of 15 minutes, a value of 0.3 PPM is used.3 In another algorithm, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA) for ambient air quality standards set a one-hour exposure standard of 0.09 PPM for indoor use of personal appliances such as air purifiers, washing machines, vegetable washers and facial steamers. It is important to note not all appliances will produce the same degree of ozone and even various equipment models from a single manufacturer may have variable emissions output. Facial steamers will differ to a great degree in ozone emission by unit configuration, manufacturer quality, the proximity and distance of the steamer positioned on the face, as well as the length of time the steamer is being used. According to a CEPA study, two facial steamers of unknown manufacture were evaluated for ozone emissions. The highest peak level of ozone emission reached was 1.1 PPM.4 Yet another study of two table-top steamers exhibited ozone levels of 1,050 PPB for one steamer, and 396 PPB for the other.5

Putting these statistics into context, we may consider the ozone emission from a steamer is minimal to negligible considering the general recommended timing for steamer application is five to 10 minutes, not applied daily, and generally is used periodically. The observation of protocol and exposure rate is the parameter for safety when using ozone in esthetics whether with a steamer, high frequency or other apparatus, which utilizes ozone. As with all esthetic services and products, there are specific individuals that are contraindicated or are to be considered cautionary for exposure to ozone and UV ozone: pregnancy, epilepsy, asthma, chronic bronchitis, thyroid and cardio vascular conditions. Ozone is a potential irritant to individuals with chronic and sensitive respiratory, lung and cardiovascular conditions.

Ozone the Beautiful

Ozone has been used in cosmetology treatments since the early 1900s. One of the initial and most popular devices was a “vaporizer” that used a spark-gap (spark from high frequency) to generate ozone. Another popular device from 1929 was the UV blue light Vapofor, which featured two blue light bulbs in a cylinder that also emitted with steam and was hailed as having disinfectant properties. The culture of cosmetology at the time promoted that ozone would have a stimulating effect on the skin and reduce the bacteria associated with acne, as it is reputed today.

Throughout history, ozone has been applied with great success when administered within proper limits. In 2005, Russian institutes set a precedence in esthetic training with the use of ozone, and in 2007 ozone became widely used in dermatology, traumatology, burn treatments and other medical therapeutics. Russia became the first country in the world to regulate and implement ozone therapy at the state level.6

Today, esthetic steamers use UV light to emit ozone. As steam passes over the UV light through the small ring on the head of the steamer, it exchanges and converts both the water and the oxygen molecules to produce ozone vapor. Again, the initial amount of ozone emitted by the UV type steamer is negligible by a great deal of medical nomenclature and applications.

The applications and conditions that may benefit from ozone include:

  • Microcirculation
  • Oxygenation
  • Germicidal activity
  • Antimicrobial activity
  • Antiviral activity
  • Cellular tropism
  • Atrophy
  • Acne
  • Detoxification
  • Cellular immunity

Ozonated Products

Ozone remains a significant disinfectant and is increasingly used in various forms, particularly therapeutically active ozonated preparations. The first inventor to use ozonated olive oil was Nikola Tesla as early as 1904. His ozonated product Glycozone was being sold in pharmacies all over the country.7 Ozonated oils is made by inserting ozone gas through a tube where it is “bubbled” into hemp, sunflower, olive or other nutritive oil and is then made into a balm or salve. The advantage of ozonated oils is to administer a low dosage of ozone over a longer period of time along with the highly beneficial delivery of lipids to the skin. The quality and efficacy of the ozonated oil products are dependent on the manufacturing process and quality of the compounds in order to retain stability.

Ozonated oils are beneficial in the treatment and management of many dermatological skin conditions involving pathogens. In particular, ozonated olive oil (OLO) has been demonstrated to be beneficial in wound healing and the management of xerotic, bacterial and fungal conditions.8 Because the O3 molecule can be stabilized as an ozonide between the double bonds of a monosaturated fat such as oleic acid, ozonated OLO is an ideal preparation for the topical form of O3. Ozonated materials referred to as ozonides, are formed when ozone reacts with olefins (fats) and have the capacity to deliver oxygen into lesions without causing primary skin irritation.9 The release of oxygen from the ozone activates the proliferation of fibroblast, intracellular matrix and consequent proliferation of healing.10 OLO has been used both traditionally and quite frequently in ozonated preparations, although it has been met with some controversy. Conversely, there is a prodigious amount of medical research supporting the distinctive lipid chemistry of OLO. The fatty acids that comprise the saponifiable fraction of olive oil constitute almost 99% of the oil’s weight and contain 70%–80% oleic acid, which has been found to be a penetration enhancer. Through the temporary and reversible disordering of the stratum corneum, oleic acid increases the fluidization of the intercellular lipid medium making the epidermis more permissible to a range of compounds. In the case of ozonated products, enhanced permeability results. While there is increased chance of temporary TEWL due to permeability, the polar phenolic fraction of olive oil provides considerable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties to the skin.11, 12

Ozonated oils may be used for:

  • Superficial bacterial and fungal infections
  • Psoriasis
  • Skin yeast
  • Tinea versicolor
  • Dry skin
  • Eczema
  • Sunburn
  • Post-surgical wounds
  • Dry or chaffed skin

Ozone and ozonated products are a useful and important addition to the management of various skin conditions in esthetics. As with all protocols and modalities, skin assessment, product knowledge and implementation will assist in a successful outcome of treatment. Ozone can be added safely where its many benefits and results will exemplify to your clients your knowledge and resourcefulness to add something new or rediscovered to your programs.


  1. www.lenntech.com/library/ozone/history/ozone-history.htm
  2. www.ozoneapplications.com/info/cd_vs_uv.htm
  3. www.lenntech.com/library/ozone/faq/faqozone.htm
  4. www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/ozoneproducts.htm
  5. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ina.12307/epdf
  6. http://O3vets.com/a-brief- history-of- ozone/
  7. www.silvermedicine.org/ozonated-olive- oil.html
  8. www.e3journals.org/cms/articles/1393313299_GALLEY%20PROOF-ejmbr%2015.pdf
  9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2698179/
  10. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910505/
  11. 11. D Boskou, Olive and Olive Bio Active Constituents, 1 st Edition, Kindle Edition AISN B014F7GD50, August 15, 2015 pp 60, 61
  12. 12. G Valacchi, V Fortino and V Bocci, The Dual Action of Ozone on the Skin The British Journal of Dermatology, 153(6) 1096-1100 (2005) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2005.06939.x/full

(All websites accessed June 7, 2017.)

Pregnant clients are to be considered cautionary for exposure to ozone and UV ozone.

Esthetic steamers use UV light to emit ozone.

Si Author E Madigen Fleck 3002

Erin Madigan-Fleck, N.M.D., LEI, LMC, is a licensed esthetic instructor and esthetician with over 30 years of experience in the esthetic and wellness industries. She is a nationally certified natural health professional and holds a doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine. Madigan-Fleck can be reached at [email protected].

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