Oxygen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. In fact, it comes in third, just behind hydrogen and helium. Typically, the oxygen people breathe in is enough to keep skin cells and other body cells sufficiently supplied.
However, when the skin is compromised by any number of factors – such as environmental aggressors, lifestyle choices, and disease – cells need additional support to maintain healthy function. In conditions where normal respiration is not occurring, skin can become dull, depleted, sluggish, and more susceptible to certain issues, like hyperpigmentation and acne.
By supporting the skin in increasing circulation and respiration and neutralizing damaging free radicals, it is possible to help restore healthy function. It all starts with the right mix of intelligent ingredients, professional treatments, good homecare, and healthy lifestyle choices.
Oxygen's role at the cellular level
When it comes to oxygen, the form of the element most people are familiar with is dioxygen, which is referred to as O2. This compound is formed when two atoms of the element bind. When only a single element is present, it is unstable. Dioxygen is an important part of the Earth's atmosphere and is used in many of the major classes of the organic molecules in living organisms, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids. Dioxygen is also an important element in inorganic compounds, such as the teeth and bones, as well as cellular respiration.
Most of the mass of living organisms, such as the human body, is oxygen as a component of water, which makes up approximately 50 to 65 percent of the body. Not only is oxygen absolutely necessary to life, it is also an essential factor to the health and vitality of skin. All cells require natural oxygen and the energy it provides the cells enables respiration and detoxification.
In fact, stable natural oxygen increases skin cell metabolism and stimulates the body's natural healing function through its anti-inflammatory and collagen-generating qualities. Because oxygen increases circulation and stimulates cellular regeneration, it naturally plumps the skin and gives it a glowing, refreshed appearance.
Oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis – in which sunlight and carbon dioxide are used to make food – and much of the Earth's supply comes from tiny ocean plants called phytoplankton. According to National Geographic, approximately 70 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from marine plants and plant-like organisms. Interestingly, some of these sea organisms, like thermus thermophilus and algae, are powerful ingredients in skin care, providing support in the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) process. The mitochondria use oxygen to generate ATP during oxidative phosphorylation, the process of cells using enzymes to oxidize nutrients.
Oxygen can also become problematic during times of environmental stress, such as ultraviolet or heat exposure, and is known as free radicals. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) is a natural byproduct of the normal metabolism of oxygen and has an important role in cell signaling and homeostasis. The only time it becomes troublesome to cell structure is when ROS levels dramatically increase, which is often when the body is overexposed to ultraviolet rays, heat, and pollutants. This intensification is referred to oxidative stress, and may be counteracted with antioxidants like superoxide dismutase.
Effects and causes of low oxygen
In today's environment, the skin is often overexposed to environmental toxins. When that overexposure is compounded by chronic stress and lack of sleep, which many clients battle, the skin needs additional support in maintaining healthy respiration – even though the body is surrounded by and primarily composed of oxygen.
While some of these oxygen-depleting culprits (poor diet, sleep deprivation, and smoking) may be removed, others cannot be altered. Therefore, taking steps to replenish skin's oxygen and antioxidant supply is imperative to combat and correct the damage.
Skin that is deprived of oxygen or struggles with sluggish circulation often appears dull and sullen and may also become dehydrated and not as buoyant to the touch. This environment will create a condition for fine lines and wrinkles to occur. Additionally, when oxygen is lacking, the skin's ability to heal and repair itself becomes compromised and it no longer recovers like it used to.
Oxygen is particularly important for acne-prone skin. When there is not an adequate supply to the pores, it causes the bacteria that naturally occurs within pores to thrive. This reaction results in congestion and comedones; when oxygen intake into the cells is blocked by debris, hyperpigmentation issues may also occur.
Since the skin is the body's first defense for its internal system, it is naturally more vulnerable to depletion. As people age, their body's natural ability to consume and retain oxygen becomes limited and the skin loses much of its water content, as well as its original oxygen level. Babies, for example, are approximately 75 percent water; as people reach their golden years, on average, they are approximately 50 percent water.
As noted above, there are numerous factors that may impact healthy oxygen intake levels, such as lifestyle; exposure to environmental aggressors, like air pollution and ultraviolet rays; chronic stress; lack of sleep; smoking; and a poor diet.
These factors all conspire to deplete healthy oxygen levels in the skin and its natural intake capabilities. For this reason, it is important to help clients counteract the damaging elements by supporting the skin with the proper nourishment.
DIOXIDE support in the treatment room
Today, in professional aesthetics, skin care professionals have a number of tools at their disposal to help encourage respiration and circulation in the skin. With proper preparation, topical ingredients and professional treatments may be used to breathe new life into the skin and restore the skin's health and vitality.
Among the treatments that may be used to improve respiration, peels, enzymes, and microdermabrasion work particularly well to remove debris and buildup that may be blocking cells, correct free-radical damage, stimulate collagen production, and strengthen the skin.
For optimal results with any respiration treatment, proper cleansing is the most important step. While cleansing may seem rudimentary, when proper technique and a good salicylic or L-lactic acid-based cleanser is used, it will help ensure professionals remove any debris that may block oxygen intake. A good enzyme will also help speed the process of cell digestion and clear a path for oxygen and other nourishing ingredients to penetrate deep into the cells.
Once the skin is properly prepared, an antioxidant-rich purifying lotion containing ingredients like superoxide dismutase and L-ascorbic acid will help strengthen and nourish the skin and neutralize free-radical damage. When followed by a multi-acid cell conditioning formula with L-lactic, salicylic, and ursolic acids, professionals will further stimulate collagen activity and prepare the skin for the enzyme or acid treatment and enable the skin to properly absorb oxygen.
To further stimulate blood flow and tissue respiration, use a physical exfoliant, followed by an emulsifier comprising salicylic acid, glycolic acid, L-lactic acid, and hydrogen peroxide. This step will help improve the absorption of other ingredients and increase oxygenation. It also helps boost the skin's ability to detoxify, loosen trapped surface debris, and brighten tone.
Microdermabrasion may be performed at this point to provide deeper rejuvenation and pave the way for topical ingredients to supply cells with energy-giving nutrients. Finish the treatment with a serum – or cocktail of serums – containing peptides, vitamins, and antioxidants to further support respiration and healthy skin repair. With any corrective treatment, always apply a good mineral-based sun protection formula to protect the skin from environmental offenders.
When oxygen becomes damaging
Oxygen (or dioxygen) comprises two atoms – the single oxygen atom is an unstable form known as a free radical. These atoms are unstable due to the unpaired electrons in their outer shell.
These single oxygen atoms actually oxidize cells and cell membranes are most vulnerable to this type of damage. It is possible, however, to neutralize this activity with the right antioxidant ingredients; infusing these ingredients during any treatment focused on tissue respiration will help support the repair process.
Following good practices at home
Lifestyle deeply impacts the health and vitality of the cells and their primary functions, one of which is cellular respiration. Consider talking to clients that have better respiration as a goal about the importance of sleep, stress management, and eating a diet rich in life-giving foods. Of course, certain medications, smoking, and other environmental toxins will also affect overall outcomes, so it is important to control the factors that can be controlled and work to offset the ones that cannot be. This point is where a good homecare system comes in.
Just as it does in the treatment room, a good cleanser will set the tone for the rest of the regimen. A cleanser containing salicylic or L-lactic acid will begin the exfoliation process and provide antioxidant support. A corrective like retinol or retinaldehyde may then be used to further stimulate exfoliation, as well as cellular regeneration and respiration. For any corrective treatment, it is important to incorporate skin-building and protective ingredients to strengthen the skin and prevent further damage. This is where antioxidants and peptides work well and a natural mineral-based sun protection formula will help guard against environmental damage.
A morning treatment might include: toning by applying a purifying lotion, following with a skin-building serum with ingredients like epidermal growth factor or thermus thermophilus that will support healthy cell regeneration throughout the day, then apply a mineral-based sun protection formula with SPF. Ingredients like natural zinc provide antioxidant support and act as a shield against ultraviolet damage. If the skin was properly cleansed the evening prior, often warm water or a quick wash is enough, as clients want to be careful not to dehydrate the skin. However, if excess oil is a concern, cleansing pads or a mild cleanser work well to rebalance the skin.
An evening treatment might include: using a cleanser with pumpkin and L-lactic or green tea and salicylic acid that will provide important antioxidants while eliminating bacteria and preparing the skin to absorb other ingredients; following with a multi-acid toner with ingredients like uric and L-ascorbic acid and superoxide dismutase that will deliver key antioxidants to the skin, as well as nourish and neutralize free-radical damage; then using a retinol or retinaldehyde serum boosted with peptides and organic stem cells that will support rejuvenation while strengthening and protecting the skin; and lastly, using peptides, growth factors, and organic stem cells may be applied to further rebuild and strengthen the skin.
Clients may also use a physical exfoliant with jojoba esters or bamboo up to three times a week and an enzyme containing grape seed extract, resveratrol, and L-lactic, L-tartaric, L-malic, and salicylic acids weekly to exfoliate and deliver antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. Masks with shea butter, tocopherols, and resveratrol may also be used to firm, hydrate, and nourish the skin.
Tissue respiration treatments and homecare systems work well for most skin types and are particularly beneficial for skin that is dull, dehydrated, and in need of an overall recharge. With the right blend of professional treatments, homecare, and education, it is possible to stimulate respiration, support healthy ATP, and improve oxygen absorption. When the cellular health and vitality is restored, skin will appear hydrated, vibrant, toned, and firm.
Rhonda Allison, a pioneer in the skin care industry, is the founder and CEO of Rhonda Allison Cosmeceuticals and RA for Men. Allison is also an author and an internationally-known speaker with more than 30 years of aesthetic experience. rhondaallison.com and ramethod.com