Oxygen masks are products which come out of the bottle as a gel, but start bubbling with oxygen gas after a few seconds on the skin. Brands like Bliss, Peter Thomas Roth, Dr Brandt, Oseque and Sephora have oxygen bubble masks. What do they do, and how did they get the gas into the bottle?
How do oxygen masks work?
Oxygen masks work a lot like soda water, where gas is dissolved in water under pressure (carbon dioxide gas, for soda), and is released when the pressure drops (when you open the bottle).
Oxygen doesn’t dissolve as well in water, so instead it’s dissolved in chemicals called perfluorocarbons, which are stable, unreactive carbon-based compounds containing fluorine atoms. They can dissolve 20 times more oxygen than water, and have even been investigated for use in artificial blood. These oxygenated perfluorocarbons are then sealed in a pressurised bottle. When the mask comes out, the oxygen starts fizzing out slowly like the bubbles in soft drink. For some thicker products, a pressurised bottle isn’t required – the thickness of the product itself is enough to hold the oxygen until you massage it out by applying it on the skin.
The most commonly used perfluorocarbons in cosmetics are perfluorodecalin and methyl perfluorobutyl ether, but pretty much anything in the ingredients list with “perfluoro” in it will be a perfluorocarbon. Here are the perfluorocarbon ingredients in some popular oxygen masks:
- Elizavecca Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask: Methyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether
- Sephora Bubble Mask Detoxifying & Oxygenating: Methyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether, Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether
- Dr. Brandt Skincare Oxygen Facial Flash Recovery Mask: Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Methyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether, Ethyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Ethyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether, Perfluorodecalin
- Bliss Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Mask: Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether
- Peter Thomas Roth Brightening Bubbling Mask: Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Methyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether, Perfluorohexane, Perfluoroperhydrophenanthrene, Perfluorodecalin
- Oseque Cyber Shine Oxygen Mask Cleanser: Methyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Methyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether
- Caolion Premium Blackhead O2 Bubble Pore Pack: Ethyl Perfluorobutyl Ether, Ethyl Perfluoroisobutyl Ether
Note: Some oxygen masks contain oxygen made from decomposition of hydrogen peroxide e.g. philosophy’s Oxygen Peels – you’ll want to keep these away from dark fabrics because it’ll bleach it white! The ones that use perfluorocarbons are safe.
What does oxygen do for skin?
What’s the point of putting oxygen gas in skincare products? It’s because the amount of oxygen in your skin decreases as you age, and if you smoke or have a lot of UV exposure from the sun, it’ll decrease further. It’s estimated that there’s 1/4 less oxygen by the time you’re 30, and 1/2 by the time you’re 40.
Oxygen gas is needed by the skin to produce collagen, so it’s possible that if you don’t have enough oxygen in your skin, your collagen levels will drop and you’ll end up with dull and dehydrated skin and wrinkles. It’s been found that extra oxygen helps with wound healing and increases filaggrin (important for a healthy skin barrier), and it could potentially kill acne bacteria. In an animal study, oxygen reduced wrinkles caused by UV exposure. However, no convincing studies have been done on oxygen and wrinkle reduction in humans.
On the flip side, extra oxygen could also increase the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS) or oxidants in your skin. These are important for lots of biological processes, but if there’s too many, they can attack and damage proteins and DNA, leading to premature ageing. A few wound healing studies have found that this potential side effect is insignificant.
Can oxygen masks deliver enough oxygen into the skin for these benefits?
There are a few studies on using oxygenated perfluorocarbons for wound healing and one preliminary study on using them for reducing wrinkles, but they were in topical gels, not wash-off products like these masks, so there would likely be more oxygen entering the skin. Most studies on wound healing use other systems for getting oxygen into the skin, such as oxygen-producing bandages, instead of perfluorocarbons. The fact that there’s a significant amount of bubbling in oxygen masks could mean that there’s very little gas actually entering the skin and getting to the deeper layers where it can make a difference. The tickling feeling does make it feel more “active” though! The bubbling could also potentially loosen dirt.
Verdict: Until there are more studies done on oxygen masks, they’re just a fun product that might help you clean your face better, but they’re unlikely to have significant anti-aging effects.
RS Kellar, RG Audet, DF Roe, LA Rheins & ZD Draelos, Topically delivered dissolved oxygen reduces inflammation and positively influences structural proteins in healthy intact human skin, J Cosmet Dermatol 2013, 12, 86-95.
L Pryor, CR Gordon, EW Swanson, RG Reish, K Horton-Beeman & SR Cohen, Dermaplaning, topical oxygen, and photodynamic therapy: a systematic review of the literature, Aesthetic Plast Surg 2011, 35, 1151-9.
B Asadamongkol & JH Zhang, The development of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for skin rejuvenation and treatment of photoaging (open access), Med Gas Res 2014, 4, 7.
SC Davis, AL Cazzaniga, C Ricotti, P Zalesky, LC Hsu, J Creech, WH Eaglstein & PM Mertz, Topical oxygen emulsion: a novel wound therapy, Arch Dermatol 2007, 143, 1252-6.
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