Kaitlyn McLintock
Updated Mar 25, 2020 @ 11:44 am

Keeping up with all the wellness fads that are supposed cure-alls is a job in and of itself, so Wellness Inspector takes out the magnifying glasses and closely examining these trends to see if they are all they’re cracked up to be. In the era of ever-evolving health and wellness fads, the rise of the oxygen bar has continued to rise in popularity, with people claiming that breathing pure oxygen can help you achieve healthier skin—we explore.

First, there were oxygen facials, in which an esthetician would use a special device to blast the outer layer of the skin with a concentrated stream of oxygen to boost collagen production and improve the skin’s glow factor. Now, there are oxygen bars. These are establishments that offer pure oxygen—oftentimes in an assortment of “flavors” or aromas—administered through a plastic tube that’s placed inside the nostrils. People claim that breathing pure oxygen has myriad health benefits; they say it can reduce the effects of sinus problems, headaches, fatigue, can cure hangovers, and even contribute to glowing, healthy skin. Those claims are significant, but is there any scientific backing? Read on to find out.

How does pure oxygen benefit the skin?

“As with all other tissues and organs in the body, oxygen is essential to the survival, regeneration, and reparation of all skin cells,” explains Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in Manhattan. “Adequate oxygen is needed for producing new skin cells, collagen, blood vessel formation, and wound healing in the skin.” Just like the rest of the body, Dr. Chang says the skin’s oxygen is supplied through blood circulation. “The lungs pull in oxygen from the air and transport oxygen by blood through the circulation. The skin is a vascular structure, with blood vessels and capillary loops supplying oxygen and other nutrients to the dermis and epidermis.”

Because the air we breathe is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide (along with small amounts of other gases), the theory is that by eliminating the others and inhaling pure oxygen, the skin and the body can benefit. “The outermost layers of the epidermis (about 0.25-0.5mm of the epidermis) can absorb oxygen from external oxygen but diffusion into deeper layers of the skin is limited,” Dr. Chang explains. “With certain medical conditions, like vascular disease, diabetes, swelling, or smoking, we limit our blood circulation and oxygen supply to our organs including our skin. This can lead to chronic, non-healing wounds, especially in the lower extremities.”

What are the non-medical benefits of going to an oxygen bar?

It’s in cases when the skin is lacking adequate oxygen that Dr. Chang says increasing oxygen-rich circulation could be of benefit. “For example, in wound injuries or non-healing ulcers that have damaged blood vessels, swelling, and decreased circulation, enhanced oxygen delivery with hyperbaric oxygen has been shown to increase skin renewal, collagen production, blood vessel production, and resistance to bacterial infections.” However, she’s quick to point out that “in otherwise healthy skin, the benefit of additional oxygen is unclear.”

In other words, if you’re someone who is interested in utilizing oxygen bars for something other than wound-healing (such as skin health), there’s little evidence that it will make a difference. As Dr. Chang puts it, “the purported benefits of oxygen facials and oxygen bars on the skin, including increased radiance, hydration, reduction in fine lines and reduction in acne breakouts, is currently not backed by scientific evidence.”

Are oxygen bars safe?

There’s some concern about potential risks, including cleanliness of the equipment and the actual oxygen purity. If not adequately cleaned between each use, the oxygen bar equipment can become unsanitary—spreading germs and potentially negatively effecting one’s health. Also, because the oxygen is often passed through different aromas in order to enhance the user experience, the oxygen concentration isn’t always as high as purported.

Our advice? If you want to check out an oxygen bar, do your research and find one that’s clean and reputable.