Tessa’s Jowels

April 30th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, oxygen | 24 Comments »

Okay, here’s the deal: we’re talking about non-disgraced non-former minister Tessa Jowell, who has reportedly been paying large amounts of her hard-earned cash for “oxygen facials”, and from the same celebrity beautician who does Paltrow and Moss. At some stage, just so that you know in advance, I intend to make a joke about Tessa’s jowels.

So what is an oxygen facial? “Oxygen Facialist” Michelle Peck answers that very question on the Intraceuticals website: it’s a high pressure blast of oxygen with a few beauty products in it. The purpose of this is to leave your skin swollen and smooth. “The 02 Intraceutical Treatment is what I give to Madonna when I give her what is commonly known as an oxygen facial. The treatment… provides an instant firming and lift by using hyperbaric technology to saturate the skin with oxygen and infuse a rejuvenating hyaluronic acid serum.”

Now, speaking only for myself of course, I have a rather well-regulated blood supply carrying oxygen not just to my face but all over my body, in roughly the correct amounts that are needed. In fact, I’m not quite sure I understand why these jokers are using oxygen at all, instead of air, since in my experience a good buffeting on a bicycle will produce modest swelling and increased blood flow for instant firming and lift (not to mention smoothness and colour). And indeed a firm slap in the face can also cause swelling and smoothness, as any cad or bounder could tell you.

In fact, I’ve been trying to think through what the point is of using posh expensive oxygen, instead of just blasting punters with normal compressed air, and as far as I can tell there are only two possibilities. Possibility number one, which I should like to discount immediately, is that there is “no point” in using oxygen, and that beauticians – whose premises in the adverts always look much more like a hospital than NHS issue prefabs – are only using it because “oxygen” sounds expensive, sciencey and pure.

Possibility number two is far more interesting: that this oxygen enters Tessa Jowell’s tissues and has a significant effect by oxygenating them. Now some of us find it difficult to juggle more than a couple of bits of information at any one time, but your body is constantly monitoring and regulating the tissues needs in every area of your body, and tweaking the blood vessels supplying them, without you ever having to consciously action any of it. In fact, part of the drive to send more blood somewhere in your body, and indeed to grow new blood vessels there, is the fact that not enough oxygen is getting through. If you were a tumour and you wanted to grow fast, you’d want a lot of blood vessels to feed yourself from, and the nasty, faster growing tumors are often very good at faking the messages to demand more blood vessels.

Anyway, to flip this on its head, if you tell your body that there’s plenty more than enough oxygen somewhere, then one of the important drives to send blood there, and grow blood vessels there, is gone. Your body is an amazing system, every bit working in harmony with the others, and no matter how old you are you are still incredibly adaptable (right now, for all I know, you could be reading this in the African savannah, standing on your head, at the arctic, or in space). In fact if any of the oxygen creams, oxygen facials, and oxygen cannisters available were able to put oxygen into Tessa’s tissues, her body would quietly and in her best interests disclose that fact, and take appropriate steps to compensate, without ever troubling to make her explicitly aware of the fact.

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24 Responses

  1. raygirvan said,

    May 1, 2006 at 12:44 am

    I was amused by the Intraceuticals site treatments page‘s somewhat worrying description of Oxygen Inhalation Therapy (“a natural distressing treatment”) and their press page‘s reference to “our infamous rejuvenating treatment”.

  2. Mithent said,

    May 1, 2006 at 1:20 am

    Sounds like they need to use some of their large amounts of money to buy a dictionary then.. I assume that they intended to offer a ‘de-stressing’ treatment?

    It continues to surprise me how many beauty products and treatments rely on the principle that your largely dead skin is in need of various nutrients, which are of course best taken up directly on contact. I was most impressed by shampoo containing amino acids – clearly just washing your hair in them is going to incorporate them into keratin, never mind how cells need mRNA and ribosomes to do that.

  3. mushy said,

    May 1, 2006 at 9:59 am

    An oxygen facial? What a load of pseudoscientific claptrap. This is why – as a well-informed organic chemist – I only ever use face cream containing C60.

  4. jeremymiles said,

    May 1, 2006 at 11:26 am

    Oxygen sounds really good and groovy in a pseudo-scientific sort of way, but even though it’s vital for life, it’s actually rather unpleasant stuff, and you wouldn’t want too much of it around. Notice what hydrogen peroxide does to your hair? And what does it use for that? Yup – it’s oxygen. The free radical theory of aging (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_%28chemistry%29 ) suggests that aging is caused by oxygen, and that’s why we are all enthusiastic about taking *anti*oxidants (like vitamin C) for which there is some evidence, from randomised controlled trials, that it’s good for you.

  5. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 1, 2006 at 11:38 am

    as i remember life on earth had to develop some pretty clever tricks to defend itself against the oxidising effect of an oxygen rich atmosphere, oxygen is kind of a cellular poison in many respects. it’s funny how once you start arguing with out of context half portions of scientific knowledge you can actually make anything sound either panacea-tastic or mortally perilous…

  6. Snoop said,

    May 1, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Why wasn’t this Guardianised?

  7. Kimpatsu said,

    May 1, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    If Jowell’s face is full of pure oxygen, I hope no one lights a match…

  8. Pro-reason said,

    May 2, 2006 at 3:49 am

    “you can actually make anything sound either panacea-tastic or mortally perilous”

    Indeed. It is easy, for example, to write an entirely truthful article about the often fatal effects of the dangerous yet alarmingly common chemical, Hydrogen oxide.

  9. pv said,

    May 2, 2006 at 7:15 am

    You mean di-hydrogen monoxide.

    I like this one too which puts a different spin on the matter:

  10. Delster said,

    May 2, 2006 at 7:28 am


    I think you’ll find that it is actually di-hydrogen monoxide your referring to and recent research showed that all criminals, without exception, were users of this dangerous substance!

  11. BigAnt said,

    May 2, 2006 at 9:01 am

    and politicians…

  12. Big Al said,

    May 2, 2006 at 9:02 am

    The technical term for this miracle molecule is hydrogen hydroxide (H+ OH-)

    Of course, the wonder is that it actually IS a miracle molecule – it has many unique and fascinating features. However, those very real properties aren’t enough for the woo-woos: they have to invent more.

  13. Kess said,

    May 2, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    The hazards of dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) are poorly reported – I suspect a cover-up by Government and big business.

    There is a pressure group trying to warn people about DHMO at www.dhmo.org/

  14. Yogini said,

    May 2, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    I noticed most of the festivals this year had ‘Oxygen bars’ where hungover festival goers could go and part with their hard earned tenners for 10 minutes of ‘pure oxygen’. When asked whether it was pure oxygen I was always told ‘Yes – 100% pure oxygen’!

    If that wasn’t funny enough, they didn’t use masks, they used little tubes which sat under your nose, leaving your mouth free to smoke a cigarette and drink a cup of espresso at the same time as receiving your 100% O2. Which most of the customers were doing!

    I could not believe the queues of people at these stalls, nor the willingness to spend their money on it. A funky flat loader with scientific glassware on the bar, coloured water with bubbles in it is just as much a pull as a ‘beautitionists’ in nice whites.

  15. Crispy Duck said,

    May 3, 2006 at 11:12 am

    I would guess that smoking a cigarette in a stream of pure oxygen probably isn’t the best thing to do when you have a hangover…

  16. Yogini said,

    May 3, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    It would certainly give you something esle to worry about…

  17. pv said,

    May 3, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    Smoking cigarettes, or whatever, while being blasted with a stream of pure oxygen. And no-one suffered first degree burns? Sounds like ordinary compressed air to me.

  18. Delster said,

    May 4, 2006 at 10:04 am

    not too mention the minor fact that breathing 100% O2 will kill you…. even without flammables nearby!

  19. Scooby said,

    May 6, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Delster – Oxygen is only toxic at a partial pressure of >1.6 bar, at sea level 100% O2 is fine.

  20. Delster said,

    May 8, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Scooby,

    That may be true for short periods but for longer periods there are a number of health problems which will lead to massive problems and death if untreated.

    below is the best article i can find is the few moments i have before work intrudes again!


  21. Scooby said,

    May 9, 2006 at 10:12 am


    thanks for that, i’ve just managed to demonstrate my ignorance. 😉

    My dive training stressed that it was immediately toxic at raised partial pressures, but in that context use of oxygen would only be for relatively short periods to treat Decompression Sickenss.

  22. TRiG said,

    May 9, 2006 at 9:53 pm


    (Specifically posts 13 to 16 (and 19).)

  23. DavidN said,

    September 21, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Its mostly only normal air, I asked someone whose parents embarassingly own a stall at the mall.

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