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J Physiol. 2002 Feb 1;538(Pt 3):985-94.

The cutaneous uptake of atmospheric oxygen contributes significantly to the oxygen supply of human dermis and epidermis.

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Department of Dermatology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Gudrunstrasse 56, D-44791 Bochum, Germany.


It has been known since 1851 that atmospheric oxygen is taken up by the human epidermis. The contribution to total respiration is negligible. Until now the significance for the local oxygen supply of the skin has remained unknown. With a newly developed sensor, the oxygen fluxoptode, it has become possible to make local measurements of the transcutaneous oxygen flux (tcJ(O2)). In this study the sensor was calibrated so that absolute values of tcJ(O2) could be reported. At rest, tcJ(O2) was determined on normal, humidified skin on the volar forearm of 20 volunteers of different age groups. In order to evaluate the contribution of the blood flow to the oxygen supply of the skin, tcJ(O2) was recorded at the end of a 5 min suprasystolic occlusion of the forearm. At normal skin surface partial oxygen pressure (163 +/- 9 Torr), tcJ(O2) was 0.53 +/- 0.27 ml O2 min(-1) x m(-2). A 5 min interruption of blood flow resulted in an increase of 9.5 +/- 6.3 % in tcJ(O2). The value of tcJ(O2) was unaffected by the age of the subject. Published data on the oxygen diffusion properties of skin and simulations of intracutaneous profiles of oxygen partial pressure indicated that under these conditions, the upper skin layers to a depth of of 0.25-0.40 mm are almost exclusively supplied by external oxygen, whereas the oxygen transport of the blood has a minor influence. As a consequence, a malfunction in capillary oxygen transport cannot be the initiator of the development of superficial skin defects such as those observed in chronic venous incompetence and peripheral arterial occlusive disease.

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