Where did the concept of oxygen facials come from?
Oxygen, a key inorganic element in the body and the most abundant element in the earth’s crust, is seemingly everywhere. Comprising 21% of the atmosphere, it is not only a significant component of the air we breathe, but it is also responsible for our ozone layer, which is comprised of a UV-absorbing form of pure oxygen. From the perspective of the universe, oxygen equals life.
In terms of the body, oxygen is essential for the efficient breakdown of nutrients into energy. During respiration, oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse in opposite directions through the lungs. Oxygen is delivered from the lung capillaries to the small spaces around and between the body’s cells and used for cellular respiration. In other words, when we breathe the countless number of cells in our tissues and organs also breathe, promoting an efficient metabolism and producing energy.
This is particularly evident in muscle tissue cells, which contain myoglobin molecules that require oxygen for muscle function. Insufficient oxygen results in decreased activity, which affects not only skeletal movement, but also one’s heart rate, circulation, digestion, and pulmonary respiration. No wonder everyone from yoga teachers to marathon runners emphasizes the importance of the breath! Lack of oxygen – due to improper breathing, sustained aerobic activity, or even high altitude – decreases overall endurance and energy levels and increases lactic acid buildup, leading to muscle soreness and fatigue.
Its role in metabolism and energy production has made oxygen one of the few, if not the only, elements to make it from chemistry class to the spa menu. And not only are oxygen-based treatments popping up at spas all over the continent, so-called oxygen bars are appearing everywhere from luxury resorts to outdoor music festivals.
So what’s all the fuss? Can this gas, so essential to life, really be successfully harnessed into a facial treatment? And are oxygen bars – already controversial among medical doctors – really beneficial to overall health?
Spas all over the continent have added oxygen facials to their repertoire of services, and with well-respected lines such as Babor, Biodroga, Wilma Schumann, and Sothys creating oxygen-delivering products for professional and personal use, it’s no wonder. For city-dwellers and others frequently exposed to pore-clogging, wrinkle-inducing toxins, oxygen facials literally breathe new life into skin. According to spa director Wendy Woodward at Westglow Spa, “Our oxygen facial helps to plump up skin and diminish fine lines. It provides deep moisture and is good for sensitive skin.” Other benefits include increased skin metabolism and toxin elimination which helps to tone and enhance tissues, leaving skin more radiant and healthy.
A natural oxygen facials step by step – powered by Exar Milano (Italy)
But rather than actually containing oxygen, most of these facials are designed simply to promote and stimulate the skin’s intercellular respiration, helping it to absorb the oxygen it needs from the environment. In-the-know day spas like SoHo’s Bliss and San Francisco’s Tru go so far as to conclude their O2 facials with a blast of oxygen, ensuring that what the skin absorbs is pure and pollution-free.
Rather than simply encouraging the skin to absorb oxygen from the environment, Oxygen Botanicals has devised a way to stabilize and ‘trap’ non-chemically derived oxygen, harnessing its nutritive properties for direct delivery to the skin. With the use of time-release technology, these products promise to extend the benefits of oxygen-rich skin long after the treatment ends.
They’re showing up in night clubs, college towns, and resort spas. They’ve garnered both disdain from medical professionals and praise from ‘users’ and meanwhile, have developed an almost cult-like following. To grasp this phenomenon, I booked a twenty-minute session at the O2 Bar at Wyndham Peaks in Telluride. Sitting in a vibrating massage chair, with a fruity herbal tonic in hand and plastic tubes in my nostrils, I experienced my first oxygen treatment. Touted as mind-clearing, hangover-reducing, and energy-boosting – just to name a few – I breathed deeply and found, even after twenty minutes, that the effects are more subtle than drastic. Having struggled with altitude sickness since my arrival in Telluride (elevation 8,750 ft.), the oxygen did seem to alleviate my headache and mildly improve my energy level, but whether that was the result of the oxygen or from simply taking twenty minutes to relax, I don’t know.
Tonic Herban Bar, Boulder Co is another trendy ‘joint’ offering oxygen on the menu.
And truly, the evidence of this treatment’s effectiveness and overall safety are just as inconclusive as my personal experience. Medical doctors warn that pure oxygen is only suitable for the very ill, with recommended doses never exceeding twenty-four hours. For certain populations, such as the elderly, oxygen can be downright dangerous. And for those with pulmonary or cardiac conditions, oxygen therapy is not advised without medical supervision. To be fair, most oxygen bars aren’t offering 100% oxygen, but a concentration closer to 40%, a much safer dose for the general public. Interestingly, pure oxygen is one of the most corrosive and destructive elements in the periodic table because of its highly chemically reactive nature. Fortunately, our bodies have adapted. In his book, The Ingredients: a Guided Tour of the Elements, Philip Ball notes, “We breathe oxygen not because it is inherently good for us, but because we have evolved ways of making it less bad for us.” Bodily enzymes and cellular mechanisms team up to diminish the damaging side-effects of our oxygen dependence.
So, is it worth it? Again, it depends on whom you ask. Except at high altitudes, the air we breathe is approximately 21% oxygen, which is concentrated enough to nearly saturate the blood, making additional oxygen physically unnecessary, if not potentially dangerous. At higher elevations, where the air holds closer to 18% oxygen, individuals often experience headaches, fatigue, and sleeplessness, all believed to be caused by the change in oxygen levels. In these cases, it stands to reason that a twenty-minute session at an oxygen bar might just do the trick. But if you fall into any of the at-risk categories above, or are otherwise unsure, talk to your doctor first.
Where to find oxygen facials
Birdwing Spa, Litchfield, MN, www.birdwingspa.com, 320.693.6064
Bliss Spa, New York, NY and London, England,www.blissworld.com, 888.243.8825
Elemis Spa at the Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT, www.mohegansun.com, 860.862.4500
Healing Waters Spa at Lake Austin Resort, Austin, TX, www.lakeaustin.com, 800.847.5637
Tru, San Francisco, CA, www.truspa.com, 415.399.9700
Westglow Spa, Blowing Rock, NC, www.westglow.com, 800.562.0807
Golden Door Spa at The Peaks, Telluride, CO, www.wyndham.com, 800.789.2220
Oasis Oxygen Bar, Chicago, IL, 312.266.1944
Opium: Den of Oxygen, Miami Beach, FL, 305.531.5535
Tonic oxygen bar/herbal elixirs, Boulder, CO, 303.544.0202
By Tanya M. Williams
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