Oxygen bars may cause health risks

By Kate Chaillat
Published: Tuesday 15 April 2008

Oxygen bars may cause health risks

-- (Credit: CLEMENTINE BERTSCHY)Stressed out after hectic work and want to relax? Spare your regular booze bar this time and hit an oxygen bar for an oxygen shoot to regenerate your worn out cells. But at your own risk because there may be health risks.

Outlets providing "fresh oxygen" form a global industry, with the latest market being France. The first oxygen bar at Paris' posh beauty salon, Bleu Comme Bleu, offers oxygen shoots which, claims its manufacturer Jean-Guillaume Laurent, can quickly eliminate stress and fatigue. The bar provides oxygen filtered through a mixture of essential oils smelling mandarin oranges, pine tree and grapefruit.

Tour de France's O2 linkLaurent has been in the oxygen business since 2002. He got the idea while following Tour de France, world's largest cycling event, as a medical expert in 2001. He once saw weary cyclists recuperate by breathing in air with high oxygen which "re-oxygenized" their muscles faster.The athletes appeared the next day on the starting line "fresh as babies" says Laurent. "Their bodies had more cells to burn; hence more energy."

His observation soon found place on his website and elicited immediate response from the retail giant Carrefour that wanted to launch a range of oxygenated products through oxygen bars in its shops in France. The equipment were available only in the us but getting them was a tough task post 9/11 since the customs process meant the products could not reach the shops in time for the launch. So they gave up.

Laurent, however, set out to make his own bar. He bought an oxygen concentrator that filters air to produce a "95 per cent oxygen concentrate". He got the oxygen to filter through a mix of aromatic oils--some of them, he claims, have come from organic farms. Laurent is confident of the curative qualities of oxygen shoot. He said the method followed the findings of "Nobel prize-winning doctors" who studied the link between smell and well-being. He set up a company, Colian, to market his Oxybar. He feels there is a market for regular users. "At a trade show in Monaco, elderly visitors came daily for a shoot," he says. While he was setting up an oxygen bar at a casino in Deauville in France, he met Lola Seguela, daughter of Bleu Comme Bleu's owner Sophie Seguela, who helped him set up one such bar at the salon in February, 2008.

Shooting upThe bar targets the salon's wealthy customers. The outlet is in the middle of the hairdressing and nail treatment area. Customers sitting in for a manicure, or getting their hair dried after a cut, can get a 15-minute breath of fresh oxygen. They are made to sit next to colourful vials of oils bubbling with oxygen coming from a concentrator under the table. Each of the six aromas available, are associated with certain health benefits ranging from relaxation to strengthening your immune system (see table Pay and breath). Once the customer makes her choice, she gets a tube with a nose mask at its end and can breathe at her leisure. The masks are held aloft slightly away from the nose. But one notices that little care is given to hygiene; the mask is neither replaced nor wiped after use. There is nobody to assist the customer. Every week, on an average 40 people sample the shoot for 10 Euros (more than us $15).

Down to Earth

Pay and breath

Aroma available at the Paris salon
Bleu Comme Bleu
Brand Composition   Claimed effects

Extasy Incense, rosewood, orange, bergamot   An ecstatic feeling
Fresh Air Grapefruit, mandarin orange, pine   A breath ideal to fight a cold
Himalaya Eucalyptus, peppermint, ravensara   Helps you stop smoking
Oriental Prince Ylang-ylang, nutmeg   Stimulates immune system
Voluptuous Lavender, mandarin, ylang-ylang   Relaxing and appeasing
Vitality Ginger, peppermint, lemon   Helps you refresh; also fights

Not many are happy with the shoot. A hairdresser working at the salon says some felt dizzy and expressed discomfort after inhaling fresh oxygen. To some the relaxing breath was accompanied by a prickly nose and stomach ache. Another employee says he is not "convinced of the benefits". He felt no effect when he tried a shoot. "From a commercial point of view I don't have much faith in the venture lasting."

Does it really work?There is little scientific evidence to support the claims on oxygen shoots. Oxygen helps human body create energy by allowing cells to separate and multiply--cell mitosis--and ensures body constantly regenerates itself. Pure oxygen, however, is not healthy unless one suffers from a specific medical condition or, like a cyclist, puts her body under excessive pressure to burn calories. The air we breathe in contains 21 per cent of oxygen which is sufficient for our body. Only people who have lung failure or similar health conditions need high concentration of oxygen. Oxygen used in cell reproduction also releases free radicals, unstable electrons that damage other cells. They also cause degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, says a study by Domenico Pratico, a researcher at the department of pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania. The study appeared in the December 1998 issue of Federation of American Societies in Experimental Biology. Medical experts say this threat could be there with oxygen bars also.

The claims have come into question and the French drugs regulation agency, Afssaps, has said it would "keep a close eye on such bars". "We have no regulations on oxygen bars because it is not a medical product," Raphaelle Hennequin, who monitors advertisements and product qualification at Afssaps, told Down to Earth.

Down to Earth
Breathing market The Paris salon
Oxygen bars are yet to find many takers in France. However, they seem to be spreading in other countries including India and Japan, the uk and the us. But, there are not many studies on their effect. A study by Linda Bren for the us Food and Drug Administration's fda Consumer magazine in 2002 highlighted the legal haziness surrounding oxygen bars for recreation. "Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, any type of oxygen used by people for breathing and administered by another person is a prescription drug," Bren says. In the us, the Food and Drug Administration rules state no medical treatment should be given without a prescription. Implementing the rule is left to each state's discretion and to keep on the safe side, oxygen bar manufacturers often claim the products are not medical.

In Europe, oxygen providers can advertise benefits of their products. ReeCharge Complementary Treatment Clinic, a beauty clinic in Glasgow, Scotland, claims medical evidence has shown their oxygen treatment boosts metabolism and revitalizes the skin. They even sell canisters that customers can use at home. However, a few doctors Down To Earth spoke to in the uk sounded sceptical. Grigson, a local doctor, said, "If you are a healthy person, such shoots would not harm you, nor would do any good. The effect is psychological." She says people with lung diseases breathing high levels of oxygen could cause trouble.

With inputs from Clmentine Bertschy and Hlne Kessous

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