ScienceSkepticism

Aromatherapy and Oxygen Bars now 50% Dumber!

Spotting pseudoscience just got 90% easier! All you need to do is look for pointless percentages, misspellings and underpants!

I am officially a traveling gal. It is the beginning of the busy season for my little business and so I have started a road trip, a little tour if you will, mostly throughout cities in California. I display and sell my artwork at different art festivals and as you would expect I come across a virtual crap-load of pseudoscience along the way.

This little gem I bring back from my recent trip to hot-as-hell-Las Vegas, Nevada where I ran across an oxygen bar. I was actually a bit surprised to see an oxygen bar as all the trendy-for-5 minutes O2 bars that had popped up near where I live in Hollywood had gone out of business rather quickly. Seems they couldn’t even sell their sweet smelling nonsense in the land of make-believe, or maybe it was because dispensing oxygen without a permit is illegal in some states. For some reason this classy stand (note the breathe deep underpants for sale) was open for business in Las Vegas and so I snapped a few photos and asked a few questions.

oxygen bar
Looks like "fresh" is slightly more popular than "chillin".

Me: So what does it do?

Guy in tie-dye T-shirt: Oh it’s really great. It will help you if you have a headache. It helps with migraines or if you have a hangover. It gives you energy or it relaxes you depending on the one you choose.

Me: So it smells good?

Guy: It uses aromatherapy mixed with oxygen. It makes you feel better. You should try it.

Me: How much is it?

Guy: It’s $20 for a 15-minute session.

Well, it sure does sound impressive when you sell it like that (jackass).

I walked around the kiosk and checked out the sign and I quickly realized that aromatherapy at this oxygen bar was 70% more delicious (see photo) and now with breading!

breaded aromatherapy
mmmm breading

So let me give a quick rundown here:
Aromatherapy smells lovely but has not been proven to cure or treat any specific diseases. It is one of those things that won’t hurt you but wont save you either. I for one love lavender and so I own a lot of products that say, “relaxing” on the bottle. Will it relax me? Maybe, because I enjoy the smell but that doesn’t mean it will relax my friend Lisa who hates the smell of lavender. Some studies have been done on aromatherapy and they have shown that aromatherapy combined with massage can be temporarily relaxing and may temporarily relieve pain but this is most likely caused by the effects of the massage and the placebo effect.

What about the oxygen and the claim that we need more?
Yes, we are breathing oxygen that is 20.9% of the total atmosphere and that is great! We have evolved for millions of years in a similar atmosphere that only fluctuates slightly. We know this from studying ice core samples. What we should be asking the oxygen bar owner is, do you know that higher than 60% oxygen is considered toxic and prolonged exposure causes direct oxidative damage to lungs?

The remainder of the basic claims from the sign are as follows:

•Natural remedy for headaches and hangovers
No, oxygen is not a natural remedy for headaches or for hangovers. Headaches are complicated and caused from myriad of different issues. A cup of coffee is more likely to cure a headache than a 15-minute treatment of “sex on the beach” scented oxygen.
Too much alcohol causes hangovers. You know what cures a hangover? Time.

•Increases alertness
This again is just a vague suggestive claim that seems logical at first. I couldn’t find any evidence to support the claim that extra oxygen will increase alertness in normally healthy individuals and no; they don’t pump it into the casinos.

•Relieves temporary altitude discomfort
Yes, oxygen would probably relieve altitude discomfort but that is because there is less oxygen in the atmosphere on the top of a very high mountain. ETA there is less atmospheric pressure on the top of a high mountain. Because the pressure is reduced, the little O2 molecules have a harder time getting across the membranes into the blood, so your blood Ox goes down. (thanks CyberLizardNo Gravatar) I assure you, this oxygen bar was not located on the top of Mount Everest and even the people who live on top of mountains adapt to their environment with out the assistance of a scented oxygen bar.

Oxygen bar
Yes, sex on the beach please but NO, I'm sorry you can't put it up my nose.

•Alleviates fatigue and muscle stiffness
You may relieve fatigue and muscle stiffness from sitting down and relaxing in a chair for 15 minutes, but not from the “chillin” scented oxygen shoved up your nose.

•Naturally increases the body’s metabolism
I’m no doctor so feel free to correct me, but I couldn’t find any evidence that extra oxygen supplied via an oxygen bar  “naturally” increases metabolism. From what I understand, arterial blood is fully saturated with oxygen and any extra would simply be exhaled and would have no effect on metabolic rate.

•Promotes healing and recovery from physical exertion
Unless you have a life threatening illness or injury you do not need “fresh” scented oxygen to help you feel better. In fact the scented oils filtered though the “nose hose” (eeewwww!) could actually harm you if you have an allergic response or any actual lung problems. I also wonder how well they clean those tubes. One would assume there is some happy “appletini” scented bacteria in there. I know it may seem like we need more oxygen to recover from physical activity since when we run we breathe heavier but that is just our body working effectively. No extra “strawberry” oxygen required.

I’m still trying to understand how you get the breading up your nose, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

Well, time for me to hit the road! Next stop Atlanta for Dragon*Con and Skeptrack and then I’m off to Pleasanton, California. I will report back with anything I run across from the wacky world of woo. Woohoo!

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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25 Comments

  1. I think that an oxygen bar in Las Vegas would be a good long term investment, with a small change in delivery.

    Instead of pumping the oxygen up your nose, I would chill it down to …say…65 degrees (Fahrenheit), and use a fan to blow it on people at about 12 miles per hour while serving them drinks and food.

    My idea is that people could come in from the heat and rest and refresh themselves. I plan to call my concept the “restaurant”.

  2. “Too much alcohol causes hangovers. You know what cures a hangover? ”

    More alcohol might not cure a hangover, but it sure makes it seem a whole lot better.

    @durnett

    You should patent that idea, then you could sell the equipment to casinos. They’d install it in their lobbies so people would feel refreshed just walking in.

  3. How about an injection of a couple mg’s of mercury. It’s denser than blood, so it will sink to your feet. If you start to overheat, the mercury will become less dense, and rise to your head. That’s when you need to sit down, and literally “chill out”.

  4. I’ve heard of people being prescribed oxygen for cluster headaches by doctors. So maybe it does help with certain rare types of headaches. I’m not a doctor so someone with medical expertise can feel free to correct me.

  5. First time commenter here!

    We have one of these “Oxygen Bars” at the Mall of America. I must have walked past it hundreds of times. I’ve always figured it was woo, but up until now, I never fully realized how completely tripped out this stuff is. I am now tempted to stop by next time I’m there and strike up a conversation with whoever is running the shop. I’m sure a clone of tie-dye t-shirt guy works there.

  6. Yes, oxygen would probably relieve altitude discomfort but that is because there is less oxygen in the atmosphere on the top of a very high mountain

    Actually, there is the same amount of oxygen. What is different is the atmospheric pressure. Because the pressure is reduced, the little O2 molecules have a harder time getting across the membranes into the blood, so your blood Ox goes down. I discovered this the last time we went to Breckenridge and my daughter ended up with pneumonia and had to lug around an O2 tank.

  7. “Yes, sex on the beach please but NO, I’m sorry you can’t put it up my nose.”

    Nasal sex? That’s just…Sorry, I’ll have to get back to you; my brain just ran away.

    Imagine my surprise when I googled it (just for kicks – I’m on vacation and bored) and got 67,800 hits. (Bing came up with 8,750,000. First time I ever used it.)

  8. About 6 years back, I was in Vegas and so desperately hung-over that I tried this.

    I was told that the nose hose was discarded after every use. (Of course I was also told that an “air martini” could cure all my ills.) So I sat there, for 15 minutes smelling some reviving aromatherapy. Problem was, the intensity of the tangerine smell made me ill. After about 6 minutes I had to stop or their booth would have been decorate with my previous hangover cure attempt – a very greasy breakfast.

    My mother, queen of all woo, uses pure oxygen instead of nitrous oxide at the dentist. She claims that it works so well that she didn’t even need to use novocaine. (She’s allergic to it apparently.) The procedure was only slightly painful and she didn’t have the usual dental side affects. (I have no idea what those would be, btw.)

    Problem is, she only used it while getting her mercury fillings replaced. You might not want to have that procedure done without Novocaine. But if the fillings aren’t too deep and the dentist is careful, then you aren’t drilling into the nerve in the tooth. There will be some discomfort but nothing that needs a numb mouth.

  9. @Bookitty:

    I was told that the nose hose was discarded after every use. (Of course I was also told that an “air martini” could cure all my ills.) So I sat there, for 15 minutes smelling some reviving aromatherapy. Problem was, the intensity of the tangerine smell made me ill. After about 6 minutes I had to stop or their booth would have been decorate with my previous hangover cure attempt – a very greasy breakfast.

    That is interesting because from what I have discovered is that the most dangerous aspect to these oxygen bars could be the scented oils they add. Many are not food grade, regulated, or by any means pure and to inhale some may be quite dangerous to some people especially those with lung problems or allergies.

  10. There was one of these in Newport on the Levy in Newport, KY for about 6 days. Me and my boss tried it out waiting for a friend just to be jerks.
    My boss would take a deep breath and then act like he couldn’t stop spontaneously excersizing. Good times.
    We got to keep our hoses which I hooked up to my beer vat to give myself some CO2 and hops aroma therapy.

  11. UMASS Amherst sets up oxygen bars at their freshman mixer parties. Years ago I attended one, and an EMT there said the oxygen makes one feel alert and sometimes elated (the EMTs were the ‘bartenders’-its the law there).

    It is also true that oxygen is used to treat cluster headaches as an abortive method at the initial onset of an attack, but the oxygen seems to have little effect after a few minutes into an attack.

  12. Dangit, Amy! Were you at Pool? I was in the co-op there! We could have done some skeptical drinking (did you notice no free Sparks in the afternoon this year? I DID) and smirk at all the terribleness together (If I see one more Ed Hardy thing – I saw hand sanitizer at the convenience store!! – I might barf). Were you in cash and carry?

  13. I am not a doctor and I don’t know much about metabolism or oxygen bars, but I do know that serious SCUBA divers sometimes use a gas mixture which is higher in O2 than normal air (32% or 36%). Part of that is because if you breathe less N2 you can stay down longer (and go deeper on each dive), but I know that people who do many dives each day say that it’s essential even if they could ostensibly safely do the dives on normal compressed air because you just get exhausted otherwise. It may be that the (much) higher pressure you’re under when you’re diving combined with the physical exertion makes all the difference, but it’s something to consider before completely writing off short term benefits of breathing oxygen enriched air.

  14. My husband’s physician prescribed oxygen for his cluster headaches. In the interest of science I took the tank and conducted my own “oxygen” experiments to see if I would feel better from snorting more oxygen. I didn’t and it didn’t help his headaches either. I think the Oxygen bar should capitalize on the increasing obesity of Americans by using Bacon or Whopper scented oxygen.

  15. “Actually, there is the same amount of oxygen. What is different is the atmospheric pressure.”

    Actually, I need to correct the correction. There IS less air (and less oxygen) the higher you go up. The DENSITY of the air (mass per unit volume) decreases with increasing altitude. It’s ALSO true that the pressure is less at those altitudes too. The concentration ratio of nitrogen to oxygen does stay the same, though, I think.

    I don’t think there’s any debate that less oxygen is bad. The question is whether a higher than normal concentration is of any benefit, or at least not harmful.

    Pure oxygen for an extended period can be a problem, I think. However, Apollo spacecraft had, I believe, pure oxygen atmospheres, so humans can at least breathe it for a dozen days or so at a time without major ill effects, so 15 minutes shouldn’t hurt you.

    -Craig Steffen

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