“We’re constantly exposed to chemicals and germs,” says Marcia Hansen. “Experts say 20 minutes of sauna therapy is equivalent to 24 hours’ worth of the kidneys processing out toxins. Adding oxygen improves the process.” (Photo copyright 2005 Mark Paul Petrick)
Commitment-phobe and new-things-phobe that I am, the last thing I felt like doing last Saturday afternoon was keeping my appointment at Fairfield’s O’Spa and maneuvering into a compact oxygen sauna to be steamed like a Brussels sprout for 30 minutes. Having said that upfront, however, I must confess I found the experience to be astonishingly transformative.
Let me explain. It was mid-September and ragweed season was in full swing. I, Hayfever Sufferer Extraordinaire, had been spending my days alternately honking into wads of Kleenex, getting whiplash from multiple sneezing, and enjoying a mild stoner’s daze, compliments of Claritin (non-drowsy tablets, my foot).
Marcia Hansen, the enviously radiant and bubbly owner of O’Spa, generously offered me a treatment, saying that oxygen saunas can sometimes relieve allergy symptoms. “Why nod?” I thought miserably, if somewhat unoptimistically. “They cerdainly can’d ged eddy worse.”
It was thus that I found myself in Marcia’s upscale, light- and art-filled spa last weekend, buck-naked but comfortably and modestly encased (all but my head) in an opaque, 3′ by 5′ oxygen sauna cabinet, chatting companionably with my hostess. And, in fact, being gently steamed like a Brussels sprout.
But here’s the kicker: after I emerged, relaxed, refreshed, and pink, I enjoyed 24 exquisite allergy-free hours, and moderately improved allergies for days thereafter. Why, I had to ask? Was it all in my mind?
What is an Oxygen Spa, Anyway?
By this point, hopefully I’ve done my job, and you’re curious to know what on earth an oxygen spa is. Let me fill you in.
An oxygen spa is a facility that offers one or more oxygen steam saunas. Like the traditional sauna models, oxygen saunas relax and purify the body through warm, moist air. Unlike traditional saunas, however, they also release activated oxygen, alternately known as ozone, which the body absorbs through its largest organ of respiration and purification, the skin.
“Many people consider the synergistic combination of the oxygen and steam to be the most effective yet gentle form of purification available,” says Marcia. “I personally find it to be one of the most pleasant.”
Oxygen/ozone spas have been used throughout Europe and Canada for more than 60 years now, to great effect. Proponents claim that treatments can have a positive impact on everything from high stress levels and obesity to autoimmune disorders, AIDS, and cancer. They are also believed to assist in oxidizing toxins, viruses, and bacteria, and can reduce stress on the internal organs. Plus, the spa gives your skin a healthy glow.
“Although I’m not a medical professional, I’ve seen really amazing and unexpected positive results beyond just the great way people feel after a session,” says Marcia. “I find it rewarding what a simple oxygen tune-up can do to rejuvenate and relax my clients.”
The oxygen spa is just one of the many forms of oxygen therapy (or ozone therapy) currently employed today by doctors and practitioners of natural medicine. The wide range of ozone therapies includes intramuscular injection, ozonated water, ozonated oil salves, and more.
Ozone—It’s a Good Thing
Some people get a little nervous when they hear the term “ozone therapy.” That’s because, sadly, ozone often gets a bad rap. In busy cities like New York, public ozone advisories are issued when there’s a lot of toxic smog in the atmosphere, causing allergies and respiratory problems (not to mention corroding buildings and damaging plants and trees).
But ozone itself isn’t the culprit. On its own, ozone is a pristine, elemental form of oxygen that occurs naturally in the earth’s atmosphere and surrounds our planet at an altitude of 50,000 to 100,000 feet. In the upper atmosphere, ozone forms a protective layer that absorbs a great deal of the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. Ozone can, however, become dangerous when it attaches itself to carbon dioxide and other gases caused by car exhaust and factory emissions and becomes nitric-oxide-containing smog.
“Rest assured,” says Marcia, of the ozone used in her oxygen sauna, “I am using a pure source of oxygen and there is no risk of any nitric oxide by-products. Also, when a person eats a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants, oxygen is essential to help ward off free-radical damage.”
When in its purest form and used properly, ozone has powerful antibacterial qualities. German chemist Christian Frederick Schonbein first introduced the use of ozone gas to disinfect operating rooms in 1856 at the University of Basel in Switzerland. Since then, ozone has been used as a major disinfectant worldwide, and is utilized widely to purify water, air, and medical equipment. It kills viruses and bacteria and destroys the microorganisms that cause bad odors and tastes. It’s also a powerful oxidizer.
Today more than 2,500 municipalities worldwide use ozone to purify their water supplies, including LA, Paris, Moscow, Montreal, and Florence. During the 1984 Olympic Games in LA, European swim teams refused to compete unless the U.S. provided them with ozone-treated swimming pool water (rather than chlorine).
Perhaps most exciting of all, though, is ozone’s remarkable healing properties.
Ozone as Therapy
“Oxygen (or ozone) therapy is nothing new,” says Marcia. “In fact, it’s been around since the turn of the century. Prior to antibiotics, the U.S. army used it to treat soldiers with gangrene. The beauty of it was that it selectively destroyed the sickly, infected tissue and left the healthy tissue alone because healthy tissue has a natural protective coating.”
Ozone is created spontaneously in nature when ultraviolet energy causes oxygen atoms to temporarily cluster into groups of three. It’s also created by electrical discharges on oxygen, such as during lightning storms. After a lightening storm, small quantities of ozone are generated, giving the air a clean, fresh scent.
Ozone can also be produced commercially in ozone generators, which send electrical discharges through specially built condensers that contain oxygen. That’s where oxygen spas and therapies come in.
European physicians first began to treat mucosal colitis and fistulae with ozone injections in the 1940s, and by the 1950s, they were tackling cancer with it. Today, approximately 8,000 licensed health practitioners in Germany, including medical doctors, naturopaths, and homeopaths) use some form of ozone therapy in their practice. Here in the U.S., though, it’s still considered somewhat experimental.
“There are several states in the U.S. where licensed medical doctors are using ozone therapies as part of their cancer treatment protocols and their results look promising,” said Marcia, who is quick to note that, at her spa, she doesn’t use any medical procedures “or even attempt to treat any diseases.”
Ozone and Allergies
But what about my burning question? Can oxygen therapies, such as Marcia’s spa, actually help to treat hayfever and allergies?
“Allergies can be exacerbated by increased histamine levels in the blood,” says Marcia. “Although it’s not a magic bullet, it makes sense that if you can oxidize and sweat out some of these toxins you might feel better. Many people opt to do a series of sessions because they notice a cumulative benefit. After all, most of us didn’t get in the shape we’re in overnight.”
So perhaps it wasn’t all in my head.
At $50-plus per half hour, oxygen spa treatments aren’t cheap. But if you think of it as an investment in safeguarding your immune system and health, it might be worth it to you. Sure beats spending the money on Claritin.
Purported Benefits of Ozone Sauna
(According to the International Steam Therapy Association)
• Relaxes and loosens muscles by reducing the buildup of lactic acid and increasing muscle flexibility.
• Oxidizes toxins so they can be eliminated through the skin, lungs, kidneys, and colon.
• Boosts blood circulation, helping injured muscles to repair quicker.
Stimulates vasodilatation of peripheral blood vessels relieving pain and speeding the healing process.
• Eliminates bacterial and viral infections of all kinds.
• Speeds up the metabolic processes of the inner organs and glands resulting in a loss of 200-450 calories in a 20-minute session.