If you find yourself gasping for air duing finals week, there may be a solution.
[oxy1] “Oxygen bars” are springing up all over the country, including making an appearance in East Lansing in early December at Bronze Bay Tanning. “Its purpose is to oxygenate your blood,” said Erin Devine, a part-time Bronze Bay Tanning employee and marketing junior. An oxygen bar at a tanning salon might seem like an odd combo, but Devine explained an increase in oxygen allows for a better tan by eliminating white spots on the skin.
Since the oxygen can also energize or relax users, Devine said most of the business’ customers are MSU students who come in to get rejuvenated before or after they drink alcohol at neighboring bars. But perhaps most importantly, she said using oxygen can eliminate the unpleasant feelings after a night of drinking. “It’s the next best thing to curing a hangover,” she said.
Devine explained that there is not a “high” involved, a common misconception about using oxygen (it’s not the “laughing gas” you might experience at the dentist). “You get energized, like when drinking a Red Bull,” she said. The cost of inhaling oxygen is a dollar a minute and sessions generally range from five to 20 minutes. Devine suggested using the oxygen for at least 10 minutes to feel an effect.
Dave Burnell, an interdisciplinary studies in human resources junior, tried an oxygen bar while vacationing several years ago in the Virgin Islands. “I wouldn’t necessarily say there is a ‘high’ like with other drugs, but there is a euphoria to it that is very pleasant,” Burnell said. “It is very relaxing.”
[oxypq] Communication junior Jennifer Saksa used oxygen at a club while on spring break in Cancun last March. “My nose tingled slightly – we had to put these tube things in our nose and I felt as if I could breathe better because of it,” Saksa said. “After we were done with our session we felt slightly buzzed and lightheaded, but it was a good high.”
Saksa, like many oxygen users, had been drinking alcohol beforehand. “My friend and I were both really tired so we weren’t drinking a ton,” she said. “The oxygen bar, however, did really wake us up. We were contemplating going home but ended up staying for three or so more hours because we were so awake.”
Many users report similar effects, but the medical community is a bit more skeptical. Actually, it seems many health officials are unaware oxygen bars even exist, let alone the effects inhaling oxygen in this form can have on the user. “There is no science to demonstrate this euphoria,” Dean Sienko, medical director of the Ingham County Health Department, said. “A dose of oxygen could be a placebo – it is certainly open to some debate.” Sienko said oxygen is needed for cells to function, but that human beings do not do well with higher levels.
The American Lung Association has released a statement saying there is no evidence the low-flow levels of oxygen used in bars can be dangerous to a normal person’s health. According to a report released by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002, most oxygen bars use either “aviators breathing oxygen” or oxygen extracted out of the air in the bar. Aviators breathing oxygen is a medical-grade oxygen intended for commercial or private aircraft use and is at least 99 percent pure.
The agency warned aviators breathing oxygen should not be used recreationally or for medical therapeutic treatment of humans or animals. Many oxygen bars that extract oxygen from air circulating inside the bar use a concentrator, which filters out the nitrogen and other gases. It then releases concentrated oxygen that is about 95 percent pure through the hose and up into the nostrils.
[oxy2] However, oxygen users at bars with concentrators continue to inhale the surrounding air, along with the oxygen pumped through the nose hose, which reduces the concentration. The purity is again decreased when oxygen is pumped through an aroma source. Sometimes the concentration can be as low as 50 percent oxygen, according to the FDA report. Devine said the oxygen bar in Bronze Bay Tanning, which uses a concentrator, produces 95 percent oxygen. “It’s only beneficial,” she said. “No one is allergic to oxygen.”
To make the oxygen experience even more appealing, users can choose from a variety of aromas, from traditional ones such as vanilla or strawberry to more exotic ones like eclipse or nirvana. “Watermelon was my personal favorite – it made me feel like it was summertime out and I was eating fresh watermelon,” Burnell said.
The aromas are produced by bubbling oxygen through bottles containing aromatic solutions. The vaporized scent is then pumped through the hose and inhaled by the user. Many bars, such as the one in Bronze Bay Tanning, use oil-free particles to produce them, but others may use aroma oils. The FDA reported inhaling oily substances can cause serious inflammation of the lungs, called lipoid pneumonia. If an oil-free medium is used, the purity or sterility of the aerosol that is generated is still not guaranteed.
According to the FDA, susceptible customers run the risk of inhaling allergens or irritants that could cause wheezing. If live contaminants such as bacteria or other pathogens are inhaled, an infection could form in the lungs. “A better way to get euphoric would be to do 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise,” Sienko said. “You’d get the same level of euphoria and it would be better for your health.”
Since the oxygen in bars is not compressed, or 100 percent oxygen, it is not considered medical and does not require a license to be dispensed. The bar in Bronze Bay Tanning is distriubted by Breathe Inc., and the company certifies that the device does not use medical oxygen, which is a prescription drug, and that the bars comply with federal regulations as defined by the U.S. Pharmacopeia.
Oxygen bars have popped up around the world since that late 1990s and so far are only growing in popularity. Both Saksa and Burnell said they would use oxygen again if the opportunity arose. “It’s something very new to try,” Burnell said. “College students are very adventurous and it’s something that you can enjoy with all your friends.” Devine described using oxygen as a “new wave” concept. “It’s appealing because it is in big metro areas – it’s trendy and sleek,” she said.
Using oxygen may be trendy, but if the medical community isn’t sure the oxygen actually relaxes or energizes (already a contradiction), it might not be worth it. But then again, these days a breath of fresh air and the possibility of some relaxation might be worth every penny.
Read the complete FDA report at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2002/602_air.html.

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