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ISSUE 119 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/12/2006

Oxygen bars create buzz, aroma

By David Henke
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 12, 2006

I was a little skeptical when I saw the sky-blue exterior of the Oxynate oxygen bar in the Mall of America.

Nevertheless, my curiosity was piqued: an advertisement on the wall promised that the “spa-like” experience would relieve my hangovers and headaches, and the fabulous recliners spaced evenly around the bar were dangerously inviting.

Unfortunately, the cost of a 20 minute session was $20 dollars – a little bit more than I had in my wallet at the time, so I had to settle for an interview over the phone.

The receptionist that I spoke to told me that Oxynate is billed as a recreational bar. A typical 20 minute session is divided up into two segments. In the first 15 minutes, a customer receives a back massage courtesy of a reclining massage chair, while listening to his or her choice of relaxing music. During the last five minutes of the session, a customer moves to the bar. There, he or she receives a concentrated energy drink, a Powerade, and, according to their website, “a spritz of liquid oxygen.”

What makes the bar unique, besides the dubious liquid oxygen spritz, is the fact that, during 20 minutes of a relaxation session, a customer receives concentrated oxygen and aromatherapy through a nose tube called a cannula. The receptionist, Sharon, assured me that a 20 minute session would leave me feeling “revitalized, energetic, calm and awake.”

“It feels like all of your senses just woke up,” she said, in a voice that would have soothed a rampaging wild boar. The oxygen is extracted out of the air and concentrated so that the air coming through the cannula is 90-92 percent oxygen. However, because a customer only breathes the concentrated oxygen in through the nose, and is still able to breathe the store air through his or her mouth, the concentration of oxygen that is actually received is much lower: around 50 percent.

In addition to the supposed benefits of breathing this concentrated oxygen already listed, the Oxynate website claims that a visit to one of their stores will reduce the effects of aging, relieve muscle stiffness and stabilize the nervous system. I wasn't sold on the idea yet, so I inquired into the nature of the aromatherapy. Hawaiian ginger, rosemary-mint and beach-scented oxygen were a few of the various aromas that Oxynate customers could try. However, one of the FDA's biggest concerns in regards to oxygen bars is their use of aromatherapy, or flavored oxygen.

According to an article sponsored by the FDA website, some oxygen bars use scented oils, which can cause serious inflammation of the lungs. Even bars like Oxynate, that use oil-free, food-grade particles to achieve their effect, cannot guarantee the sterility of their aroma mixture, and some customers may run the risk of inhaling allergens which may cause them to wheeze.

Despite the cautionary wording of the FDA article, the Mall of America Oxynate has maintained a large, returning customer base since its opening in April 2005.

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