Get Into A Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber for Glowy Skin

Get Into A Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber for Glowy Skin

Source: Allure by Talia Gutierres

Laying in an enclosed capsule that's being pumped with medical-grade oxygen might sound intense — but would you try it if it meant your skin would glow? Increased collagen production, accelerated cell regeneration, and reduced appearance of wrinkles are just some of the skin-care benefits a session in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber (a.k.a. HOC therapy) may be able to offer if you can work up the nerve. Celebrities such as Kendal Jenner and Justin Bieber have jumped onto the trend, zipping themselves up in their very own pressurized oxygen pods (in the comfort of their own homes) for convenient access to this skin-rejuvenating treatment. 

HOC therapy entails lying in a tanning bed-sized chamber that fills up with a "highly concentrated, pressurized dose of pure oxygen with levels 1.5 to three times higher than the average," explains Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist located in Connecticut. The treatment was first developed to counteract negative effects after deep sea diving and tissue damage by radiation, but a recent study concluded that it may have skin-care benefits, too. "Oxygen in high doses, like HOC therapy, recently has been found to be an important component in skin rejuvenation, treating photoaging skin, and improvement in skin complexions," says a 2014 study published in the National Library of Medicine. 

Aestheticians are now harnessing HOC therapy's effects and offering it as a treatment at their spas. I stumbled upon this treatment after a relaxing, pore-cleansing facial at Joanna Vargas Skin Care Spa in New York City. Vargas gave me a sneak peek inside the spa's very own HOC treatment room, and while this therapy is typically considered an add-on to her list of facialsmassages, and LED treatments, I couldn't resist Vargas' kind offer for me to experience the hour-long service on its own the following week. 

What is hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy?

The first recorded use of hyperbaric air therapy was in the 1660s to treat chronic conditions like decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning, but it wasn't until the 1920s that hyperbaric oxygen therapy began being used widely in medicine. The goal of breathing in pure oxygen in these types of chambers is, according to an article published on Johns Hopkins Medicine's website, "to fill the blood with enough oxygen to repair tissues and restore normal body function." In more modern times, many doctors have created their own interpretations of HOC therapy, like this pressurized hospital chamber built in the mid-1920s by Dr. John Cunningham.

We're now seeing a spike in availability for pure oxygen in the beauty aesthetics industry, in the form of treatments like oxygen bars and HydraFacials. But what does pure oxygen (also known as O2) do for the skin? "HOC is thought to increase skin elasticity and stimulate collagen production, leading to reduction of wrinkles and fine lines and improvement in skin texture," Dr. Gohara explains to Allure. In other words, she says, hyperbaric oxygen therapy jump-starts skin cell regeneration and collagen production.

While oxygen therapy has always been an integral part of Vargas' skin-care services (by way of infusions during facials and massages) Vargas chose to add a hyperbaric chamber session to the spa's long list of treatments at her namesake spa back in 2006 after trying it for herself in Los Angeles, where treatment facilities are now popping up on just about every corner. Vargas recalls her first time, noticing "an immediate glow in my skin, while feeling de-stressed and energized all at once." 

According to Vargas, much like a HydraFacial, an increase of oxygen can "increase circulation and reduces inflammation, reduce the feeling of stress in your mind and body, increase collagen production, increases elasticity, and boosts the body's ability to recover." Dr. Gohara agrees. "High concentrations of oxygen impart a change in some of the biological processes that contribute to skin working and complexion changing," she says. Is this result sustainable long-term outside the chamber? As it pertains to rejuvenation, Dr. Gohara believes more studies need to be done, but I was going to try it out anyway. 

At Joanna Vargas' spa, HOC therapy costs $160, which is on the more luxury end of the handful of spas throughout the United States that offer the treatment. Before booking your own hour-long session inside the oxygen chamber, Dr. Gohara suggests talking to your doctor to make sure you don't have any personal medical contradictions that would impact the treatment. Medical conditions like lung diseases, recent ear surgery or sensitivity, or colds are a few advisories made by Hopkins Medicine for those who should stay clear of hyperbaric oxygen chambers. 

My Personal Experience

Inside a tranquil room, two of the semi-deflated chambers laid side by side ready for use. Before the treatment started, I was talked through what to expect: "The treatment feels like a flight on an airplane, so ear-popping may occur," my aesthetician, Marina Montoya, advised. After being zipped into what looked like a pressurized tanning bed with padded flooring and a blanket, accompanied by my phone, a pillow, an iPad, and a walkie-talkie to communicate from inside the pod, she reminded me to relax and get comfortable. 

As the pressure began to rise, I watched the oxygen dial inside the pod, rise too.  She was right about the airplane feeling: I continually held my nose closed to pop my ears and relieve the mild pressure. I, otherwise, felt calm and relaxed with my Netflix and had no trouble breathing from the high concentration of oxygen being pumped inside the chamber. 

For those worried about claustrophobia, I'm right there with you — small, confined spaces and I are not the best of friends. Thankfully, the pods at Joanna Vargas' spa have plenty of peepholes where my aesthetician and I were able to make (somewhat awkward) eye contact, and that set of walkie-talkies allowed us to communicate if any questions or concerns arose, but none did. 

I did get a mild headache, a common side effect of being exposed to this new amount of oxygen pressure all at once, but I felt no dizziness or claustrophobia. And since you were able to bring your personal electronic of choice inside, Keeping Up With The Kardashians kept me occupied during my hour-long journey. I was even surprised at how fast the 60 minutes flew by.

After the session was complete, I drank a few cups of water and completed my spa visit treatment with Vargas' signature lymphatic drainage massage to improve circulation and drain stagnated fluids. The morning after my experience, I saw a noticeable reduction in the puffiness of my skin (leftover from a red-eye flight a few days before) and a subtle glow to my complexion. I know what you're thinking: Couldn't that lymphatic drainage massage and some dewy skincare have done the trick? Maybe. But my glowing skin and sculpted jawline still leads me to believe that my hour-long HOC treatment was completely worth it. 

Talia Gutierrez is the associate special projects manager at Allure. She began her career as an editorial assistant at the brand, along with Glamour and Vogue, where she covered beauty trends, launches, innovations, and pop culture news. In her spare time, she can be found filming a TikTok video, thrifting her next best apartment find, or taking a moment of self-care while trying out a new hair mask.