O2 Ithaca

Kristina Engel, of O2 Ithaca, during a stop on the Commons. One day, the Engels hope to open their own oxygen bar on the Commons. 

Medicinal alternatives are on the rise throughout the country and one such alternative turns breathing into a hangover cure, a study aid, and in some cases, aromatherapy. 

Oxygen bars are places where people go for satisfaction through olfaction, aiming to find some relief after 10 minutes of breathing in oxygen. Kristina and Kevin Engel, the owners of O2 Ithaca, have found that a breath of fresh air can do more than just keep you alive, but can bring mental and physical health benefits with it too.

During a trip to Las Vegas in 2018, Kevin discovered oxygen bars as a new wave of treatment in alternative medicine. He learned they were sprouting up around the city and were touted as remedies for hangovers. While there, he learned more about some of the claimed medicinal properties and heard more about the growing number of oxygen bars throughout the rest of the country. His wife, Kristina, said the bars aren’t like traditional medicine, but rather delve deep into the mind-body experience.

“It’s kind of similar to that of essential oils, exercise, and those types of things that can provide a lot of health benefits,” Kristina said. “This is one of those things that works how you want to work it. It’s been touted to help with sleep, but it has also been touted to help with synergy [...] It depends on what you're looking for. If you want to add aromatherapy, you can add in frankincense, that would help with breathing.”

O2 Ithaca has been in operation since June of 2018, although the Engels took some time off after having their first child when they decided to start the business. O2 Ithaca uses an oxygen concentrator, which makes their oxygen different from the air used in medical establishments since it doesn’t need to be compressed. It’s also different from what people breathe in because the concentrator rids the oxygen of any chemicals. Kristina likened it to taking a walk and breathing “nice, amazing deep breaths,” but without any of the normal pollutants that are ever-present in our air. 

“Instead of having all the extra chemicals in the oxygen, our oxygen concentrator takes everything else out of it,” Engel said. “The oxygen in the air you breathe is only about 20 to 21 percent, believe it or not. The oxygen concentrator brings it up to 90 percent. The benefits of oxygen are not new to anybody. You go outside and take a walk and of course, that’s going to be helpful. But, this is just something where it concentrates it and gives you so much more of the good stuff and way less of the bad.”

Much like when they first discovered oxygen bars in Las Vegas, Kristina has found one of their most popular uses is indeed as a hangover cure. When someone is drinking, the brain doesn’t circulate enough oxygen to the brain, causing a person to become dehydrated. Using the oxygen bar would get more oxygen flowing through the brain, leaving a person less likely to experience symptoms of a hangover.

As for the future of O2 Ithaca, the Engels would like to establish a location of their own on the Commons, which would have a spa-like atmosphere. They are also interested in going around to bars as a means of preventive medicine for anyone suffering from early hangover symptoms. 

Until recently, the Engels rented out their oxygen bar to others, but a partnership with Chiropractic Health Care (CHC) on State Street, run by Dr. Rebecca VonBergen, has given them a home. VonBergen was interested in partnering with them after seeing O2 Ithaca at several summer festivals last year. Their first set of hours will be some time during mid-July. Working with VonBergen has allowed the company to acquire a decent supply of essential oils to add flavor to their oxygen, and according to Engel, their most popular ones are peppermint, lemongrass, lavender, eucalyptus, and citrus fresh, which is a blend of different citrus oils.  

“They’re good for a lot of different things, but number one, peppermint is good for digestion, which is the stomach, which is where a lot of the hangover relief can come from,” Engel said. “So, it’s good for that. The lemongrass is good for mindset and grounding. That one is used a lot for calm and focus. Eucalyptus is for breathing, asthmatics, sleep apnea, or people suffering from a cold. My husband and I have put the cannulas on when we have a cold. That helps so much. Then, the citrus fresh is for energizing, vitality, and to wake you up. And lavender is good for sleep.”

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(1) comment

Ithaca Jack

Sadly, this is another Ithaca Times article that promotes pseudoscience without even the hint of skepticism. The funniest part, in my opinion, is when they note that oxygen in the air" is only about 20 to 21 percent, believe it or not." They imply that the rest are chemical impurities, when our air is naturally a mix of gases, with most of it (~78%) being nitrogen gas. This is very, very close to the same mix of gases we evolved to breathe over millions of years. Like aromatherapy itself, the claims for oxygen bars are way overblown. One hint is that when someone tries to sell the idea that it does for you whatever you need it to do for you, it most likely does nothing at all extraordinary for relatively healthy individuals and is therefore a waste of money.