Shot at Beauty in an Oxygen Gun

MTViktoria Agafonova giving Zhanna Inagomus, 20, a shot of oxygen treatment at her salon near Belorusskaya metro.
Viktoria Agafanova held a gun to the woman's head and fired. A strong stream of cool oxygen shot out, hissing.

"The oxygen shot is strong enough to put minerals and vitamins into the dermis and epidermis," said Agafanova, a facial cosmetologist with 20 years of experience.

As her client, Zhanna Inagomus, 20, relaxed under a blanket on a table, Agafanova worked the stream of oxygen over Inagomus' face, the jet making a deep depression in her skin.

When asked if it hurt, she calmly shook her head no.

"Most of the clients really like it," said Agafanova, who has been working with the oxygen gun for about five years.

"Some people don't like the cold. Everyone is waiting for the summer when the cold will be nice," she said.

In a culture obsessed with beauty and image, the air, or more precisely, the oxygen gun, is one methods used by women to get around the "no pain, no gain" maxim.

Agafanova claims that the air gun is a viable alternative to painful injections of medicines or homeopathic medications, plant extracts, vitamins and other ingredients into subcutaneous fat that are said to reduce fat deposits in the skin, a practice called mesotherapy.

"This is an alternative to mesotherapy. Many women don't want the pain," she said.

The oxygen is more than just a delivery method -- many claim that it is antibacterial and has other meaningful benefits.

"Once I read the literature, I immediately understood that it is very healthy," Agafanova said.

Oxygen as a medication is not a new quasi-medical treatment for Russians.

In the Soviet era, it was common to order kislorodniye kokteili, or oxygen cocktails, for the whole family while on holiday at state-funded sanatoria.

Oxygen was foamed into a frothy milk mixture and consumed, although most children were too young to determine whether it had any specific effects.

Although oxygen cocktails can still be bought in Russia, at least one retailer has updated the name of the product to the much healthier sounding portmanteau of ekoteil.

Today, oxygen bars are difficult to find in Moscow, but they exist.

"It helps in the general working of the whole body, raising energy levels and alertness and increasing blood circulation," said Marina Delibash, who works in the press office of AirCare, an oxygen products supplier.

Others claim that it lessens the effects of hangovers, headaches and sinus problems.

"You can inhale everyday. An hour is the most you need," Delibash said.

She said the two most popular aromas were grape juice and apple juice.

"We can make it taste like any fruit juice," she said.

She said clients come from all over to buy the equipment required to set up an oxygen bar. She has had requests from Ukraine, Khanty-Mansiisk and St. Petersburg.

But there are no long-term, well-controlled scientific studies that support the claims that such oxygen treatments are beneficial to healthy people.

According to doctors, humans evolved to live in an atmosphere of about 21 percent oxygen (about 78 percent of the atmosphere is actually nitrogen), and people with healthy lungs do not need additional oxygen.

The American Lung Association reported that there is no reason to believe that low levels of oxygen inhaled at an oxygen bar would be harmful. However, people with some types of heart disease, asthma, congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, such as emphysema, should think twice about taking a breath of that apple flavored oxygen -- since it could stop them from breathing.