The new 'it' item among wealthy people is a $20,000 at-home oxygen chamber that promises to fight aging and boost libido

  • At-home hyperbaric oxygen chambers are the new craze for the wealthy.
  • Athletes use the machine to boost performance, but many older individuals have turned to it for anti-aging treatment.
  • These chambers can cost around $20,000 a pop, and many entrepreneurs and doctors have found success in selling them full time.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There may be no fountain of youth, but there could be a chamber. Just ask Atlanta, Georgia-based Louis Hilliard. 

“I’m 49 years old, but look at me, and you’d think I was in my 30s,” he told Insider. “I’d like to say I’m younger, but I can’t quite do that. My hair is not getting as grey as everyone else, I don’t wear glasses, and my sexual performance is still off the chain.”

For all that, he credits one age-defying device: a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Hilliard is a trained chiropractor, but is such an evangelist for this gizmo that he’s pivoted to selling them full time.

Think of these devices as a cross between a puffa coat and a coffin: Clamber inside the soft-shelled frame and buckle up, then wait as the standard air around you is replaced by an oxygen-enriched alternative. Spend an hour or two each day inside one of these devices, proponents claim, and you’ll enjoy similar effects to Captain America’s super soldier serum. 

Little wonder sales are surging — the pandemic has reminded everyone of their mortality, and encouraged some to look for any and all ways to both fight time and prime their bodies for peak performance.

And though they’ve long been staples of post-surgical treatment in hospitals and medical centers — as well as diving operations for their usefulness in battling DCS, better known as “the bends” — the newest trend is buying one to keep on hand at all times, at home. Entrepreneurs like Hilliard are now selling these units for around $20,000 a pop — a small price, they suggest, for slowing down aging. 

Popular with athletes and the wealthy alike

Athletes in particular are major fans of hyperbaric oxygen chambers.

“Try to get an appointment at one of the hyperbaric centers during the US Open, and you can’t — the tennis players book up every slot to help them recover,” said one New York plastic surgeon, who asked to remain anonymous so as not to damage professional relationships. Novak Djokovic reportedly brought his own unit with him so he didn’t even need to fight for a slot. NFL athletes, too, often turn to at-home hyperbarics to help finesse their fitness before key games.

Mario Chacon Jr. is the creative director of Santa Fe Springs, California-based hyperbaric therapy practice Oxy Health, which has built much of its business and reputation on servicing the sports market — in part, Chacon Jr. explained, because its 92 inch-long flagship model, the Vitaeris 320, which sells for around $24,000, is large enough to accommodate users up to 6’10” comfortably. It’s this unit that Oxy Health sold to the likes of LeBron James and Russell Wilson. 

Athletes credit using the chamber with speeding up more than just their muscles healing. “It’s about clear thinking, too, because it’s so peaceful in there — it opens up so many different doors to relaxing and doing great things with their minds,” Chacon Jr. said. 

He continued that most power users of the at-home chambers that Oxy Health sells install them right next to their beds, for convenience — they don’t overnight in them, however, as there’s little bonus benefit to spending hours rather than 90 minutes or so inside. The firm has plans to launch a new, hard-shelled unit more like a self-contained room, which could offer higher levels of pressure.

Athletes might also occasionally opt for a session after a night of partying, not just an evening on the court. “You can also use it like a drip in Las Vegas after a heavy night out, it will revitalize and rejuvenate you,” added another New York-based surgeon who asked to remain anonymous.

A few sessions in a chamber can turbocharge a facelift

Hyperbaric chambers can also act as alternatives to invasive face lifts or surgery, as Sasha, a 37-year old nurse from Staten Island, New York, who asked to only use her first name, knows firsthand. Sasha spent 10 sessions in a chamber on the advice of plastic surgeon Kevin Tehrani. “I’d heard of hyperbaric chambers before in the context of helping burn victims, and I thought it was worth giving it a try,” she said. “My skin healed from being completely lifeless.”

Sessions like those Sasha underwent, where patients spend time sitting or lying in a hospital-grade chamber, can cost up to $350 per hour in New York. NY-based surgeon Sean Alemi estimated that 10% to 15% of his patients now opt for this treatment, which both turbocharges wound healing and offers a face-tightening boost at the same time.

“One of my patients had her face and eyes done, and there’s always bruising after that — it’s about two weeks of downtime,” he said. “She was really bruised under her eyes and markedly along her neck. The following day after the first treatment, he added, “the bruising was almost gone under her eyes.”

“It’s not typical, but it was the most remarkable improvement I’ve seen in any patient,” he said.

One manufacturer drew inspiration from an unlikely source: the Bible

Bruce McKeeman, a former IT executive, is the owner and founder of Summit to Sea, one of the foremost suppliers of at-home units.

He took an unconventional path to the sector. McKeeman was homeschooling his kids with his wife Judy in Minnesota when the idea for Summit to Sea emerged — they were studying creationist science. 

“It was about the pre-flood earth, where with all the waters above and below, the atmospheric pressure was double what it is today — in that environment, an oak leaf would be the size of a small tent,” he said, “We had studied the Bible for years, and wondered, How did they live so long in the book of Genesis? It was because they were breathing 40% oxygen under two times the pressure. Their bodies were healing themselves and rejuvenating.”

He quickly ordered some hyperbaric chambers from a mountaineering firm in France, which had long made them for climbers, another group prone to altitude sickness. McKeeman then tinkered with the design until he had a consumer-friendly version that would emphasize health benefits.

That was 13 years ago, and the couple has gone on to sell thousands of their at-home units since. “Get into that chamber, and when you come out after an hour, you feel like superman or superwoman,” McKeeman said.

Recent studies suggest there’s dependable science underpinning theories

Alemi likens the impact of a session inside one to the way CO2 is dissolved into a can of soda. “Only a small amount of oxygen is dissolved in the blood, but a high-pressure chamber like this forces it to take on more — your blood can carry way more oxygen than it does,” he said. “All of a sudden, that increased amount in the tissues helps them heal way faster.”

Scientists at Tel Aviv University conducted clinical trials to explore this claim earlier this year, placing 35 healthy adults aged 64 or older into such chambers for 90 minutes every day for three months. The results, published in November 2020, were startling: The telomeres, the protective caps on chromosomes that shrink as we age, had regrown more than 20%, and their senescent cells — in other words, dying ones — had been reduced by more than a third.

Not all manufacturers, though, believe in the healing power of these at-home units. Dr. Trevor Baret, who’s based in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, represents Premier Hyperbarics, which is produced by Sands Manufacturing in Los Angeles. Baret claimed that the technology was developed by his San Diego, California-based father in law, a doctor, who was a pioneer in the hyperbaric oxygen therapy space. He also dismissed the idea that units configured for residential use can be as impactful as those installed in surgical settings, largely because the pressure achieved in the former usually maxes out at 1.5 ATA, or atmospheres.

“I have yet to see a study supporting the use of 1.5 ATA or less for post-surgical use,” Baret told Insider. “All of the research I have seen which supports the use of HBOT with wounds of any sort, including surgical after-care, has been done with the higher pressure chambers fully charged with oxygen because the ideal prescription for wound care requires pressures above 2 ATA. It is not possible with a home-based chamber. “

Still, some users offer first-hand testimony to their healing benefits, like 75-year-old Jim McKee, who lives in Palm Desert, California. He and his wife, Gill, bought not one, but two at-home hyperbaric chambers 20 years ago, spurred initially by the chance to treat Gill’s muscular dystrophy. They installed one in their houseboat and another in their motor home, and both use them regularly. McKee had been an athlete himself, so was keen to offset long-term joint damage.

“When I bought it, I noticed it made my skin feel softer and smoother overall — the tone to my forearms, legs, thighs, neck improved,” he said. “I didn’t use a lot of lotion, but I don’t have wrinkles; people say I look about 55. And my wife has a group of friends she sees every couple of years. All the same age, and despite her disorder, she looks much younger than they all do.”

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