Pop-in pod that boosts your skin – and your immunity

Pop-in pod that boosts your skin — and your immunity: And slims you down, too. In just 30 minutes! Geraldine Bedell discovers whether it’s too good to be true

  • Ozone therapy promises to improve skin and strengthen the immune system
  • According to NASA, ozone is a gas made up of three oxygen molecules
  • Geraldine Bedell gives verdict on the treatment at Harrods in Knightsbridge
  • A single 30-minute session at Harrods Urban Retreat costs £80 

Looking at the list of conditions a new ozone sauna treatment can supposedly treat, my first thought is: ‘Wow, is there anything it can’t do?’

Apparently ozone therapy improves the skin. It gets rid of acne, psoriasis, eczema and fungal infections. It strengthens the immune system, eases arthritis and takes away aches and pains. It helps weight loss. It’s anti-ageing. It freshens your complexion. Oh, and it also helps with sleep. All in one effortless 30-minute treatment.

It sounds mightily impressive and, as I definitely need better skin and fewer aches and pains, I am keen to put it to the test. There’s one fly in the ointment though, I don’t really know what ‘ozone’ is.

I decide to look it up — and where better than the NASA website? — where I learn ozone is a gas made up of three oxygen molecules (which gives it the chemical symbol O3). It’s mostly found in the upper atmosphere, where it creates the ozone layer that helps protect the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Geraldine Bedell gives her verdict on the ozone therapy on offer at Harrods Urban Retreats in Knightsbridge. Pictured: Geraldine in the Hocatt pod

In the middle atmosphere, however, ozone is less appealing, created by pollutants from vehicle exhausts, petrol vapours and other emissions.

And it gets worse: down at ground level, ‘high concentrations of ozone are toxic to people and plants’.

The European Environment Agency is even less encouraging, describing ozone as ‘a colourless gas with a pungent smell’.

My enthusiasm is waning but I do have a stiff shoulder, a bad ankle, lockdown weight-gain, a tendency to wake up at 4am … the more I think about it, the more I realise I am badly in need of a detoxing fix.

It’s a mystery why anyone would want to create a therapy around such a troublesome substance. In fact, the idea of using ozone therapeutically has been around for more than a century.

The inventor, Nikola Tesla, developed the first ozone-generating machine in 1896, producing a medical grade ozone harmless to humans, which bubbled through oils to make a paste used to treat skin conditions.

Today’s advanced machines have only been available for about ten years. I am about to climb into a top-of-the-range Hocatt (Hyperthermic Ozone and Carbonic Acid Transdermal Technology), the most up-to-date model, which looks like a contraption from a Bond villain’s lair.

Geraldine (pictured) had to sign a form acknowledging that detoxing can result in adverse reactions including flu-like symptoms and a skin rash 

There are only a handful of these pods in the UK. Two in London are at Urban Retreat, a spa tucked away behind Harrods in Knightsbridge.

In an airy room at the top of the spa, the gleaming white pods are waiting. My first impression is that if you were going to be cryogenically frozen, this is the sort of thing you’d get into.

As I prepare to strip off and step in, my therapist, Jasmina, talks me through the treatment, explaining that ozone is a detox therapy. It kills bacteria, viruses and fungi that can lead to skin conditions such as acne and rashes and stimulates the immune system.

The Hocatt pod combines ozone with various other therapies, such as photon light therapy for balance, energy and relaxation; and Far Infrared Radiation (FIR) which sends gentle radiant heat to the body’s tissues to stimulate the production of hormones and enzymes, dilating pores and improving circulation. All this also promises to diminish cellulite, and relieve muscle and joint pain.

I have to sign a form acknowledging that detoxing can result in adverse reactions, a so-called ‘cleaning crisis’. If this occurs, the disclaimer says, ‘you may experience anything from flu-like symptoms to a skin rash’.

Geraldine (pictured) was reassured by Jasmina that that you need to be pretty toxic to experience any adverse reactions

Jasmina assures me this is very unlikely. You need to be pretty toxic in the first place for this to happen and, anyway, on the first treatment, (it’s recommended you have two to three a week over several weeks) only 50 per cent of the maximum ozone is pumped into the pod.

I undress, wrap myself in a towel, and Jasmina helps me into the pod. I sit while she cuts a hole in a plastic sheet and puts it over my head to stop any gas escaping.

She closes one flap, then the other, and arranges towels behind my head and round my neck. This is partly for comfort and partly, again, to stop the gas escaping.

Jasmina positions an oxygen jet just in front of my nose, which reminds me of being sedated for an operation. I put my feet on the metal electrode pads that deliver the electrotherapy — electrical impulses I can’t feel at all, but which, I’m told, stimulate my muscles, nervous system and cells.

Steam drifts into the capsule. It’s like being in a steam room, except without the usual catch of breath from the heat, because your head is sticking out of the top. The temperature doesn’t go above 40c and doesn’t feel particularly hot, although after a short time I do start sweating.

Geraldine (pictured) said the treatment made her feel warm and pleasantly dozy, after three minutes the ozone began reacting with the steam

Other than that, I can’t really see, or feel, any of what’s going on. The light therapy is all happening inside the pod. The infrared rays stimulating the cells are all hidden. A lot is going on, all at the same time, but I can’t say I’m aware of any of it.

Carbon dioxide is pumped into the chamber which reacts with the steam to produce carbonic acid, which quietens the nervous system and relieves tension. What with this and the oxygen up your nose, people often fall asleep. I felt warm and pleasantly dozy.

After three minutes, the ozone arrives and reacts with the steam to create a sterilising agent. The whole thing is very relaxing. It makes me think of the Eighties film Cocoon, in which old people found some pods, climbed into them, and were rejuvenated. Let’s hope. As the 30-minute session ends, the machinery behind the pod starts whooshing — which signals the ozone is being sucked out. Then it’s time to open up the flaps and find a new me.

My skin feels softer and smells faintly of the eucalyptus essential oil Jasmina introduced with the steam. I am advised not to shower for the rest of the day to let the oil sink into my skin.

Geraldine (pictured) said two days after the treatment her stiff shoulder began to feel loser and her bad ankle became less annoying 

Ozone therapy requires little effort and the general manager of Urban Spa, Jo Harris, tells me, it’s most popular with those who have specific issues, such as arthritis of the knee.

Some people, though, come simply to boost their immunity.’ Urban Spa acquired its two machines in January and, despite the Covid interruption, they’ve been incredibly popular.

The trouble is it’s hard to be sure what a treatment at cellular level is doing and how successful it’s been. Over the next two days, my stiff shoulder does feel looser. My bad ankle is less annoying. I can’t say my lockdown weight-gain has disappeared, but I do sleep well.

How long-lasting is it? Not very, unfortunately. You may have been thoroughly disinfected inside the pod but, as soon as you emerge, bacteria settle once more.

Jo recommends a course of treatments over several weeks. A single, 30-minute session costs £80, though many people buy a package: Urban Retreat charges £50 per session for 12.

I think I may, unfortunately, have to settle for being riddled with bacteria for the time being.

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