Aug 08 2013

Ozone Sauna

I literally get multiple questions a day about one pseudoscience or another. I will never get through them all, because new ones are being created faster than they can be examined. It is a game of whack-a-mole where the number of holes that the moles pop out of keeps increasing.

For that reason my primary goal is not just to inform my readers about one particular form of pseudoscience, but to improve critical thinking skills and working knowledge of science so that they can examine the next dubious claim on their own (the whole – give someone a fish you feed them for a day, teach them how to fish you feed them for life).  The actual topics I cover are often of secondary concern (unless they are particularly widespread and pernicious).

So, the somewhat arbitrary topic I have chosen for today, based on an e-mail question I received, is ozone sauna. The e-mailer reports about his friend:

He was given treatment using an Ozone sauna together with a much healthier diet of mainly raw vegetables. During the two weeks he lost 16lb and generally feels great. He puts this all down to the Ozone sauna! Could you please advise me if there is any proof that these are effective as he was told at the health club that they detox the body and kill all viruses, cure aids and cancer and are generally a miracle cure! All I can find on the net is adverts and woo regarding them. What are the facts.

It is unfortunate that Google searches on most snake-oil topics are overwhelmed with commercial sites selling the snake oil.  Often I am asked a question that essentially amounts to – will you do a Google search for me? That’s fine, as searching is a skill that needs to be developed.

I searched on this topic, and the first hit I got was a critical analysis. The difference is that I knew where to search. There are two basic strategies that will help you get to the skeptical resources you’re looking for. The first is to know where the deep resources are, and go straight for them. In this case I plugged in the terms, “ozone therapy” and “Quackwatch,” and came up with a Quackwatch article that had all the info I needed, including a nice list of references.  Science-Based Medicine is another deep resource on medical issues. PubMed is a good resource for primary articles, but these can often be technical.

The second basic strategy is to search on multiple variations of the term and include other phrases that might bring critical articles closer to the top, including “skeptic,” “skeptical,” “hoax,” “scam,” “evidence,” “scientific analysis,” “critical,” or other variations of similar terms. Be a little persistent and see which strategies work best.

Ozone Therapy

So what does the Quackwatch article have to say? It is a well sourced and written article (by Saul Green), so I simply recommend that if you are interested in the topic, just read the article itself. Here is the conclusion:

Oxygenation therapists proposed that disease is caused by absence of oxygen and loss of cellular ability to use oxygen for “good energy” metabolism, detoxification, and immune system function. Oxygen therapies are proposed in order to restore the body’s ability to produce “good” energy, to “detoxify” metabolic poisons, and to kill invading organisms. However, over the five decades that have passed since this concept was proposed, scientists have shown that:

  1. Anerobic energy metabolism (fermentation) is not the cause of cancer.
  2. Koch’s glyoxylide does not exist.
  3. Ingestion, infusion, or injection of hydrogen peroxide cannot re-oxygenate the tissues of the body.
  4. Ozone-treated blood infused during autohemotherapy does not kill AIDS virus in vivo.

This article is from 1998 so I did more searching on PubMed. Before I discuss this, however, let me give a bit more background. Ozone is O3 – three oxygen atoms bound together. It is a highly reactive oxygen molecule. It has two potential overall effects – providing more oxygen to tissues, and using oxidative reactions to kill bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

This is ironic because it flies in the face of the whole antioxidant craze, and it brings up a major weakness of that craze. Oxygen and oxygen free radicals are a two-edged sword. Tissues need oxygen, and they use oxygen free radicals as part of the immune system to kill invaders, but they also damage host tissue. So there needs to be a delicate balance. Pushing this balance in one direction or the other, with antioxidants or ozone, is unlikely to provide side-effect free benefits, and may cause more harm than good.

Having said that – ozone therapy has some legitimate uses – mainly external (topical, dental, or on blood products) to kill bacteria. It has been shown to inactivate HIV, but so do many other things that are not useful in therapy.

Here is the bottom line, more than a decade after the above Quackwatch article was written – ozone is a useful molecule for killing bugs and is finding some external uses. It has not been shown to be effective for internal use, it is not a treatment for HIV or cancer. Further, it should not be assumed to be safe or without any negative effects.

The further claim made by proponents that ozone therapy “detoxifiers” is pure pseudoscience. Nonspecific detoxification itself is a scam, whether by ozone or any other method.


Ozone therapy is just another in an endless line of pseudoscientific claims made without adequate justification. Ozone itself may have some useful applications as a highly reactive molecule, but is not useful as part of a sauna or similar use.

That information is available online, but I understand it can be tricky to find it. Finding and evaluating the quality of information is increasingly becoming a critical life skill.

20 responses so far

20 thoughts on “Ozone Sauna”

  1. Bronze Dog says:

    The second basic strategy is to search on multiple variations of the term and include other phrases that might bring critical articles closer to the top, including “skeptic,” “skeptical,” “hoax,” “scam,” “evidence,” “scientific analysis,” “critical,” or other variations of similar terms. Be a littler persistent and see which strategies work best.

    Pretty much what I do whenever I feel like responding to a troll’s citations. I usually leave it up to more experienced skeptical commentators to do it, but I should probably get back into the practice. If the study itself is nonsense, there will probably be a skeptical site that points out all the flaws. If they’re using a legit study to back up nonsense, there’s often someone who spells out how the woos are making bogus extrapolations.

    The strategy doesn’t always work, though. Sometimes I’ve gotten annoying results like the “I used to be a skeptic” testimonials, absurd rants about how the disease and/or the scientific treatment are hoaxes covering up the “real” problem, or a quack declaring themselves to be the real McCoy, so don’t let the imitator quacks fool you.

  2. CW says:

    Another decent search engine tool for skeptic-minded folks is from Greg Laden’s blog, the skeptical search engine:

    My understanding is that you can type in a word or term, and it will only search the science-based or skeptic websites and give you results to their articles. I’ve used it often and have had good success.

  3. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Someone showed me this handy thing recently:

  4. Sherrington says:

    Just for fun, I just Googled “ozone sauna,” and the fifth link was to this blog.
    I wonder if there is some way that skeptics can work together to make sure that the articles near the top of the search list for common pseudoscientific topics are those with a skeptical view. I assume those near the top are the most viewed.
    Of course, it may not matter — confirmation bias may be too powerful for the article position to matter.

  5. locutusbrg says:

    Please correct me if I am wrong but Ozone is inherently irritating to the lungs.
    In my understanding ozone triggers:
    An increase in small airway obstruction
    A decrease in the integrity of the airway epithelium
    An increase in nonspecific airway reactivity
    A decrease in phagocytic activity of alveolar macrophages

    If you sit in a hot room filled with ozone aren’t you risking a major COPD/Asthma incident. This occurs a a very small concentration. So even if this treatment is in any way effective isn’t it extremely dangerous?

  6. TheFlyingPig says:

    I appreciate, use, and recommend to others the search techniques advised here for medical-related issues. I also know resources for dealing with Creationists, Christianity, or skepticism in general. Are there any good websites for dealing with global warming denialism?

    I’m fairly libertarian, and this topic comes up from time to time… I usually get a strong negative reaction when I claim that global warming is a scientific fact and almost certainly caused by humans. I think I do fine dealing with the psychological/political biases and non-skeptical way they’re approaching the topic. But multiple people bring up a Gish Gallop of claims and ‘facts’ at the same time. I am not an expert on this topic, so I really can’t deal with most of their claims. So are there some useful, compact websites (like quackwatch, talk origins, or SBM) for global warming?

    Thanks for any responses,

  7. TheFlyingPig says:


    Thanks for the skeptical search engine. All I had to do was type in “global warming” and I have what look like a few excellent sources that answer m previous post!

  8. jettero says:

    My doctor con’d me out of $400 in 2003 for an ELISA test. In 2010 I got another one, cuz they change over time, and it was so radically different I became suspicious. Haven’t trusted a thing he’s said since and double check everything using the internet.

    The special diet totally worked because I really am allergic to a few foods and they were pretty much all on the special diet. 4 items vs 24 randomly generated ones. Whatever. I’d find a new doctor, but that’s an annoying process and the next guy could be just as bad.

  9. tmac57 says:

    @TheFlyingPig- For AGW denialism debunking you couldn’t do much better than Skeptical Science (SkS) :

  10. TheFlyingPig says:

    @tmac57 – Thanks. That’s the first website I found using the “skeptical search engine” CW linked to above. I perused it for a bit, and it is very well designed and the information looks solid.

  11. Bruce Woodward says:

    “He was given treatment using an Ozone sauna together with a much healthier diet of mainly raw vegetables. During the two weeks he lost 16lb and generally feels great. He puts this all down to the Ozone sauna!”

    I love how he got some woo treatment and at the same time ate healthier food and immediately jumps to the conclusion that it was the woo that helped. This is just like those weight loss pill ads which have the disclaimer “to be taken along with a calorie controlled diet”. We are supposed to eat fewer calories and take the pills and then give the credit to the pills for the inevitable weight loss!

    /Picard facepalm

  12. pdeboer says:

    I find it useful as a critical thinking tool to reverse this technique on some science claims to see the fallacious logic of the opposition. Its also a good method to refine your fact checking skills too.

    Just type AIDS hoax into google and see what nonsense comes up. Then try to substantiate the dubious claims with legitimate science. Its frustrating when its just a fabrication, but most of the time you can find some reference taken out of context, or a conclusion made on the research that the researcher never claimed.

    Caution, it will be a little depressing, because a lot of denialism is linked with some hatred for some group, be they government, medical scientist, etc. Its satisfying to follow a reference chain and see the broken telephone game they play.

  13. Aardwark says:


    Your comment made me reflect upon a subtype of quackery that, in a way, is even more irritating than the usual – namely, using validated science-based diagnostic methods and then allowing gross pseudo-scientific interpretations of results.

    Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) are, just as your experience illustrates, a perfect example. This is an elegant and powerful diagnostic technology used to measure quantities of specific substances in bodily fluids. It is based on monoclonal antibodies that specifically recognize and bind the molecule that is being investigated. These antibodies are labeled with an enzyme, leading to a proportional quantity of a colored reaction product.

    However, as you seem to have found out the hard way, some quacks have found ELISA a useful material for their schemes – there are laboratories that claim to measure – by a ‘sort of’ ELISA – ‘responses of lymphocytes’ to ‘allergens’. This does not work at all, the results have just as much meaning as if they just put down numbers by random. I feel that this is an example of the most insidious form of quackery – one that, in its alleged principles, comes very close to the real thing – and yet is light-years away from it.

    One potential harm this type of quack does, apart from separating people from their money and suggesting to them lifestyle changes without any benefit (or, at least, without any additional reason to think there is one), is to reduce the public credibility of perfectly good scientific methods, like ELISA. For instance, anti-gliadin antibodies Dr Novella mentioned in the previous article, are routinely being measured by an ELISA test. But, unlike the quacks’ version, for legitimate ELISA what is measured is meaningful and there is evidence-based knowledge about how to interpret results.

  14. ccbowers says:

    “Whatever. I’d find a new doctor, but that’s an annoying process and the next guy could be just as bad.”

    Do it. It’s a hassle, and there isn’t a great and easy way to do it, but make the time to find a new physician. If you don’t trust the one you have, even a random dart throw would probably find a you one that is better suited, and I’m sure that you can do better than chance. Small hassle now, but potentially much less hassle long term

  15. steve12 says:

    ‘Oxygenation therapists proposed that disease is caused by absence of oxygen and loss of cellular ability to use oxygen for “good energy” metabolism’

    A short cut if pressed for time is to dismiss any claim that talks nebulously about “energy”. There are many buzzterms to look out for in the BS Universe – vibrations, toxins, western science (whatever this means), shaman, etc. But the one that has stood the test of time and seems simply irresistible to the pseudoscience crowd is energy.

  16. norrisL says:

    Did the US ever have so called “oxygen bars”, where imbibers would breathe “pure” oxygen for some minutes or however long it may have been. There were a few of these on the Gold Coast not far from where I live in Queensland, Australia.

  17. OlegSh says:

    Ozone is a toxic gas. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exposure at 50 ppm (98 mg/m3) for 60 minutes will probably be fatal to humans. (Just for a reference, the amount of oxygen in 1 cubic meter is about 300 grams):

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires ozone output of indoor medical devices to be no more than 0.05 ppm (98 microgram per cubic meter). It’s hard to see any health benefits of the ozone saunas with such a small amount of active ingredient applied to human skin that does not have any breathing function.

    Also, EPA has a special article written about “Ozone Air Cleaners”:

    So, in the best case of scenario they (saunas) don’t work. In the worst case scenario (if the Ozone concentration is higher) they impose a real health hazard.

  18. GM says:

    I have since spoken to the chap that wrote the question to you about my weightloss, you of course had a full response from me to clarify the matter which I was sad to see you never published.

    So on the basis that you only publish what suits your argument I know you won’t publish this either, but no matter. Since I wrote to you on your Blog I have also been searching sources in Google, speaking to Doctors and Therapists and doing medical research on Ozone. All I can say is that you are completely in the dark when it comes to Ozone Therapy. Just like you I can also produce as much sceptical nonsense as I want from articles on Google. My advice for those who start off being sceptical is I suggest they move on, Ozone is only for people who are serious about their health and wellbeing and who have a positive approach to new and exciting things in life.

    If you really want to know the power of Ozone, start doing your research on Germany – Almost every Medical Doctor in Germany uses ozone in their medical facilities as a matter of course. It is part of their offerings for health. Ozone Therpay is endorsed by the German Government and it is used in almost every hospital and clinic. Now if you really want to know the benefits of Ozone, talk to the Germans you will find some startling statistics about their low levels of viral, bacterial and fungal deseases and their use of Ozone in the treatment of cancer. But of course, I already know that you, as a sceptic, will find some other reason to justify that. But here is more, over 50 countries in the world use Ozone, tens of thousands of doctors and therapists use ozone, 20 USA states have endorsed Ozone, and for the benefits to real people of Ozone Treatment just search Youtube for the thousands of people who are sharing their recovery information after using Ozone. Also, checkout the Nobel winners, you may find something there about the effect of Oxygen on Cancer cells that makes your so called findings on the subject look ignorant.

    Anyway, it is your Blog, you do what you want but it seems to me that the momentum that is building around the effectiveness of Ozone will wash people like you away in due course. As for me, my Ozone Sauna arrived this week, I have it in my house for personal use by me and my family and I am looking forward to a long and healthy life.

  19. sunflower says:

    Hi GM,

    It has been a year since you posted this comment…just wondering how you have been going with your Ozone Sauna.
    I have only recently purchased one and would love to hear about your experiences.

  20. mumadadd says:

    “Ozone is only for people who are serious about their health and wellbeing and who have a positive approach to new and exciting things in life.”

    I’m sure there’s a logical fallacy in here, although the name escapes me.

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