Forget mani-pedis and seaweed wraps.
In Azerbaijan, you can go for a completely different kind of spa experience: a 10 minute bath in warm crude oil.
Soaking in a unique grade of oil produced in Naftalan, Azerbaijan is once again becoming a popular health spa activity in the energy-rich former Soviet Republic. According to locals, sitting in this liquid commodity is great for one’s health.
The oil “can heal more than seventy diseases, including neurological diseases, skin conditions and impotence,” Hashim Hashimov, a medical specialist at Naftalan Health Center in Baku, Azerbaijan told Reuters.
(This so-called medicinal Naftalan oil happens to be “too heavy to have much commercial value,” according to the NYT.)
In a typical oil-immersion spa secession, roughly one barrel’s-worth is heated up to about 40 degrees Celsius (or 104 degrees Fahrenheit) by a health center guru. Spa-attendees are permitted to stay in that bath for only ten minutes because, otherwise, “it can affect the heart rate,” according to a BBC report. After the bath, the oil on the patients’ bodies is scraped off for roughly 40 minutes, while the rest of it “goes back to a communal tank for future bathers.”
A 10-to-12 bath course will set you back roughly between $US200-$US240 at The Naftalan Spa, although prices could vary at other spas and for other treatment options. As a reference point, a barrel of Brent crude oil is currently around $US57/barrel.
Health spas like the one where Hashimov works attract people from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Germany he told Reuters. Back in the 1980’s, these kinds of oil resorts were at peak popularity, although the practicereportedlygoes back as far as the 6th century BCE.
Notably, you can’t just take a salubrious bath in any crude oil you happen upon.
The oil found in Naftalan, Azerbaijan is different from typical commercial varieties as it contains a special “ingredient” that “local scientists believe … has curative properties,” according to the BBC report.
“Naftalan crude contains about 50% naphthalene, a hydrocarbon best known as the stuff of mothballs,” according to the NYT. “It’s also an active ingredient in coal tar soaps, which are used by dermatologists to treat psoriasis, though in lower concentrations.”
However, many American researchers would probably not recommend that you run to lather your skin with naphthalene just yet.
The US Department of Health and Human Services “concluded that naphthalene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) “concluded that naphthalene is possibly carcinogenic to humans, because there is enough evidence that naphthalene causes cancer in animals, but not enough evidence about such an effect in humans.”
Still, if you’re ever feeling brave in Azerbaijan, a crude oil soak-and-scrape could potentially be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.