Bathe Like An Oligarch At Azerbaijan’s Oil Spas
Immerse yourself in a tub of the former Soviet Republic’s finest petrol.
Oil prices in the U.S. have hit record lows in recent months, but they would have to sink much, much lower if residents want to start bathing in crude oil like they do in Western Azerbaijan.
Doctors at the Naftalan Spa and Health Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, believe that crude oil has antibiotic properties that can kill “viruses, bacteria, and fungi” and can help treat skin conditions, soothe joint pain, and help treat rheumatoid arthritis. (Most Western doctors would probably disagree.) Oil baths actually date back to the sixth century, but the practice reached its peak in the 1980s, where the Naftalan spas saw up to 75,000 visitors a year. It’s still a popular activity for those seeking a cure-all while visiting the energy-rich country on the Caspian Sea.
Spagoers soak in tubs full of crude oil in the hopes of calming nerves, curing ailments, and beautifying the skin. According to one reporter, the oil bath “tingles like Icy Hot,” which sounds…restorative? Though the lukewarm baths only last about ten minutes (any more than that can affect the heart rate), cleaning up after the treatment can take four times as long and involves getting scraped down with a metal rod, reams of paper towels, and several showers.
The crude oil used at the Naftalan Health Center comes from western Azerbaijan, and is "too heavy to have much commercial value," according to the New York Times. It contains a naturally occurring chemical called naphthalene, an active ingredient in both coal tar soap, which is used to treat psoriasis, as well as in moth balls, which are not known for their skin-healing properties. The U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency has classified naphthalene as a possible carcinogen.
In addition to being potentially cancer-y, the baths are also not for those squeamish about sharing. In order to keep costs down, the bathing oil is recycled, and when one client is done, the oil is drained into a communal tank and re-used for the next person eager to swim in liquid money.