Naftalan or Naphtalan is a type of crude oil. It is named after Naftalan, Azerbaijan, where it is found. It is known for its use in alternative medicine.

Naftalan crude oil is too heavy for normal export uses (unlike Azerbaijan's plentiful Caspian Sea oil): it contains about 50 percent cycloalkanes (naphthenic hydrocarbons).[1]

In Azerbaijan, people using the oil generally sit in a bath and are covered in oil up to their necks. There are numerous petroleum spas in the city of Naftalan itself.[2][3] As a result, it has become a destination for health tourism.[4]


Naftalan oil has been used since antiquity and was noted by Marco Polo.[5] Its chemistry has been studied from the 1870s.[6] Treatment centres were established in Azerbaijan and were visited by people from the Soviet Union.[7] Its therapeutic effects have been studied since the 1890s.[8]

After the oil boom at the turn of the 20th century, the Baku naftalan started to be extracted in higher volumes, and exported to Germany.[9][10] After the borders were closed following the 1917 Russian Revolution, it fell into oblivion in the West. It still attracted some attention in the Soviet Union, when the Azerbaijan Medical University opened a small health resort that was in full operation by 1936.[7][9][11] In the 1930s, academician T. G. Pashayev started to try to isolate naphthalan from industrial paraffin and naphthenic oils and proposed the term, though more current research indicates that the term "earth mineral oil" is more appropriate for what he described in his paper published in Moscow in 1959.[12]

During the 20th century, a large number of academic papers were published by Soviet researchers about the topic.[13] Nevertheless, in Europe the results from the Naphthalan Health Resort in Azerbaijan were largely rejected because the idea of the application of native oil to human subjects was not acceptable.[14]

In the 1970s, the School of Medicine, University of Zagreb conducted its own research to compare the kinds of oil found near Baku and near Križ, Croatia. After two years, in 1978, they concluded that the oil they analyzed was not carcinogenic, after testing at INA labs and at the Ruđer Bošković Institute, and conducting a trial with 770 patients.[13] In 1989 the Naftalan Special Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation was founded in Ivanić Grad.[13] Their use of naphtalan oil is restricted to a refined distillate, devoid of tar, aromatic content and other undesired substances, in an effort to minimize the rate of contraindications and side effects.[14] This hospital later conducted a 10-year follow-up and observation of 10,000 of their patients and respective associated data, and reportedly observed a number of therapeutic effects.[15]

As recently as 2006, the New York Times published an article referring to naftalan as mostly naphthalene, which would be carcinogenic to humans.[2] In 2009, The Independent described one of the spas, repeating the claim about the composition of the oil.[16]

Composition of the oil

Naftalan oil is a type of heavy crude oil, a dense and viscous mixture with components including aromatics, naphthenes, asphaltenes and resins.[1] In particular it contains naphthenic acids, an oil industry term for a group of carboxylic acids which can be up to 3 percent of the oil by weight.[17][18] Purified oil used in some treatments contains mainly polycyclic hydrocarbons, with the most pure having a transparent white to lemon-yellow color and napthenic content up to 98.5 percent.[19][20]

Early studies of the oil's chemistry and therapeutic properties involved partially purified material, a naptha used as an ointment which was compared favourably to Vaseline. It was applied to wounds and burns.[21]


Qarabağ spa and resort

Spas in Naftalan, Azerbaijan use the crude oil for whole-body bathing,[3][7] a procedure which has been described by the British documentary photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews.[22][23] A typical single bathing session lasts ten minutes.[24] Health tourism is now a major industry in Azerbaijan.[4]

The purified oil, which is a mixture of cycloalkanes, is used in combination with mineral waters for balneotherapy.[19]: 206 [20]

The concept of using heavy crude oil in spa treatments has led to a Canadian proposal to create a "bitumen spa" on the same principles as the Naftalan ones.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Ramazanov M, Hajiyeva M, Huseynov I, Adigozelova N (May 2020). "Naphthalene Oil and Nanotechnology" (PDF). Journal of Low Dimensional Systems. 4: 19–22. ISSN 2308-068X. Retrieved November 3, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Kramer AE (2006-12-04). "Bathing in Black Gold for Health and Profit in Azerbaijan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 13 Mar 2023. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  3. ^ a b Rzayeva K (2018-06-28). "Naftalan: The Azerbaijan resort where guests bathe in crude oil". CNN. Retrieved 2024-02-13.
  4. ^ a b Nazarli A (3 October 2017). "Azerbaijan in Top 5 health tourism destinations". Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  5. ^ Travels of Marco Polo. Project Gutenberg. p. 46. This oil is not good to use with food, but 'tis good to burn, and is also used to anoint camels that have the mange. People come from vast distances to fetch it, for in all the countries round about they have no other oil.
  6. ^ Huseinov DY, Rustamov AI (1995). "Naftalan: The Oil that Heals". Azerbaijan International. Vol. 3, no. 4. Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  7. ^ a b c Abbasov E (2002). "Naftalan - The Miracle Oil". Azerbaijan International. Vol. 10, no. 2. Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  8. ^ Karslı B, Kürüm B (2024). "Comparison of the efficiency of epidermal growth factor, silver and Naftalan in the wound healing of rats". Journal of Applied Biological Sciences. 18 (1): 106–117. ISSN 2146-0108.
  9. ^ a b Vržogić, Ostrogović & Alajbeg 2003, p. 179.
  10. ^ "Azerbaijan: Painting With Oil – No, Not that Oil | Eurasianet". Eurasianet. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  11. ^ Casper SA. "The Bolshevik Afterlife: Posthumous Rehabilitation In The Post-Stalin Soviet Union, 1953-1970".
  12. ^ Vržogić, Ostrogović & Alajbeg 2003, p. 178.
  13. ^ a b c Vržogić, Ostrogović & Alajbeg 2003, p. 180.
  14. ^ a b Vržogić, Ostrogović & Alajbeg 2003, p. 181.
  15. ^ Vržogić, Ostrogović & Alajbeg 2003, p. 182.
  16. ^ Imbert L (11 July 2009). "Feeling low on energy? Have a bath in a barrel of crude oil". The Independent.
  17. ^ Adigozalova VA, Hashimova UF, Polyakova LP (2019). "Composition and Properties of the Unique Oil from Azerbaijan's Naftalan Oilfield". Russian Journal of General Chemistry. 89 (3): 631–640. doi:10.1134/S1070363219030459.
  18. ^ Richard H. McKee, Colin M. North, Paula Podhasky, Jeffrey H. Charlap, Adam Kuhl (February 2014). "Acute and Subchronic Mammalian Toxicity of Naphthenic Acids from Oil Sands Tailings". International Journal of Toxicology. 33 (1): 347–355. doi:10.1177/1091581813504229. PMID 24179025.
  19. ^ a b Schur DV, et al. (20 April 2013). "Solubility of Fullerenes in Naftalan". In Veziroğlu A, Tsitskishvili M (eds.). Black Sea Energy Resource Development and Hydrogen Energy Problems. Springer. ISBN 978-94-007-6152-0.
  20. ^ a b Vtorushina EA, Kulkov MG, Salakhidinova GT, Butyrin RI, Aliev AE, Nigametzyanov IR, et al. (2023). "Comparative Analysis of High-Viscosity Oils from the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and the Naftalan Oil Field to Assess Their Balneological Potential". Petroleum Chemistry. 63 (9): 1027–1038. Bibcode:2023PetrC..63.1027V. doi:10.1134/S0965544123060282.
  21. ^ Rosenbaum (January 1899). "Naftalan". The International Dental Journal. 20 (1): 27–29. PMC 10139374. PMID 37912428.
  22. ^ Montazami M (2018). Caspian: The Elements. Peabody Museum Press. ISBN 978-1-59711-444-8.
  23. ^ Dewe Mathews C. "Caspian". Archived from the original on 11 March 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2024. Click numbers lower left for slideshow.
  24. ^ O'Hagan S (19 October 2010). "Lives bathed in oil: how Chloe Dewe Mathews captured the Caspian coast". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 April 2024. Here, a substance that is usually associated with power, wealth and global trade is used for healing and wellbeing.
  25. ^ Hampshire G (5 April 2016). "'Bitumen bubble' ? How about an Alberta bitumen spa resort?". CBC News. Retrieved 11 April 2024.