Is the Infrared Sauna Trend Actually Safe?
We're always looking for a new way to detox, especially around this time of year, but with the infrared sauna trend picking up speed (celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow are big fans), we had to find out whether or not it was actually effective, and more importantly, safe.
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The concept itself is not new—Europeans have been using it for years—but it's really beginning to take off here in the States, with spas, fitness studios and even some doctors' offices offering the service. Different from your typical sauna, these smaller treatment rooms—some are even high-tech pods that you sit or lay in—use infrared rays to penetrate your skin, causing you to work up a pretty serious sweat, which releases toxins from your body. "The heat pulls out toxins from deep under the skin and exfoliates them through the skin," says Josie Feria, director of operations at Lapis, The Spa at Fontainebleau in Miami. "These toxins, like mercury, lead, car emissions, tobacco, mold and hundreds of other pollutants, bombard our bodies on a daily basis."
Eric Martinez, exercise physiologist at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, says infrared technology is becoming a very popular treatment. "The idea is similar to applying heat to the body, yet it is controllable to a precise temperature. The infrared sauna and regular sauna have similar benefits—better blood flow, toxin release through sweating, stress relief, muscle relaxtion, quicker recovery from injury, etc—except that the infrared has better precision in controlling the environment."
Instead of the air in the room being heated up like in a traditional sauna, your core body temperature is. This translates to a more comfortable experience, too, because you're not trying to withstand insane 200-degree heat. Expect roughly 120 degrees with infrared, which isn't too much hotter than the feeling you get when you first step into a hot tub. But, rather than your average 10–15 minute sauna visit, with infrared, you can stay in for at least 30 minutes (check with your healthcare professional beforehand, as the timing may vary from person to person).
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Feria says the treatment is perfectly safe. Think of it like this: "The sun has many amazing health benefits for our bodies, but unfortunately, because of the depleted ozone layer, many of the sun's rays can be very harmful. This makes the sun something for us to avoid, instead of something for us to submerge ourselves in for all of its healing properties. Imagine if you could have access to all the sun's healing rays on a daily basis without any of the dangers. Well that's exactly what the infrared sauna does. Many doctors all over the world are starting to recognize the many benefits infrared saunas can offer their patients."
And don't worry about any skin damage either. "There should be no damaging affects on the skin from the infrared light," says Seattle dermatologist Jennifer Reichel, MD. "Light-emitting diode (LED) lights emit light at red and infrared wavelengths—infrared light penetrates the skin and stimulates fibroblasts in the dermis to produce collagen and elastin—which help to support and tighten tissues.
Although some companies, like The Sweat House in Nashville, advertise that the technology can help you burn up to 600 calories in a single session, Martinez says that when it comes to using this type of heat therapy, it should not be used for weight loss, but rather as a relaxing detox from physical and mental stress. "Also, no diuretics, such as alcohol, coffee or tea, should be consumed prior or during sauna use." Another tip: Remember to drink enough water. "When you do not drink enough water to compensate for the amount of sweating, it will lead to dehydration and many health risks. The safest method of using a sauna or infrared therapy is to periodically step out every 10 minutes and have a bottle of water nearby."