The new trend is said to improve your skin and mood, and maybe even help you lose weight—all while you sit there doing nothing. Here's what you need to know about how infrared saunas work.
It's safe to say that infrared therapy is currently the *hottest* treatment in the wellness and beauty industry. Sitting in the specialized sauna reportedly offers a laundry list of health benefits, including increased energy, improved circulation, and pain relief. Plus the whole glowing skin and calorie-burning thing.
So how could sitting in a 120-degree heated box provide so many perks? Well, for starters, it's totally different from your traditional sauna experience, explains Raleigh Duncan, D.C., cofounder of Clearlight Infrared. "Unlike a traditional sauna that just warms the air, infrared heats the body directly, which produces a deep, sustainable sweat at the cellular level," he explains.
What does that mean? "Infrared can penetrate up to an inch into the soft tissue of the body, reducing joint and muscle pain," says Duncan. The infrared light therapy stimulates the circulatory system and more fully oxygenates the body's cells, which allows for better blood circulation, he explains. That's why it's especially helpful for athletes, he adds, and why physical therapy centers have been using infrared saunas for years to help patients with pain relief and recovery. (In fact, Lady Gaga swears by it for managing her chronic pain. Here, more on whether or not it can actually help, according to a pain management doc.)
So it's no surprise that as recovery becomes buzzier than ever (rightfully so), boutique studios dedicated to the service—like HigherDose in New York City and HotBox in LA—have popped up around the country.
HigherDOSE founders Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps explain that infrared light radiates energy that we feel as heat (the same way we feel heat from the sun, but without the harmful UV rays)—and that clients swear by the mind *and* body buzz a sweat session can offer. (Related: Crystal Light Therapy Healed My Post-Marathon Body—Sort Of)
One of the biggest perks is the reported calorie-burning benefits—up to 600 calories per 30-minute session, according to Duncan. "Sitting in an infrared sauna causes the body's core temperature to increase, increasing our heart and metabolic rate, which burns calories similar to the amount of a light jog," says Berlingeri.
Sound too good to be true? Maybe not. A 2017 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that users experienced elevate heart rates for up to 30 minutes following a sauna session. And recent research conducted by Binghamton University found that on average, participants who spent a 45-minute session in an infrared sauna three times a week lost four percent body fat in 16 weeks. Still, there are few studies that can point to any direct long-term weight-loss benefits.
But while proponents say incorporating infrared into your wellness regimen can be both a means of recovery and enhance performance, it's largely about the mental perks, too. HigherDOSE spa has private, oasis-like rooms where you can control the intensity of the heat and chromotherapy lighting, which selects a color depending on your mood and preference. You can even plug your phone into the complimentary aux cord, so you can listen to music or podcast, to get the mood. (Infrared saunas found in fitness centers, physical therapy centers, and spas offer a similar zen experience—and ability to stream Netflix!—so you can get those same perks even if you don't live near a dedicated studio.)
Kaps says that "infrared also triggers our brain's happiness chemicals (especially serotonin and endorphins) so you get your high naturally—and leave feeling beautiful and buzzed." Plus, one study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that exposing skin to heat from infrared lamps can mimic the effect of antidepressants by stimulating the production of serotonin.
"It's both relaxing and stimulating," she says. "After a session, you'll feel like you're on clouds, and you'll have that glow-from-within, dewy skin. You're refreshed and re-energized, but you also feel cleansed, focused, and clear-headed."
Sorry, but regardless of possible calorie-burning effects, hopping in an infrared sauna is not a replacement for an actual workout. Still, the energizing and stress-relieving potential alone make trying this wellness trend well worth it.