In the ever-evolving landscape of wellness trends, infrared saunas and blankets have carved out a lasting niche among enthusiasts and celebrities, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga–and for good reason. Just like a sauna at your go-to spa, they address pain relief, boost circulation, and rejuvenate skin, among other benefits. But do infrared saunas really live up to the hype? For answers, we went straight to the source, tapping experts from infrared sauna brands and dermatologists, to break down the benefits of infrared saunas and weigh in on whether or not they are worth adding to your beauty and wellness regimen.

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What is infrared light?

While we're told to dutifully shield our skin from the sun with sunscreen, infrared light actually mimics the healthy light energy of the sun–but without the harmful UVA and UVB rays. That’s because it’s "part of the invisible light spectrum," says Karan Lal, a board-certified dermatologist with Affiliated Dermatology in Scottsdale, Arizona. While you can’t see the infrared light, you can feel it in the form of gentle heat. Infrared light can be broken up into three categories: near, mid, and far infrared, each offering different wavelengths and energies that may benefit the body in various ways.

What is an infrared sauna?

Infrared saunas look and feel similar to traditional (Finnish) saunas, but with a few key differences. Unlike conventional saunas that slap you with heat when you open the door, infrared saunas aren't as hot, so they gently warm your body for a less overwhelming (and slightly more pleasant) experience. Instead of heating the air, infrared saunas are powered by all three of the aforementioned invisible light waves (near, mid, and far infrared). Your body absorbs them and, thus, elevates your core temperature from the inside out, says Lauren Berlingeri, co-founder and co-CEO of HigherDOSE, a wellness brand specializing in infrared saunas and products. Think of our body absorbing infrared light in the same way a solar panel absorbs sunlight, says Connie Zack, co-founder of Sunlighten, an infrared sauna company.

Some infrared sauna sessions include chromotherapy (aka color therapy) as a way to customize your wellness experience. In Sunlighten saunas, for example, there's a remote where you can select one of 16 color-changing modes. Of all of them, "red and blue light therapies have more established roles in cosmetic skin treatments and skin disease treatment," says Kristina Collins, a Texas-based double board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Austin Skin. "Red light is typically used for anti-aging treatment as well as treatment of hair loss because it stimulates collagen production and reduces inflammation." Blue light, on the other hand, is "frequently used for acne treatment because it helps reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin."

What are the benefits of infrared saunas?

The benefits of infrared saunas span beauty, health, and wellness categories. "Detoxification is one of the primary benefits of infrared, eliminating free radicals from the system while increasing circulation, caloric burning, and blood flow," Berlingeri explains. "Studies have shown that infrared therapy can aid pain relief and muscle recovery, benefitting arthritis and muscle soreness. "Other reported infrared benefits include improved sleep, boosted mood, reduced inflammation and overall skin appearance," she adds.

While there’s a never-ending list of benefits, it's crucial to note that there is not in-depth research on infrared saunas quite yet—so naturally, health experts remain wary and express the need for more expansive research. That’s not to say a daily session in the infrared sauna won’t give your skin a glow or help with muscle aches, but the concrete benefits are still yet to be proven on a larger scale, says Collins.

Despite the need for further research, Collins and Lal recognize the possible skincare advantages of infrared saunas since they promote sweating, “which is a process that helps to clear the skin of debris, dead skin cells, and oils," says Collins. "Certain wavelengths of infrared radiation also cause cells to release cytokines that reduce inflammation and stimulate cellular recovery processes.” In turn: an increased production of collagen and elastin (according to a study on the effects of infrared radiation), which paves the way for a smoother complexion, diminished fine lines and wrinkles, and increased firmness.

How long does it take to get benefits from an infrared sauna?

The time it takes to experience the benefits of an infrared sauna isn't set in stone; it varies individually and hinges on your specific wellness goals. In the same vein of a skincare product like retinol cream, consistency is key to seeing results.

How often should you use an infrared sauna?

The good news: as infrared saunas have become more popular, there are more and more places to go for a sweat sesh. In New York City alone, infrared saunas abound at popular wellness destinations such as The Well, Clean Market, and Higher Dose. (An hour session will cost you around $75.) For best results, Berlingeri recommends starting with 30 minutes "and working up to 60 minutes" three times a week. Realistically, that might not be feasible for a bevy of reasons, which is one of the reasons to opt for an at-home version, like an infrared sauna blanket.

"The sauna blanket is a fantastic solution for someone who doesn't have access to an infrared sauna or space in their home," says Berlingeri. "It replicates the experience of infrared saunas in a portable, leather unit that can be used at home or while traveling," adding that the HigherDOSE blanket " includes charcoal, crystal and clay layers to amplify infrared benefits."

While the blanket gives you a similar experience to a traditional sauna, Zack explains that infrared blankets often operate at higher temperatures, which can restrict the absorption of infrared light. Additionally, infrared blankets aren't usually designed to be used on the face, which may pose a challenge if you're hoping to improve the appearance of your complexion. Nonetheless, as Collins emphasized earlier, sweating in both scenarios still offers skincare benefits.

Are there negative effects of infrared saunas?

Considering the limited research on the long-term effects of infrared light, Collins recommends cautiously approaching the infrared sauna trend. "Infrared radiation may have detrimental effects on the skin," she warns. "It’s perceived as heat by the skin, and we know that heat is one of the many exposures that trigger the development of signs of skin aging, along with things like UV radiation and pollution."

Lal adds another layer of caution, especially for those with melasma, a condition known to be aggravated by heat. He points out that "excessive amounts of infrared can cause overheating of the skin, which can trigger more redness and subsequently exacerbate the condition."

While these are significant cautions to remember, the more commonly reported issues are immediate effects such as overheating and dehydration. "It's important to understand your body's tolerance to heat healing and to make sure you're hydrated," says Berlingeri. (In the FAQ section of Sunlighten's website, the company recommends drinking "a minimum of eight ounces of water" beforehand.) If you're uncertain whether an infrared sauna may negatively impact any underlying health concerns, it’s best to consider speaking with a doctor.

Meet the Experts

  • Karan Lal, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic dermatology at Affiliated Dermatology in Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • Kristina Collins, MD, is a Texas-based double board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Austin Skin.
  • Lauren Berlingeri is a certified holistic nutritionist and the co-founder and co-CEO of HigherDOSE.
  • Connie Zack is the co-founder of Sunlighten, an infrared light therapy and sauna company.

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2024-02-22T14:05:06Z dg43tfdfdgfd