Infrared Saunas: A Wellness Concept Worth Checking Out
Although known to be one of the most hyped beauty trends and wellness concepts this past year, infrared saunas have actually been endorsed by supermodels and praised by athletes for decades. Reaching Europe all the way from Los Angeles, via New York, infrared saunas are actually not just a temporary trend or hype, they are definitely here to stay. And for Sophia Lie – a Norwegian supermodel and founder of Stockholm’s hottest place (literally) and Scandinavia’s first Full Spectrum Infrared Lounge, HEAT by Sophia Lie, it was love at first light.
“I discovered infrared saunas when I lived in New York a few years ago. I was modelling and working a lot, and I was amazed to see how a session in the sauna could both give me a lot of energy or help me unwind. Going regularly to infrared saunas became a necessary part of my life and helped me to both stay in shape and recharge.”, Sophia says. “I love to use the sauna after I have travelled or after I have eaten unhealthy food – a session helps with water retention and bloating, and make me feel so much better.”
I tried the sauna for the first time about a year ago and I could definitely see what Sophia was talking about. The overall experience felt so exclusive and luxurious – the whole place was very clean and fresh, and I loved to go into the sauna with my kombucha and face mask that they sell at HEAT. I have noticed health and beauty benefits both right after the 30 minutes long sessions, as well as a few months later when I had been going there regularly.
But how do these saunas work, and what impact are they claimed to be capable of having on our bodies?
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THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE SAUNA
The infrared sauna is often relatively small, designed for up to two people, and one session is normally between 30-60 minutes long. The light from an infrared sauna is able to penetrate your skin directly (up to three inches) in contrast to regular saunas, which instead heat up the air around you. Therefore, infrared saunas make the body sweat a lot at a lower temperature and raise your core body temperature from within, which results in benefits that will make you feel and look amazing.
A major health benefit that infrared saunas are praised for is their ability to detoxify our bodies. Detoxification helps our biochemical processes to function efficiently (e.g. so that we better digest the nutrients in our food), strengthen our immune system, and supposedly also help with health issues such as auto-immune disease and chronic fatigue. Infrared saunas are claimed to detoxify seven times more than traditional saunas and help us get rid of up to 20% more toxins than sweating from another type of activity. This is thanks to the infrared light that heats up our bodies directly and is able to penetrate our skin deeper and detoxify sweat at a cellular level where toxins reside.
2. BURN BABY BURN
Moreover, these amazing saunas also boost us with health benefits similar to the ones you get from a regular cardiovascular exercise – but without actually working out. Since the heat makes us sweat a lot and we increase our heart rate, we improve our blood circulation and are able to burn up to 600 calories in just about 30 minutes!
3. IMMUNE BOOST
The rise in our body temperature also creates an artificial fever, which boosts our immune system and hence makes it our new best friend when we start to feel that itching and uncomfortable feeling in our throat. The infrared light has also been proven to kill bacteria, relieve pain in joints and muscles (even chronic), speed up muscle recovery after an injury, as well as promote wound healing and skin renewal.
4. GLOWING SKIN
Improved skin is a very common benefit that people quickly notice, even after the very first time. “You immediately see the radiance and glow your skin gets after a session in the sauna and we have also had many people coming here with skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis that got so much better, or even completely disappeared after a few times in the heat.”, says Sophia. The detoxification helps to purify and unclog your pores, and the infrared light stimulates both elastin and collagen production which helps to improve overall skin tone and reduce wrinkles.
5. A NEW WAY TO DE-STRESS
These incredible saunas also promote stress relief and better sleep, and a session is a perfect way to unwind and get some time for yourself. Both the infrared light and the chromotherapy (which is the coloured light that many infrared saunas use) help decrease cortisol levels and increase serotonin and endorphins. Chromotherapy is actually an ancient form of therapy that has become popular recently, much thanks to the technological advancement that make it possible to use it in these saunas. Each colour has a specific function that can be stimulated through coloured LED light. “Chromotherapy is a great way to enhance your mood. I personally like to use the blue colour in the afternoon and evening to relax, and the red colour to boost my energy.”, says Sophia Lie. “Many people also like the holistic approach of it and how you can connect it to your chakras”.
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BRINGING INFRARED TO MY ROUTINE
Since incorporating infrared saunas into my own wellness routine, have I noticed any of these incredible health benefits? Oh yes, I have!
INSTANT SKIN + SLEEP SUCCESS
The immediate results that I often experience after a session is definitely glowing and healthy-looking skin that actually lasts for the rest of the day. My sleep is also much deeper and I fall asleep very fast the following night after a sauna session.
What I also really love about infrared sauna therapy is that I get to relax and sweat at the same time. I love to get those minutes for myself, ideally without my phone, and just listen to some good music, or to sit in there in stillness and meditate. I think a sauna session is a perfect opportunity during the day to get an escape from the busy and hectic outside world.
In addition, since I am always very cold (and live in Sweden…), I also love the fact that my body warms up a lot, and that warmth stays in my body for the whole day. All the sweating also makes me feel very fresh and renewed afterwards, it definitely feels like I have had a workout and that I did something really good to my body.
In terms of long-term effects that I have seen, the most prominent is actually the health of my skin. I have struggled a lot with quite bad eczema since I was a child and have been trying multiple creams and other treatments without much luck. I have been bleeding from my hands, have had very swollen lips and rashes all over my face because of my eczema, and there were times when nothing seemed to help. Although eating a nutritious diet and stressing less has helped a lot as well, I have seen the most radical changes on my skin after either being in the sun or in an infrared sauna. My skin feels much softer and even more moisturised; hence, I can definitely notice such an incredible effect when I try to treat my eczema from the inside out. It seems like I am actually closer to treating the root cause of the problem, in comparison to when I am using creams that might just be suppressing the symptoms.
A WELLNESS WIN
Personally, I am so happy to have found a lovely way to take care of myself that targets so many areas at the same time – it makes me relaxed, heals my skin, improves my sleep and simply makes me feel amazing afterwards. I also love Chromotherapy and the concept around the colours and chakras, and I have actually noticed differences in my mood and overall feeling in my body depending on that colour I select during my session. Placebo or not, it makes me feel really good!
The only downside with the infrared saunas is that it can get quite expensive if you want to do it often. One session often costs around £40-60 depending on where you go and the length of the session. Though, one of New York’s most popular infrared sauna hubs, Higher Dose, have started to sell infrared sauna blankets (covering your whole body except your face) for $499 – perhaps a more affordable option in the long run, as well as a perfect solution for those that often are on-the-go and just want to enjoy an infrared sauna session in bed at home.
I believe that we might see more of infrared sauna spin-offs and advances like the blanket, and also that the interest around this type of therapy will grow even more. Most people know that a healthy diet and physical activity are essentials for good health, but as a Holistic Health Coach, I look at health from many points of view and know the importance of taking care of one’s health in other ways as well. Our body and mind are connected, and we should not forget to include self-love, rest, meditation, detoxification, skincare etc. in our health routines as well, and infrared saunas can help us with that.
Also a skilled writer about travel, she has been a contributor for Vogue – with many of her articles making it onto the list of Vogue’s most read travel articles during the year they were published. Matilde loves yoga, running, chocolate and dogs, dreams of living in Cape Town in the future, and hopes to write a book one day.