I Tried an Infrared Sauna
Here’s how the claims and my experience compared. Infrared saunas are super hot right now—literally and figuratively. From New York City to Los Angeles, and in between with outposts in cities like Nashville; Tennessee; and Richmond, Virginia, these boiling boxes are popping up all over the U.S., claiming to help shed unwanted pounds, wring out toxins, and improve skin, all with very minimal effort.
Infrared Waves Fall on the Light Spectrum
Infrared saunas are sometimes called a far-infrared sauna—”far” describes where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum—uses light to create heat. While a traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air, which in turn warms your body, the infrared variety uses radiation to heat your body directly. (Because of its long wavelength and very low frequency, infrared radiation does not have the same harmful effects as UV radiation.) The result is vigorous sweating and increased heart rate, which an infrared sauna can produce at lower temperatures than the traditional sauna.
Infrared technology has become so popular that you can now take yoga and HIIT classes under infrared heat, or even sleep in infrared pajamas that employ this technology.
The internet is abuzz with claims about infrared heat. Some suggest it can extend your life, raise your metabolism, reduce toxins, and even burn up to 600 or 700 calories.
HigherDOSE, a boutique infrared outpost in NYC, states on its Web site that just 45 minutes of infrared exposure is equivalent to a seven-day juice cleanse detox, the calorie burn of a three- to four-mile run, the serotonin of a sunbathing session, better circulation such as from a muscle-relaxing massage, the improved skin of a facial, and the relaxed state of mind that meditation brings.
Studies have examined infrared sauna’s use in treatment for chronic health problems like high blood pressure and heart problems, with some evidence of benefits, but more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these results. Other studies have looked into infrared heat’s ability to promote muscle recovery and reduce inflammation. Again, it’s promising, but not very conclusive as of now.
Prakash Masand, M.D., founder, and CEO of Global Medical Education and adjunct professor at Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, tells SELF, “The evidence supporting the use of infrared saunas for treating medical illnesses or cardiovascular risk factors is too weak to recommend its use at the present time.”
As for the rest of those lofty claims? There’s no evidence out there to back them up. Experts note that any pounds you drop in the sauna are likely just water weight. Once you rehydrate after, they’ll probably come right back. (A real reminder that if a weight-loss method sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)
I figured if sitting down and sweating for a little bit can maybe possibly equate to a visit to the gym (or at least glowing skin), it’s worth a try. What did I have to lose?
I visited the Bodhisattva Tea Spa in the New Orleans area, where owners Jerome Holmes Jr. and Yolanda Cosme-Homes have been offering the infrared sauna since 2010. Holmes reports that he and his wife have personally experienced better skin, more energy, lost inches, and pain relief for years, and the business has seen an uptick in recent months. “We have definitely seen a rise in the use of infrared sauna,” he says, “especially with the numerous articles and TV shows that boast the benefits.”
Holmes continues: “We find most of our clients are trying to lose weight; detox the body; and recover from pain, wounds, or ailments.” And while they’ve read claims that the sauna burns 600 calories per session, he says 50 to 200 calories a session, depending on the person, is a more accurate estimate.
I relaxed in the nude on towels and, like clockwork, beads of sweat began forming halfway into my session, which soon became a full-on river of perspiration. The temperature in the sauna reached 59 degrees Celsius, which is 138 Fahrenheit. I was hot as hell, but also felt relaxed; it was nice to hang out in a warm space without the distractions of work or a phone.
By the time I stepped out, I looked as if I had jumped into a swimming pool. Since I’ve heard that one session can burn upwards of 600 calories, I immediately decide that it’s an excuse for Popeye’s. (Even though I know he’s probably not right, and I don’t need an excuse to eat my favorite fast food fried chicken anyway.)
Post sauna, I did feel calm and I snapped a car selfie because my skin looked extra nice. This may have been smears of chicken grease, but I want to believe it’s the miracle of an infrared sauna. That evening, I fell asleep quickly yet woke up in the morning with an incredible thirst like I’d been traveling in the desert for a week without liquid. I did not lose any weight, but my skin still looked glowy in the A.M.
Overall, the average $30 session is a bit steep for chilling out (more like hotting out) but might be worth it for the temporary skin boost. I’d consider using it as the occasional substitute for hot yoga, but I’ll stick with my regular workouts for calorie burning and meditation for relaxing. And of course, fried chicken for detox.
Want to learn more about ways to relax? Visit our spa at 208 S Holmen Dr Suite 103 Holmen, WI to talk to one of our experts or make an appointment online.