What you need to know about so-hot-right-now infrared spa therapy
It’s the latest new-old thing that has received attention from fashion types, celebrities, and social media influencers.
If you are a physician or longtime wellness nut, it’s likely you already know about them. For decades, hospitals and medical treatment centers have used them to foster growth for premature babies and expedite healing for athletes and the elderly.
But only in the past year did infrared treatments become-shudder-trendy. Gwyneth Paltrow extolls their benefits. Lady Gaga uses them to treat her chronic shoulder pain. Jennifer Aniston and Selena Gomez use them at home.
A growing industry
A host of boutique shops are popping up to support the demand, especially in the U.S. (New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami are big markets) and in Australia. It’s a $75-million market “and growing rapidly,” according to a report published in the Canadian Family Physician, the official journal of the college of family physicians of Canada.
Sunlighten Inc. sells infrared saunas to spas and wellness centres via 16 distributors worldwide. The Overland Park, Kan.-based company has seen steady growth in commercial and residential sales since 2013, with last year’s sales up 20 per cent over 2015’s.
“We have seen a growing trend for a while now,” said Brooke Basaldua, Sunlighten’s marketing manager. “Last year was definitely our biggest year, and we would expect to see the same thing again this year as well.”
How it works
The saunas work by using infrared wavelengths of light to heat the body itself, rather than heating the space around it. There are three wavelengths-short, medium, and far, with far being the most intense form: The heat vibrates water molecules in the body so much that they break down. The result, according to supporters, is a healthy release of toxins that you sweat out.
Infrared temperatures range from 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit rather than the conventional 160. That’s why an infrared sauna is cosy and dry, not sweltering and musty like a regular health club sauna.
“The appeal of saunas in general is that they cause reactions, such as vigorous sweating and increased heart rate, similar to those elicited by moderate exercise,” Brent Bauer, the director of the Department of Internal Medicine’s complementary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic, wrote in a Mayo Clinic report. “An infrared sauna produces these results at lower temperatures than does a regular sauna, which makes it accessible to people who can’t tolerate the heat of a conventional sauna.”
But does it deliver?
Benefits are myriad, if you believe the hype: muscle and organ relaxation, detoxification, pain relief, improved cell health, better circulation, anti-aging, skin purification, and (the holy grail) weight loss.
Richard Beever, the clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, is more circumspect, though tentatively supportive. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with it, he said.
“Although the evidence is limited, it does suggest a number of benefits of far infrared sauna use, including effects on systolic hypertension and clinical symptoms of congestive heart failure, premature ventricular contractions, brain natriuretic peptide levels, vascular endothelial function, exercise tolerance, oxidative stress, chronic pain, and possibly weight loss and chronic fatigue,” Beever wrote in a review for the official publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Importantly, “No adverse events were reported.”
Prominent trainers agree, using the practice on themselves-and their most-prized, city-harried clients.
“I personally like infrared sauna for relaxation and flushing out toxins like heavy metals-and you get a moment of Zen in a busy city full of noise,” says Stephen Cheuk, the owner of S10 Training Club LLC and House of Matcha Inc. tea. He is known for his attention to progressive and holistic treatments, often sourced on his frequent trips to Asia; Cheuk trains some of the most beautiful, fit, and famous people in New York.
How to get the most for your money
Manhattan’s HigherDOSE LLC is a frequent call-out in model and fashion boss Instagram feeds. (“DOSE” is an acronym for those natural elation-causing chemicals known as Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins.) Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams are known clients. Sessions cost $65 for the recommended one-hour duration, which allows 10-15 minutes to disrobe and arrange yourself inside the wooden box. (For my visit, I reserved a single room, although you can reserve an $80 double if you want to go with a friend.)
The small shop, which opened last year, is tucked underneath an actual alchemist kitchen. To enter, guests walk past shelves of myrrh oil and sage, descend a stairwell festooned with jungle-thick vines, and present themselves at a front desk doused in red light emitting from a neon sign above. (The neon spells out “HIGHER DOSE” underneath some mystic-looking triangles).
How fast can you feel it?
Short-term results were more than satisfactory. I had gone into it feeling lethargic and stymied in general by the snow and winter weather. My shoulders were sore from a recent eight-hour flight from Geneva and from gingerly picking my way over black ice as I attempted to jog around town. I was also sleepy, having been out late the night before.
But once inside, and rather than drift off into a nap, as I had expected, I became increasingly alert. My heart rate increased while my muscles relaxed-an unexpected dichotomy. By the end of my time I was practically panting. After 45 minutes of reading Murakami and sweating out everything I drank in what felt like the past month, I emerged lightheaded and definitely dewy. I already have another session booked.
Think an infrared sauna session is for you? There is a right way to get the full benefit-and get your money’s worth. Here are some pointers.
Leave Your Swimsuit at Home
If you want to wear it, you can. But there’s no point. There are plenty of towels to mop sweat anyway. And the sauna is completely private, set in a private room, so you might as well enjoy it to the fullest.
Bring a Book and Your Music
Even though infrared saunas are dry and cosy, not humid and sloppy, and even though they operate at far cooler temperatures than regular saunas, don’t leave your cellphone in the sauna. It won’t take the heat.
At HigherDOSE, you can plug your phone into an external outlet that pipes music through the box, which is a boon to anyone who gets itchy if he or she can’t see that Apple screen every few minutes. If you’re very elevated, just plan on meditating for the duration of the session (a timer on the inside of the sauna lets you know how many minutes you have left). I brought a book.
Everyone everywhere says the No. 1 thing to do after sweating out all those toxins is to DRINK WATER. They practically force it on you at HigherDOSE, where an assistant pointed me to an enormous glass beaker and cup next to my sauna box. The water helps flush the system of toxins.
Cheuk recommended some intense replenishing of vitamins and minerals after each session too, since intense repeat sweating can deplete the body of much-needed elements such as magnesium, for example, along with the bad stuff. (Which is why infrared is superior to regular saunas anyway: “You won’t pull the same heavy metals from a normal sauna,” he said.) Coconut water, or something with electrolytes, will do the trick.
Be ready to use the shower. (HigherDOSE has only one-it needs more.) You’ll be soaked through from sweat-drenched as though by a downpour. There’s no way you’ll want to walk outside on a cold day with a wet head and sweat-damp clothing. Plus, you’ll feel so energised afterward that you’ll want to go see a friend or two. Get rid of the sweat before that-for everyone’s sake.
Cheuk tells his clients to use infrared therapy once a week, depending on their goals and lifestyle. Others suggest going as many as three times a week for the full-on maximum benefit. You can save money when you buy a package of sessions, so do that and use them well.
Sound like something you need, especially in dreary March weather? Here are a few other infrared spots to visit.
- Ananda Rainforest Spa, Currumbin Valley, Australia
- The Awareness Institute, Sydney, Australia
- Chill Space NYC, NYC
- HigherDOSE, NYC
- Manhattan Physio Group, NYC
- Shape House. An Urban Sweat Lodge, L.A.
- Sauna Bar, L.A.
- Tikkun Spa, L.A.
- The Springs, L.A.
- The Sauna Studio, Ventura, Calif.
- Sunlight Day Spa, Overland Park, Kan.
- Infrasweat, Delray Beach, Fla.
- Mystica, Costa Rica
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