Infrared saunas: the health truths behind celebrity hype

Getting hot in an infrared sauna has never been cooler. Said to burn calories, improve skin texture, relieve pain, increase circulation, alleviate stress and even boost your immune system, users report an almost immediate and long-lasting positive impact on their physical and mental health after just one session. 

Adulation for infrared now extends to a loyal legion of celebrity fans. Known aficionados range from Gwyneth Paltrow to Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, with many luminaries revealing infrared sauna to be a central part of their wellness regime.

As the buzz around infrared therapy heats up, we’re investigating how far this A-list approved health aid lives up to the hype - taking four of its highest profile fans and examining the various benefits it has brought them.

Lady Gaga

Uses an Infrared Sauna to fight Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia

In 2017, Lady Gaga revealed that the mysterious and debilitating illness she’d been laid low by for years (even being forced to cancel whole tours) was in fact Fibromyalgia (1), a condition characterised by chronic widespread pain - but also often causing exhaustion, sensitivity to light, IBS, memory issues, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Choosing to go public with her suffering in order to spread the word, she said (2): “the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it.”

When it came to disclosing what had helped her through the worst flare ups of her agonising condition, Gaga explained (3) the trial-and-error process she’d endured, saying “Thought ice helped #Fibromyalgia. I was wrong & making it worse. Warm/Heat is better. Electric Heated Blanket, Infrared Sauna, Epsom Baths.” 

But this shout out to infrared sauna as a saviour from her suffering wasn’t a one-off. In further social media posts, Gaga went on to credit (4) Infrared light and heat therapy as a key tool in aiding her recovery:

“When my body goes into a spasm one thing I find really helps is infrared sauna. I've invested in one. They come in a large box form as well as a low coffin-like form and even some like electric blankets! […] It helps me to keep doing my passion, job and the things I love even on days when I feel like I can't get out of bed.”

And later, reiterating how much she continues to rely on her IR sauna to keep her health in check, she said: “I still deal with bone inflammation from my hip injury two years ago. But I keep control of pain with infrared sauna.”

The health truth behind the hype:

So, was Gaga justified in singing the praises of Infrared Sauna so enthusiastically as a way of managing chronic health conditions like Fibromyalgia?

According to the National Institute of Health (5), Chronic Pain is the number one cause of long-term disability in the whole of America, meaning it affects the lives of millions of people. There are numerous injuries and conditions that can cause Chronic Pain, and Fibromyalgia is one of them. 

Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for Fibromyalgia, but there are a number of treatments, like infrared sauna, which – anecdotally and scientifically – are increasingly recognised as having the ability to relieve symptoms and make this crippling condition easier to live with. 

One scientific study (6) looked at patients who had been hospitalised for Chronic Pain, and divided them into two groups. Half received cognitive behavioural therapy, rehabilitation and exercise therapy, whilst the other half were enrolled in the same program, but also spent 15 minutes in an infrared sauna, 5 days a week. What did the researchers find? The sauna group “exhibited diminished pain behaviours and had statistically lower anger scores”. Two years on, 77% of the sauna users had been able to return to work, whilst only 50% of the non-sauna group could say the same.

Another promising study (7), this time at the American College of Rheumatology, looked at the effects of thermal therapy in 44 female fibromyalgia sufferers (fibromyalgia affects 7 times as many (8) women than men). Combining sauna with underwater exercise, the patients’ pain, symptoms and quality of life were continuously assessed. By the end of the study, all 44 women reported “significant reductions in pain and symptoms” as well as an improvement in their overall quality of life, with reductions in pain as high as 78% reported by some. This impressive result wasn’t short-lived either; with participants still feeling the benefits 6 months later.

It’s thought that (9) the combined heat and light of an infrared sauna works to reduce swelling and inflammation – and thereby relieve pain - by increasing blood circulation, carrying off metabolic waste products and delivering oxygen-rich blood to sore muscles, joints and tissue. Similarly, as muscle fibres and joints are warmed by Infrared heat, muscle spasms and discomfort around nerve endings is also eased.

Supporting this, Neel Mehta M.D., medical director of pain management at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, explains that (10)

“a compound called nitric oxide is present when there's inflammation, and when a patient has infrared therapy, the increase in blood flow drives away the nitric oxide that's accumulating in the area."

Our verdict:

Whilst infrared therapy can’t be prescribed as a complete cure for Chronic Pain or Fibromyalgia, it can be confidently recommended as an extremely effective tool for easing symptoms, and for reducing pain and inflammation in the body more generally. 

As a sufferer of Fibromyalgia, Conscious Spaces Founder Tara Williams knows first-hand just how crucial infrared sauna sessions can be on the road to recovery, saying:

“using an infrared sauna has changed my life. I would say that it has been the single most effective tool in reducing the pain I experience from my fibromyalgia, and I honestly don’t know how I would have coped without it.”

Jennifer Aniston

Uses an infrared Sauna to get glowing skin 

As a natural beauty icon who looks half her age, when Jennifer Aniston reveals the trick up her sleeve to achieve “beautiful, glowing skin”, the world’s women sit up and take note.

Talking to Forbes Magazine (11) about her beauty, health and fitness mainstays, Aniston mentioned her fondness for infrared therapy, effusing:

“I really love an infrared sauna; it just allows for such beautiful, glowing skin and cell rejuvenation and detoxification. It even helps with weight loss and relaxation.”

Clearly enamoured, Aniston reels off not just one, but several ways she benefits from the healing heat of an infrared sauna. As radiant skin is something that so many of us strive for yet so few enjoy, we’re going to hone in on this part of Aniston’s praise.

The health truth behind the hype:

Just one session in an infrared sauna will open and cleanse pores, significantly increase blood flow and stimulate lymphatic circulation; bringing more nutrients and oxygen to the skin’s surface – all of which naturally helps to smooth and soften skin; giving it a youthful, rejuvenated rosy glow.

Repeated use of infrared therapy has been clinically proven (12) to increase collagen production and slow the development of wrinkles, whilst simultaneously reducing the appearance of any existing lines. 

Inflammatory skin conditions, from acne to psoriasis, have also been shown to respond favourably to infrared treatment. (13)

Our verdict:

When it comes to achieving that lit-from-within glow, we have to side with Aniston on this one and agree that there’s nothing quite like regular infrared sauna therapy to get your skin looking in great condition. 

Conscious Spaces Founder, Tara, is a total convert, telling us:

“There is a significant difference in my skin health, vitality and appearance when using my infrared sauna. After having to say goodbye to my older-style Infrared sauna, which had become like a trusted friend over the years - especially for pain management, within a week of waiting for my new one to arrive, I noticed the difference in my skin’s appearance and texture. My skin was considerably less glowy and pores and imperfections were much more pronounced. It was really quite remarkable.”

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex

Uses an Infrared Sauna to detox 

Not so long before she became a bona fide member of the British Royal Family, wellness enthusiast Meghan Markle was frequently to be found sharing her top tips for wellbeing - often through her own lifestyle blog, The Tig.

In amongst a whole host of holistic beauty rituals – from acupuncture to lymphatic drainage facials - when asked by a journalist what she does (14) once a week specifically for her health, she responded: 

“I sit it in an infrared sauna and sweat out all the toxins.” 

The health truth behind the hype:

It’s an unfortunate reality of modern life; we’re now almost constantly exposed to toxins of varying intensities. From alcohol and nicotine to pesticides in our food, chemicals in our cleaning products or mold spores in our homes – and even traces of confirmed or possible carcinogens, such as mercury, lead and arsenic - if you’re human, it’s a given that you’ll have some level of toxins present in your body. 

Increasingly, doctors are advocating (15) “an often overlooked route of excretion of toxicants” - the simple process of sweating. And the easiest way to break a concentrated sweat, helping to fully release deep tissue toxins – even those stored within fat cells - from the body, all without lifting a limb? A sauna session. If you make it an infrared sauna session, even better, as you can enjoy the same benefits from more tolerable, lower temperatures.

As part of a wide-reaching scientific review (16) of heavy metal toxins in sweat, doctors from research institutes and hospitals across Canada came to the conclusion that, not only does sweating enhance the excretion of toxic metals, it may also increase the excretion of other, more diverse pollutants too – such as the flame retardants that firefighters come into regular contact with. Infrared Saunas were specifically highlighted within this study as an effective method of detoxification via sweating.

A different study, (17) this time focusing on chemically sensitive patients, looked at the effects of daily sauna sessions on their symptoms. Within one month, 63% had measurably decreased levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies and 31% had improved symptoms.

Our verdict:

Our bodies are admittedly naturally very well versed in the art of removing toxins, by way of our kidneys and liver. In general terms, sweat’s main function is to keep us cool. But, as evidenced by a growing number of independent scientific studies, sweating can also release some chemicals and toxins - even potentially enhancing our bodies’ ability to excrete harmful substances.

We believe that when you sweat inside an infrared sauna, you’re able to sweat out the stress of the day, and - best case scenario - shed some toxins while you’re at it, in a totally safe, relaxing, restorative and therapeutic way, which can only serve to improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Twitter Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey

Uses a Near Infrared Sauna to improve mental clarity and boost energy levels

You might not be overly familiar with his name, but you will almost certainly be fully au fait with the social networking site he created.

Jack Dorsey is the American co-founder and CEO of Twitter. 

As if that wasn’t fame enough, he’s also the founder and CEO of Square, a staggeringly successful mobile payments company valued at $30 billion.

Not surprisingly, running not one, but two of the world’s most eminent tech companies takes its toll, leading Jack to search out products and therapies to keep him in peak condition; both physically and mentally. From intermittent fasting to Vipassana meditation, it seems Jack’s tried it all.

But speaking on Ben Greenfield’s podcast (18) about his daily health and fitness routine, the Silicon Valley billionaire was keen to cite one particular remedy that, he claimed, “has had probably the largest impact just in terms of how I feel but also mental clarity”. The remedy in question? A near infrared sauna, from SaunaSpace, to be precise:

“I recently discovered near-infrared. I purchased a SaunaSpace, which is a little company out of Columbia, Missouri that handmakes near-infrared saunas. It’s a light array of four incandescent bulbs. The cool thing about it is it’s actually in this little tent. So, it’s really portable. I put it in my garage next to where I do my workouts and whatnot.”

Jack went on to describe how his sauna sessions usually last “for 30 minutes to an hour”, emphasising the ability of his infrared sauna to boost his energy levels and leave him feeling restored; “even more so than the traditional dry sauna […] I feel a lot more energized. I feel a lot cleaner. I’m not getting the same temperature because the temperature is around 125 externally but it raises my core temperature very, very quickly. So, you sweat much faster than I would in the typical dry sauna at 220 degrees. […] The SaunaSpace feels more like daily restorative kind of clarifying and cleansing.”

Interestingly, for a man so deeply entrenched in the world of cutting-edge technology, Dorsey also demonstrated his clear appreciation of his sauna’s capacity to block electromagnetic fields and potentially harmful electromagnetic radiation, saying,

“and the tent itself is also EMF shielded. So, if I were to bring my phone in there, for instance, there’s no signal whatsoever. There’s no radiation EMF from power, from Wi-Fi, from cellular. So, even if I were to go in there and meditate and not turn the lights on, it feels a little bit different because you’re not getting hit by all the EMF energy.”

The health truth behind the hype:

Jack’s account is significant, because the benefits he discloses touch not only on his physical health (which we might reasonably expect with such an intense, full-body experience); but also, his mental health too. Intriguingly, he says his infrared sauna sessions have brought him “mental clarity”, been incredibly “restorative”, and have left him feeling “energised”. 

Hot baths, hot yoga, saunas - all these things are widely associated with relaxation and calm. Now, research teams at WebMD (19) think they might have discovered why, stating that “short periods of elevated body temperature (hyperthermia) can be an antidepressant”. Two separate studies - both using infrared heat therapy - led them to this conclusion, with results showing that just a single infrared treatment produced a powerful mood-enhancing effect, reducing patients’ depression scores by almost 50% - a result which lasted for six weeks. Patients on the programme who received a placebo, meanwhile, displayed no discernable antidepressant effects. 

In another study, (20) 28 patients with depression, fatigue and appetite loss were divided into two groups. The first received twenty 15-minute infrared sauna sessions over a 4-week period. The second, known as the ‘control group’, didn’t participate in any thermal therapy. When compared with this control group, infrared sauna treatment produced statistically significant improvements in the first group’s energy levels, hunger and ability to relax.

Studies have shown that increasing the hormone BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) (21) could be an effective way to battle depression and anxiety. Interestingly, sauna use has been found to increase BDNF, which may be another reason why infrared saunas can feel so restorative and reviving. 

Infrared saunas are also known to (22) help open blood vessels, boosting artery function by up to 40% and thereby increasing and improving blood flow, nourishing the brain and potentially leading to that feeling of ‘mental clarity’ - not to mention helping you to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease that can lead to strokes and heart attacks.  

Our verdict:

With the modern epidemic of mental illness showing no signs of abating, we believe that anything that might help lift mood and ease suffering deserves further investigation. Recent scientific studies into the effects of Infrared therapy on patients with depression - though small in scale - offer very promising results, and demonstrate a link between sauna usage, increased energy levels and a feeling of contentment and relaxation. 

We’re also encouraged by the fact that one of the top CEOs of Silicon Valley, who has made his fortune through technology, uses the very same SaunaSpace near infrared sauna available in our Conscious Spaces shop, precisely because it shields him from harmful electromagnetic radiation.

Stay tuned for more

With new research coming out all the time on the infrared sauna’s ability to improve health and ward off disease - potentially acting as a prevention for conditions as diverse as Alzheimer’s and obesity - stay tuned for more articles looking at just how far the health benefits of infrared therapy could go. 

Now for the fun part…which kind of infrared sauna therapy will you try?

Browse our expertly curated selection of the world’s best infrared sauna products, from SaunaSpace’s hand-crafted, portable designs to Clearlight’s eco-certified, luxurious wood cabins, and transform the way you detox and heal your body.

References

(1) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fibromyalgia/
(2) https://twitter.com/ladygaga/status/907571825294675968
(3) https://twitter.com/ladygaga/status/907755622162223104
(4) https://www.instagram.com/p/BM-GxxBBY_n/?utm_source=ig_embed 
(5) https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=57
(6) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531513105017504?via%3Dihub 
(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21742283
(8) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fibromyalgia/
(9) https://www.infraredsauna.co.uk/relieves-muscle-pain/
(10) https://www.shape.com/celebrities/news/pain-relief-method-lady-gaga-swears
(11) https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahwu/2015/06/08/jennifer-aniston-on-summer-skincare-infrared-saunas-and-unscripted-beauty#2633a38d7d68
(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2687728/
(13) https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0026/7229/6025/files/Low-Level-Laser-Light-Therapy-LLLT-for-Cosmetic-Medicine-and-Dermatology.pdf?280178955130784061
(14) https://thechalkboardmag.com/living-well-with-meghan-markle-of-the-tig
(15) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8150/758f867c1d1f12ad81db4d913696eaf7767a.pdf?_ga=2.189356898.87109270.1572534191-934046536.1572534191
(16) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8150/758f867c1d1f12ad81db4d913696eaf7767a.pdf
(17) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13590849609001042
(18) https://www.podcastone.com/episode/The-Jack-Dorsey-Podcast-Advanced-Stress-Mitigation-Tactics-Extreme-Time-Saving-Workouts-DIY-Cold-Tubs-Hormesis-One-Meal-A-Day--More
(19) https://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/20160707/can-sitting-in-a-sauna-ease-depression
(20) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046381
(21) https://selfhacked.com/blog/a-comprehensive-list-of-natural-ways-to-increase-bdnf/
(22) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11583886

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