Humans have been enjoying the health benefits of working up a sweat in heated spaces for thousands of years. From the Mayan’s dome-shaped vapour baths built from volcanic rock, to the steamy complexes of Roman times, the phenomenon of cleansing, relaxing and healing the body through sweating transcends societies.
The standard image of a sauna is a panelled wooden hut heated by hot stones and ladled water. But there’s a different type of sauna from this traditional Finnish design which has won widespread adulation – propelling it into the media spotlight and amassing a devoted following of regular users; the infrared sauna.
Already big news in the US, infrared studios are now becoming an established feature of the UK wellness scene, with those in the know enthusing about the mood-boosting, glow-enhancing, injury-relieving, metabolism-firing properties of infrared heat.
So how does an infrared sauna differ from a traditional Finnish sauna, and why are they so effective?
Within the spectrum of light, infrared is an invisible band that we experience as heat. With Infrared, you’re essentially getting the benefits of natural, warming sunlight with none of the risks associated with harmful UV rays; a totally safe and inherently healing heat source. In fact, infrared is so safe, (1) it’s even used to keep newborn babies warm in hospital. Whilst a traditional sauna heats the environment and air around the body, infrared saunas use infrared light waves to heat the body directly. Infrared heat works by warming your core body temperature, penetrating tissue more deeply with far-reaching effects.
The air in a Finnish sauna is humid and can reach stiflingly high temperatures, whereas the air in an infrared sauna is dry, and significantly cooler. This is thanks to the fact that infrared heat causes the body to sweat at a lower temperature than that required for traditional saunas - meaning users can tolerate longer periods inside reaping their rewards. (2) As an added bonus, infrared saunas are smaller and simpler to install than their Finnish counterparts, making them more affordable.
Here’s how using an infrared sauna could significantly boost your health and well-being:
Detoxify your body
The skin is the largest organ in the body, and sweating – as promoted by the deep-penetrating heat of an infrared sauna - is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to expel impurities and flush out toxins (3) including pesticides, alcohol, nicotine and traces of toxic metals such as mercury, nickel and lead.
Get that elusive glow
Regular use of infrared therapy has been clinically proven (4) to reduce the appearance and slow the formation of wrinkles, increase collagen and elastin production, and improve overall skin texture and tone. Numerous skin complaints, from psoriasis to acne, have similarly been shown to respond favourably to infrared treatment. (5) Infrared heat also stimulates circulation, bringing more nutrients and oxygen to the skin’s surface to deliver that lit-from-within healthy glow.
Ease pain, reduce inflammation and support injury recovery
From muscular injuries and joint discomfort, to more crippling conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, (6) chronic headaches, (7) back pain (8) and fibromyalgia, (9) infrared therapy is an effective tool in the healing of many kinds of pain, stiffness and inflammation. Restorative infrared heat penetrates deep into body tissue, helps to deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscles and has been shown to encourage endorphin (AKA the body’s natural painkiller) release.
Relieve stress and cultivate inner calm
The sanctuary-like interior of an infrared sauna brings with it a sense of meditative tranquillity; where the stresses of the outside world melt away. Studies have shown the sauna’s ability to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (10) in users, demonstrating how repeated sessions can diminish anxiety, improve mood and bring a feeling of inner calm.
Boost your metabolism
A study conducted by New York’s Binghamton University (11) demonstrated that an increase in core body temperature, generated by infrared sauna use, resulted in a decrease in body fat. It revealed that people who used an infrared sauna for 30 minutes, three times a week, dropped an average of 4% body fat over a four-month period. On top of significantly boosting your body’s metabolic rate, an infrared sauna session can burn up to 600 calories – all whilst sitting still.
Improve your heart health
Impressively, studies have shown (12) that frequent sauna use could significantly decrease the risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease and fatal cardiovascular disease. By dilating and reducing the inner lining of blood vessels, infrared heat promotes cardiac health and reduces systolic blood pressure.