If you're a wellness lover like us, there's a good chance you've heard about infrared sauna treatments. Or, more realistically, you've probably seen images of them grace your Instagram feed. While models and everyday folks are getting in on the sweaty trend, you might be wondering whether or not these saunas are actually worth the hype. And hey, you're not alone. As with any highly touted treatment, it's sensible to consider whether or not the oft-posted-about benefits are actually real or just a figment of an influencer's paid-for reality. To help you sort through the infrared narrative, we chatted with two of the leading ladies behind a couple of the industry's top infrared offerers: Katie Kaps, cofounder and co-CEO of HigherDOSE, and Chillhouse founder and CEO Cyndi Ramirez.
Ahead, you'll learn what an infrared sauna is and what benefits it can deliver to help you decide if it's something you want to explore further.
What Is an Infrared Sauna?
An infrared sauna is a wooden box equipped with infrared heaters that are designed to detoxify and heal the body, boost mood, and more. Unlike traditional saunas that feature steam or dry heat to warm a room, infrared saunas use infrared heat lamps in confined spaces to raise body temperature directly.
“Infrared heat is very gentle,” says Kaps. “The experience is similar to lying in the sun on a warm day and feeling the heat radiate to the core of your body.” Unlike traditional (hot rock or steam) saunas—which operate at well in excess of 200°F—infrared heat has the benefit of being effective at a more comfortable operating temperature of 100°-150°F, which is why it’s less likely to interfere with breathing and more likely to be manageable for an entire 60-minute session’s duration.
Benefits of an Infrared Sauna
• Promotes circulation
• Relieves pain
• Boosts mood
Because infrared heat penetrates human tissue versus simply heating the surface of the skin, Kaps claims infrared saunas are more effective than traditional saunas at detoxifying the body.
Infrared is able to assist with myriad bodily concerns, according to Ramirez. “The powerful heat of the infrared lights promote circulation in the body, which can lead to increased metabolism, muscle and joint pain relief, boosted immune system, and, of course, stress and fatigue reduction,” says Ramirez.
Infrared saunas may also boost collagen production and mood, especially if you incorporate chromotherapy lights into your session (more on those, below). Best of all, the mood-boosting benefits are immediate—Kaps says that you'll start to sweat and feel the benefits within the first 10 minutes or so. Though, if you're aiming to witness a major skin or weight transformation, continued sessions are necessary.
Some infrared sauna treatments, like those at HigherDOSE and Chillhouse, come with chromotherapy (or light therapy) as well. “Light therapy is used for specific ailments within the body as well as for mood and allowing more energy to flow to certain chakras,” Kaps explains. "But where we’re seeing it most these days is in beauty treatments." Chromotherapy utilizes different shades of light for different therapies. Where red LED light is used for building collagen and pain relief, for instance, blue LED light is effective at killing acne-causing bacteria.
How to Prepare for an Infrared Sauna
Ramirez says to drink plenty of water and get an ample amount of sleep the day before your sweat sesh. This ensures you're less likely to feel faint or get dehydrated during the experience.
You might also want to bring some form of entertainment along, just in case you get bored. If you're a fidgety person like I am, it helps to have a podcast or your favorite music on hand, as sitting silently while sweating can make you antsy quick (and I say that knowing firsthand).
What to Expect at an Infrared Sauna
Whether you're a first-time infrared user or a seasoned veteran, expect to sweat like crazy and feel amazing after. “Though it’s one of the most relaxing ways you can break a sweat and burn calories, the heat can be particularly intense for newbies,” Ramirez says. “Also, keep in mind that the purpose of this service is to sweat out toxins, and it’s not uncommon to sweat for up to 30 minutes following your session.”
In terms of the treatment itself, most studios offer 30- and 60-minute sessions (Chillhouse offers 60- and 75-minute sessions) so that sweaters will have plenty of time to rinse off after. As with most wellness treatments, many people think that infrared sauna seshes come with a pretty price tag. However, they're more approachable than you might think. A 30-minute session at HigherDOSE costs $45 and a 60-minute session rings up at $65; you can add a person to your pod for an additional $15 if you're cool with sharing a small space. And, if you live in New York City, a 60-minute Chill Heat sesh costs $60 and a 75-minute treatment rings up at $75; again, you can pay $15 extra for a two-person treatment.
Following 45 minutes spent in an infrared sauna, I felt refreshed, revived, and better than ever (unlike when I'm dizzy and wheezing after a mere 15-minutes in a steam sauna)—just as I do post mermaid, wheelbarrow, and plank. For that reason, I like to weave regular infrared treatments into my monthly routine (though I'd happily oblige to weekly if my schedule and wallet permitted) to supplement my megaformer workouts, calm my nerves, stabilize my immune system, and keep my mood in check.
It's worth noting that it takes some getting used to in order to feel completely comfortable in an infrared sauna. During my first-ever infrared session, while not unbearably hot, I needed to open the door a few times to let a cool breeze in. From then on, I chose to bring an ice-cold insulated water bottle with me to stay cool without taking away from the heated space.
After your session, it's important to continue to hydrate throughout the day, as you're likely to keep sweating for hours after. You may burn calories from sitting in a sauna—you might even lose a little bit of water weight, though it will likely come back— and this is all the more reason to stay hydrated in the hours after.
The Final Takeaway
Infrared saunas offer one of the most relaxing ways to break a sweat. Unlike traditional steam or stone saunas or even sauna blankets for that matter, infrared treatments are comfortable from start to finish and are less likely to make you feel faint or short of breath. What's more, they lend you that flushed, fresh-from-the-steam-room glow that we all strive for.
Ryotokuji K, Ishimaru K, Kihara K, Namiki Y, Hozumi N. Effect of pinpoint plantar long-wavelength infrared light irradiation on subcutaneous temperature and stress markers. Laser Ther. 2013;22(2):93-102. doi:10.3136/islsm.22.93
Wunsch A, Matuschka K. A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase. Photomed Laser Surg. 2014;32(2):93-100. doi:10.1089/pho.2013.3616
Dai T, Gupta A, Murray CK, Vrahas MS, Tegos GP, Hamblin MR. Blue light for infectious diseases: propionibacterium acnes, helicobacter pylori, and beyond? Drug Resist Updat. 2012;15(4):223-236. doi:10.1016/j.drup.2012.07.001