Are infrared saunas actually safe?
Lady Gaga swears by them and so does our editor – but is sweating it out – and searing off up to 700 calories in a session – actually healthy?
She’s been making headlines over the last few weeks but Lady Gaga’s views on love and relationships – or even her relatively new album – aren’t the only things that have garnered interest.
The singer, who has documented her struggle with chronic pain on Instagram, recently shared a shot of herself cloaked in an emergency blanket from an infrared sauna. She said it helps alleviate the symptoms of her condition.
Apparently, this new wave of light therapy can help you detox, lose weight, boost the immune system, lower stress levels and improve sleeping patterns.
But what exactly is it – and what does it do?
According to Neil O’Sullivan, the co-founder of Sydney’s first spa and wellness centre to offer this service, Nimbus & Co, infrared saunas, as its name would suggest, use infrared light “to give off radiated heat that penetrates deep within your tissues, muscles and cells, heating you from the inside out.”
This differs from traditional saunas that “use convection and conduction to heat the surface of your skin,” and instead, work the opposite way.
The result? A slower build-up of heat over a session that can last up to 45 minutes, and “heats you from your core.”
“As it’s a dry heat, it’s a more comfortable experience – you won’t be gasping for air after five seconds. It takes about 15 minutes for you to start sweating but once you do, it gets very hot – up to 70 degrees to be exact. As the near, mid and far infrared light heats you from the inside out, rather than the outside in, it penetrates deeper than a traditional sauna. It has the strength and benefits of the sun, without the nasty UV rays,” says O’Sullivan, whose clients come in for a range of reasons:
“Sweating is the body’s natural process to remove toxins and nasty chemicals from the body. Infrared rays gently heat the body, increasing the core temperate creating a deeper reaction from within your body’s cells to assist the detoxification process.”
“A number of studies have shown that you can burn up to 700 calories per session. As your body attempts to cool itself down, it also increases your heart and metabolic rate making you burn more calories.”
“‘Far’ Infrared heat has been shown to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in your skin. Sweating improves blood circulation as well as skin elasticity, tone, texture and firmness – it also helps unblock pores and reduce blemishes. A weekly infrared sauna session will leave you glowing and the more you sweat the better you’ll feel.”
“You need to be kind to your skin, after all, you will be living in it for your entire life. Regular sweating allows your body to detoxify nasty chemicals, pollutants and dirt lodged within the dermal layer. Studies have shown that the average person is exposed to 700,000 toxins a day, scary right?
“Infrared heat increases the blood flow and brings essential nutrients to the surface of the skin – allowing your body to naturally glow.”
“When you use a sauna it increases the core temperature of your body. Bacteria and viruses can’t survive under certain temperatures and this increased heating helps your body fight these off, giving your immune system that added boost.”
Stress reduction and sleeping
“One of the biggest benefits to an infrared sauna is relaxation and the chance to de-stress. People today live busy lives and we are now under more daily stress than ever before. An infrared sauna session can help you unwind but it also decreases the production of cortisol, the main hormone for stress in the body. If you’ve had a rough day there’s no better place to be than an infrared sauna, plus it might help you sleep a little better.”
And it’s not just people after the wellness benefits – or, you know celebrities – that have taken to sweating it out under LED lights.
My Body + Soul’s editor, Eliza Cracknell, is a fan.
“I went to an infrared sauna earlier this year – the weather was cold and I had to start work very early in the morning, so would often find it hard to get to the gym after work because I was so tired!
“It was a nice way to switch off and let myself relax for an hour – no interruptions, no people and no phones to endlessly scroll on. It was something that became important for my wellbeing – almost like a meditation class. I found that I could think, get excited about story ideas and read a good book or magazine in peace. It forced me to unwind and de-stress.
“It’s hot in there, but not like a normal sauna. The heat is gradual and you only start really heating up after 10-15 minutes – but the way you sweat is quite different to a regular sauna – it’s more a dripping from your pores, like the body is ridding itself of toxins.”
“But I would recommend it to a busy person who doesn’t often take time to just relax. Or someone, like me, who likes to do a million things at once, there is something nice about being locked in a wooden room, forced to unwind,” she says.
Before you throw in the yoga mat and book yourself in for back-to-back for sessions, O’Sullivan says this treatment isn’t on the cards if you’re under 18; over 55; have a cardiovascular condition; are prone to bleeding; pregnant; or suffering from a chronic health condition.
“If you are unsure about using an infrared sauna, always consult with your doctor or physician first,” says O’Sullivan, who warns that people can become dehydrated in the sessions – which last up to 45 minutes – especially if they’ve had a big night before.
And, according to GP Dr Jessica Ivany “there’s no evidence to suggest that infrared saunas actually have any health benefits, so I wouldn’t routinely recommend it to anyone at this stage.
“You’ll probably burn some calories from overheating but I wouldn’t think it would help with immune boosting or benefit people with chronic conditions.
And, like O’Sullivan, Dr Ivany agrees that this is an absolute no-go if you’re pregnant – “pregnant women should definitely not do this – it can be very dangerous for the foetus if your body temperature overheats.”
“I also wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a heart condition as heat will normally accelerate heart rate, and for others, it could also worsen allergies – like hay fever, for example – as exposure to dry air sometimes does.
“I’d advise people to check with their doctor before, especially if they have diabetes, a thyroid condition, or something that needs to be monitored.”
If you’re concerned about your health, book an appointment with your GP who will advise a correct treatment plan.