Hot Topic: Health Perks From Infrared Saunas

    By Celia Shatzman

When clients come to urban sweat lodge Shape House, the first thing they do is change into a long-sleeved cotton top and pants—essentially loose-fitting pajamas—and get tucked into an infrared blanket as they lie down on a bed in a curtained-off room. The sensation is similar to snuggling into a warm sleeping bag from the shoulders down. During each session, people can watch TV or listen to music.

But this is no slumber party. “The service that we offer uses far-infrared heat,” explains Sophie Chiche, founder of Shape House, which has locations in California and New York. “The blankets have ceramic plates that heat you from the core. We offer a place for people to be taken care of, where you can relax, detox, watch TV, be tucked in—there are many pieces to the experience that clients come for.”

Not every infrared sauna requires a blanket—most have a similar setup to traditional saunas, where you sweat it out in an enclosed room. “An infrared sauna is usually made out of wood,” says Donna Perrone, resident of Gravity East Village, a wellness center in New York City. “People will lie down or sit with a towel to experience the heat generated that usually produces profuse sweating. Saunas can be various sizes; we seat one to two people in ours.”

How infrared works

So what makes an infrared sauna different from a traditional one? Infrared saunas use heat and light to detoxify and relax the body. They’re also called far-infrared saunas or near-infrared saunas. The infrared light waves they omit create heat in the body, causing people to sweat and release stored toxins.

They are different from traditional saunas because the air in your surrounding environment doesn’t warm up—only your body. Infrared saunas also produce lower temperatures, typically about 25 percent cooler, so that combination makes them easier for people to tolerate than dry saunas or steam rooms because they’re not as oppressive.

“There are different ways to create heat stress on the body,” explains Michael Perrine, colon hydro therapist, certified holistic health counselor, detoxification consultant, and owner and founder of Vitality NYC, a nutritional detox studio in New York City. “The body responds to external heat by opening up pathways of elimination through the skin, generally through sweat. With infrared saunas, the infrared heat of light can travel into the body an inch and a half, which allows for a deeper sweat. As the rays penetrate into the body, it can trick your body into thinking it’s in a fever state, so you’re basically biohacking the immune system.”

Hydration is crucial

When using an infrared sauna, staying hydrated is crucial. Be sure to up your water intake before, during and after your session. You can bring a beverage into the sauna with you, which may allow you stay inside for a longer period. Perrine recommends sipping on green juice, electrolyte water or coconut water because the electrolytes will do you good. As long as they’re in good health, first-timers can aim for a 30-minute session, though overweight people may need a shorter option. Newbies shouldn’t be afraid to come in and out of the sauna as they please if they need to cool down. Over time, people can build up tolerance to the heat. “It’s an acclimating process; you don’t have to go all in at first,” Perrine says. Certain people should avoid infrared saunas, including pregnant women, those who have been advised to avoid heat, and people with heart or kidney issues, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. People with health issues should consult their doctors first.

Possible benefits

Once you are free and clear to try an infrared sauna, there are plenty of reasons you might want to get your sweat on in one. Following are some of the health benefits that Perrone and Chiche say can come with regular infrared sweat sessions (and of course, experience and results will depend on the individual):


Skin is the largest organ of elimination, so when we open those channels, a lot of toxicity escapes through skin, most notably heavy metals. Arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury can be excreted in sweat. “The way infrared works is it warms you from the inside out, so you absorb the waves almost entirely, and that allows a much deeper detoxification with an infrared sauna, whereas a standard sauna warms you from the outside in,” Perrone explains. “Those are really important aspects of detoxification, since it’s great for removing heavy metals. Heavy metals are in so many things, and even the earth gives off mercury emissions. I personally had high mercury and lead levels, but I started using the infrared sauna once a week and it went down to zero. The other benefit is infrared saunas cause the cells to vibrate, and that literally shakes toxins loose from the cells. A regular sauna is not going to be on that level.”

Chronic pain

Those suffering from arthritis, stiffness and muscle pain might breathe a sigh of relief after a session. “Infrared saunas can increase blood plasma volume and blood flow, especially to the heart, helping clear out tissue that might have inflammation through increased blood flow,” Perrine explains. A study from Saxion University of Applied Science in the Netherlands found that infrared sauna treatments helped reduce chronic pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Skin health

Nothing brings on a radiant complexion like good sweat. “One of the first things people notice after their session is their glowing and smooth skin,” Chiche says. The pores can clean themselves out via profuse sweating, removing makeup, lotion and other elements that can clog up skin. “The increased blood flow and circulation overall is going to make you look younger and have better skin because it is permeating into the tissue,” Perrone says. Plus, infrared saunas can prevent oxidative stress.

Weight loss

Shape House’s founder has lost 180 pounds and attributes the last 80 pounds to sweating. “Sweating is one of the best ways to maintain wellness and balance in life,” Chiche says. “There are different reasons why people gain weight, and sweating tends to balance a lot of the elements that make it possible to lose weight.” Infrared saunas can help with weight loss by heavy metal detoxification, since that can affect the thyroid, Perrone explains. “People who have issues with slower metabolism will find they can rev their metabolism by using an infrared sauna regularly,” she says.

Cardiovascular health

“Sweating restores the body, which allows for more stamina, so people report having a much stronger ability to perform when they’re training or working out,” Chiche says. Regularly using an infrared sauna can improve circulation, leading to better blood flow through the vascular system. “When we increase blood plasma, the heart has to work less, so in turn it lowers blood pressure, even when someone is exercising,” Perrine says.

Mental health

“We find that aging is very much the cause of lack of sleep and a stressful life,” Chiche says. “In many reports from our clients, sweating helps them sleep deeper and gives them an hour to relax, helping them to function better in general.” Infrared saunas also can help release the hormone responsible for increasing focus, Perrine says.

Photo Credits: Billion Photos, Shutterstock; werayuth, Adobe Stock; Chepko, Thinkstock; cristovao31, Adobe Stock; Nattakorn Maneerat, Thinkstock; Wavebreakmedia, Thinkstock; Rostislav_Sedlacek, Thinkstock; jacoblund, Thinkstock; GeorgeRudy, Thinkstock.


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Celia Shatzman

Celia Shatzman covers everything from beauty and grooming to fashion, travel, fitness, psychology, health, career and finance. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, SELF, Teen Vogue, ForbesLife, NYLON, New York, Condé Nast Traveler, ELLE.com, New York Post, USA TODAY, Time Out New York, Health.com, StyleBistro.com, BBC Travel, Latina, Organic Spa Magazine, WomensHealthMag.com, Prevention.com, Yoga Journal, and BUST, among others. She graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and now calls Brooklyn home.