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.”
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.
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):