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How Infrared Saunas Become the Hottest New Wellness Fix

Feeling stressed out? Skin looking lackluster? Bummed out by your inconsistent exercise routine? A quick hang in an infrared sauna could be just the high-intensity remedy you need. Advocates of infrared saunas—beds or small rooms equipped with infrared rays that heat the body itself, not just the atmosphere around you—claim getting hot can actually help you chill out. Each 30- to 60-minute session might also help improve your mood, boost your metabolism, and detox your body. If you want the full rundown, read on. We’re just warming up!   


The Origin Story

Sweating it out in an enclosed room for better health and for relaxation is an ancient concept that’s part of both Western and Eastern tradition. The term sauna itself is derived from an old Finnish word savuna that literally means “in smoke,” and while the Finns take credit for the concept, too, the consensus is that it originated somewhere in northern Europe, a region that includes Estonia, Latvia, and Russia. These early sweat rooms used wood fires to heat rocks on a stove, and then water was thrown on the stones to create a warm and cozy—but not too humid—atmosphere. Sweat lodges and temazcals were (and still are) integral to indigenous cultures and their spiritual practices in the Americas as well, and Korean, Turkish, and Russian bathhouses have a long history of attracting those who want to experience a cleansing schvitz. Fast forward to modern times, when saunas and steam rooms became ubiquitous in fitness studios and spas the world over.

The Rise to Fame

Infrared saunas have been around since the mid 20th century when Japanese doctors started working with radiant heat to warm the body and promote healing. Using far infrared light, these saunas work at a lower temperature, making it more appealing to those who really hate sitting in a hot room. The light rays are invisible, don’t contain harmful UV rays, and make you sweat. A LOT. That, uh, outpouring is supposed to be great for encouraging muscle recovery, boosting metabolism, promoting circulation, improving the skin, and releasing toxins. Plus, studies have shown that sauna use can help treat mild depression and chronic headaches. But there’s no real evidence on the detoxifying benefits or the claim that you lose more than water weight. Like most things wellness-related, the popularity of infrared saunas took off through media and celebrity endorsements, thanks to the likes of Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Busy Phillips. Places like Chill Space, Sky Ting, HigherDOSE, Shapehouse are at the top of the game, and even though not every claim is backed by science, infrared saunas are considered safe—so it’s absolutely fine to sweat this trend.

4 Ways to Explore

  1. Some solid advice for the infrared sauna newbie if you’re curious to give it a go. 
  2. In case you want to try this at home, Runner’s World reviews the best options for in-house use.
  3. If you’re relaxing in the heat, you’re going to need a good playlist.
  4. Maybe cozying up to an infrared heater is more your speed?