Infrared saunas are the latest wellness trend to have transcended the clinic and entered our homes, thanks to a host of at-home infrared sauna blankets hitting the market. But can these body-warming cocoons really offer benefits beyond relaxation? Here, we explain everything you need to know about infrared saunas, from the science to the real results, and the best ways to experience one yourself.
What is an infrared sauna?
While a traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air around you, an infrared sauna uses infrared to directly warm the body itself. The heat generated by the infrared panels can penetrate human tissue better than warmed air, and bring about a host of deeper benefits.
Most infrared saunas run at between 100 and 140 degrees – and yes you’ll sweat intensely, but without the stuffy sensation that puts many people off a traditional sauna.
The infrared sauna benefits
By increasing your core body temperature by up to three degrees, an infrared sauna can deliver a wide range of benefits. Firstly, there’s the mental boost: converts claim to feel more relaxed, with reduced anxiety and longer, deeper sleep.
In the physical realm, infrared saunas are said to reduce inflammation, helping muscle recovery and soothing joint pain, and support a weight-loss plan by prompting the body to burn calories. Some also believe controlled sweating sessions to have visible benefits to the skin (although science is yet to support this).
As Dr. Yannis Alexandrides MD FACS, founder of 111 Skin explains, “thermotherapy can also be beneficial for those that suffer with soft-tissue injuries, and is commonly used with therapeutic effects to: increase collagen tissues, decrease joint stiffness, reduce pain, relieve muscle spasms, reduce inflammation and aid healing.” The idea is that, by increasing blood circulation around the body, tissues are provided with the vital proteins, nutrients and oxygen that they need to recover at an optimal rate.
“Infrared therapy is much more convenient and effective when healing areas of the body because the heat radiation can directly treat the area and focus on the blood capillaries and neuron terminals,” adds Alexandrides. “From a direct contact source such as infrared, the heat can transfer and penetrate the skin for a deeper layer of conduction.”
In terms of scientific support, studies are currently scant on the merits of infrared saunas. Research does exist, and is especially supportive of the technology’s ability to boost mood, reduce blood pressure and dim chronic pain, but studies have only been conducted on small groups of people. However, on the whole, the verdict is promising, with no adverse effects being reported.
Indeed, the mental benefits are likely to appeal as we head into the darker months and face a winter of troubling world news. Slipping into a warm, weighted cocoon after a testing day or chilly commute is both relaxing and joy-inducing - and that's surely reason enough to indulge.
Are infrared saunas safe for everyone?
Infrared saunas will be appealing to anyone who finds a traditional sauna stifling, or simply wants to reap the benefits regularly at home.
The concept of directly heating your body may sound concerning for some, but health experts widely agree there’s little risk involved in infrared sauna use. (Consider that the technology is akin to that used to gently warm neonatal beds in hospitals.)
However, infrared saunas are not recommended for pregnant women and anyone with heart disease.
Be aware of how much water you’re drinking, as the intense sweating can of course lead to dehydration. It’s advisable to drink a glass of water before a sauna session, and take small sips throughout.
Infrared sauna: where to go
111 Skin leads the industry when it comes to advanced therapies, and the brand’s 111CRYO/HEAT outpost at Harvey Nichols in London boasts a world-leading infrared sauna pod alongside a cryotherapy chamber, offering both extremes of temperature for the most enthusiastic wellness seekers.
The brand’s infrared sauna is a step up from most, combining direct heat with light (think: a full-body LED mask) to amp up the benefits at skin level and vibrational massage to support tension relief.
For post-workout recovery, Sloane Square’s KXU gym offers sessions of either 25 or 45 minutes in its own infrared pod, while Cloud Twelve is the destination for West Londoners.
The rise of the infrared sauna blanket
The benefits of regular infrared sauna sessions may be tempting, but visiting a spa or clinic several times a week is unlikely to be feasible for most. Enter: the at-home infrared sauna blanket. These portable, fold-away cocoons deliver all of the benefits with practicality to boot: you can slip in and out as often as you like, from the comfort of your own bedroom.
Market leader MiHigh has created a blanket that truly surpasses expectations. Crafted with infrared heating panels sandwiched between waterproof technical fabric, it's clearly the simplest way to reap the benefits of heat therapy. Simply plug it in, slip inside, select your heat setting (from 95 to 165 Fahrenheit) and switch off for 30-60 minutes.
The sensation is undeniably relaxing: imagine the comfort of a weighted blanket combined with dry, completely controllable heat. The brand sells sweat-absorbing towel inserts as part of its Experience Kit, which mean you can use your blanket without clothing, and there’s a specialist cleaning spray to wipe the interior after each session. In all, it's a brilliantly effective way to reap the benefits of infrared sauna without having to travel to a clinic.
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