Lady Gaga is a fan – sessions are said to increase heart rate, burn up calories, and promote weight loss.
But what are the real benefits of infrared saunas? We spoke to Phil Goodwin, founder of Sydney’s BodyMindLife yoga and meditation studio and Vrai Health treatment centre, to unpack this celebrity health trend.
Infrared saunas have been glorified by Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, and Lady Gaga champions the sauna treatment for soothing her chronic shoulder pain. Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, and Selena Gomez are also recent devotees.
However, the technology isn’t entirely new. Infrared light therapy has been used by hospitals and medical treatment centres as early as the mid-20th century to warm premature newborns and nurture their growth, to accelerate healing for athletes, or to treat patients with arthritis.
The concept of using infrared signals as remedial therapy borrows from traditional Chinese palm healing, which attempts to channel the low infrared energy emitted from our hands.
As for how the sauna works, and how it’s different to sweating it out in a regular Finnish-style steam sauna – basically, the treatment room uses just infrared heaters, instead of hot steam.
“Light technology on the infrared spectrum penetrates deeper into the body, cleansing the tissues much more effectively than traditional steam and hot rock saunas,” explains Phil. “Our infrared sauna sits at a treatment temperature of 65°C for 45 minutes or less, which is around 40°C lower than a traditional coal sauna."
"It doesn’t heat up the air around you which means that your body will often cope better with the extreme heat for a longer period of time."
Phil believes a session in the infrared sauna is "the ideal therapy to soothe aches and pains, eliminate toxins and de-stress from everyday life."
It seems Lady Gaga agrees. "When my body goes into a spasm one thing I find really helps is infrared sauna. I've invested in one," the singer posted on Instagram late last year.
According to Phil, infrared sauna can promote increased endurance, easier acquisition of muscle mass, and a general increased capacity of stress tolerance.
“Studies show the composition of chemicals found in the sweat during an infrared sauna is quite different from that produced by a traditional hot rock sauna,” he explains.
“The sweat of people using a far infrared sauna will not only contain water but will also contain cholesterol, fat-soluble toxins, heavy metals, nicotine, sulfuric acid, ammonia and other undesirable elements. Normal sweat produced by other methods is mostly water and sodium chloride or salt.”
Some infrared fans believe time in the sauna can also burn up calories like a cardio session and help with weight loss.
Phil agrees that being in an infrared sauna can lift your heart rate to that of moderate exercise. "For me I can get up to 140-160BPM depending on the heat of the sauna – this is amazing for cardiovascular health," he says.
"As far as burning calories, there is a slight increase in calorie burning that occurs in far-infrared saunas, but not the same amount as you would get from exercise."
So while it's not yet declared to be fully fledged science, the real benefits of infrared saunas can be "detoxification through perspiration and circulation of blood, which improves all the functioning of your internal systems and makes any exercising you do more effective," adds Phil.
"Not to mention the added benefit of calming and focusing your mind in the 45 minutes by listening to music and meditating."
You can find out more or a book a session at Vrai Health in Sydney here.