Infrared saunas are a buzzy new health trend, popular with everyone from Busy Philips to firefighters in Iowa. Reportedly, spending time in these specialty saunas can help with a huge host of health ills, from aiding in detoxification and stress-relief to lessening pain and lowering high blood pressure. Sounds like a tall order for a spa treatment, but the growing popularity of infrared saunas shows that people are buying into their benefits.
So, how do infrared saunas work?
Infrared saunas use infrared light to heat your body directly (rather than heating the air around you, as normal saunas do). The infrared light has a longer wavelength than the light we can see, so it’s invisible to the human eye. The research on infrared saunas is still developing, but the good news is that there don’t seem to be many risks associated with the practice — only potential benefits.
After writing about the benefits of light therapy in the past, I was pretty intrigued. So I decided to try it myself. I don’t have any particular ailments I’m trying to heal, but I’m always game to try out a new health craze, especially if it’s one that’s linked lessening stress and promoting relaxation. I booked a session at Gambei Wellness, a charming little spa in downtown Albuquerque, NM.
What’s the infrared sauna experience like?
Gambei has a Sunlighten sauna, specifically the mPulse 3-in-1 infrared, which has three different types of infrared light, as well as settings for different goals, including pain relief and anti-aging. The spa employee showed me how to use it and suggested that I stay in for 30 minutes, as that’s the time limit most first-timers can handle. Then she gave me a huge pitcher of water and a tiny bottle of electrolyte solution, and explained how to mix them to create a beverage that would help rehydrate me during and after my session.
I stripped down, wrapped myself in a towel, and got in. The actual sauna was incredibly high-tech, with a touchscreen that offered Netflix, Pandora, and access to social media. I opted to chill out and read the book I’d brought with me rather than catch up on 13 Reasons Why. Even though I felt like I had a good understanding of light therapy, I was surprised to find that the sauna wasn’t actually… very lit. Because of course, the light is infrared, so invisible to the eye. Duh, self. I hiked the temp up to 104 degrees and sat back to hang out.
What were the effects of using the sauna?
So, how did it feel? Pretty damn relaxing. I sweated a ton — sweat was literally running down my body — but it was a different kind of sweat than in a regular steam sauna. It didn’t feel overwhelming or stifling, like sitting in a hot steamy room for an extended period of time so often can. I felt deeply relaxed, in the way lying on the beach in the sun relaxes you, but without the risk of sunburn. I read my book, sipped water, even dozed a little. Overall, it felt really great.
When my 30 minutes were up, I drank a ton of water and headed home. As the night wore on, the aftereffects stayed strong: I was calm and chilled out right up until I went to bed. My muscles felt relaxed and my skin looked clean and fresh. And I may have been imagining things, but it seemed like a big old cut on my thumb started healing faster, too.
I would definitely visit the infrared spa again. People say it’s ideal to use a few times a week, but I doubt I’d be able to fit it in more than once or twice a month. At about a dollar a minute, it’s a lot cheaper than a massage, with effects that feel similar. I’d be totally willing to try it again just to relax, but am more open to using it for more specific health problems too, should they ever crop up.