Yes, Infrared Saunas Do Make Everything Better
Spoiler alert: I’m officially a Sauna addict. I only started going to the sauna upon moving to D.C. and joining a gym that conveniently had an infrared sauna located by the locker rooms. After a few sessions, I found myself looking forward to gym time solely so I could bliss out in the heated oasis of the sauna for 15-30 minutes. I can speak from personal experience and will share how my personal experience compares to the claims of the diehard sauna believers.
Proponents of infrared saunas make some bold claims, including that infrared saunas do the following:
Claim #1: Relaxation + Uplifts Mood
Proponents say: Just as when you go for a run, a sauna session increases endorphins (the happiness hormone) and opioids (the body’s natural pain reliever). Infrared saunas can also reduce stress by lowering cortisol. Proponents also say saunas improve cognitive performance by increasing the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.
My experience: I feel the same euphoria after a sauna session as I do after a tough cardio session. I also sleep like a baby that night. The mood boost is the reason I keep coming back so this has definitely been true in my experience.
Claim #2: Detoxes heavy metals
Proponents say: An increase in circulation and sweating can aid in detoxification, and in this way sauna therapy helps mobilize toxins. A systematic review in 2012 found that toxic heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are found in sweats of people who are exposed to these harmful metals. In a case report, they found that mercury levels normalized with repeated sauna treatments.
My experience: I honestly have no clue if heavy metals are oozing out of my pores during and after an infrared sauna session. I would need to get my heavy metal levels checked and at this point I have no pressing reason to do that. Will let you know if I find out.
Claim #3: Weight Loss
Proponents say: Not only do you burn up to 600 calories in a 30 minute session as your body works on overdrive to cool itself, but saunas help improve insulin sensitivity, increase lean muscles, and reduce fat by changing the hormonal environment. There are also claims that the infrared saunas decrease cellulite.
My experience: I definitely feel the calorie burn after a session as my heart is beating hard and I feel the effects for hours after. It's essentially the same as if I had done a 30 min cardio session, but I actually just relaxed in a little box doing a guided meditation or scrolling through Instagram. Since the sauna is located at my gym, there’s a direct correlation between working out and sauna usage, so not sure if any weight loss I’ve experienced can be directly tied to the sauna or its synergistic effect with working out. I'm a believer though.
Claim #4: Anti-aging
Proponents say: According to Sunlighten, one of the main Infrared Sauna providers, exposure to infrared saunas improves collagen and elastin in our skin as proved in a study done in 2006. Additionally, “all patients included in the study reported enhanced skin texture, less roughness, and improvement in color.”
My experience: Yes, this definitely has proven true in my experience. My skin is so soft and glowy after a sauna session. Your blood flows to your skin surface, giving you a healthy rosy glow, similar to the aftereffects of a good workout. I try to plan a sauna trip before anything I want to look extra good for like a date or special event.
Ready to see for yourself? Here are a few places with Infrared Saunas in D.C.
- VIDA Fitness, Chinatown: I go here for an infrared sauna session a few times a week. There are no frills with this one: you have to turn it on and wait for it to heat up, which takes a few minutes but it's worth the wait. This is the only VIDA location with an infrared sauna; all VIDA locations have a Swedish Sauna and Steam Room, which are also very relaxing and sweat inducing. Sauna free with gym membership.
- DistrictCryo: With a "Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna and Recovery Lab" District Cryo offers probably the best infrared sauna in the district. Curious what a "Full Spectrum" sauna entails? According to their website, "full-spectrum infrared saunas, complete with Chromotherapy, combine the benefits of near and mid infrared to increase the body’s core temperature faster thus resulting in a much deeper, more detoxifying sweat from the cellular level of the skin where many toxins are housed." Pair with a cryotherapy session if you're feeling brave. $40 a session or $250 for an unlimited membership.
- Body Bliss Beyond: Offers private infrared sessions for $30 a pop. Stay around for the hot stone massage or herbal body wrap to feel like a goddess. $30 a session.