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Hot Hot Heat — The Best Infrared Saunas And Why They're So Good For You
I love me some sauna. And when I go in, I go hard. I stay in as long as I can tolerate, and happily spend hours doing a sauna—steam room—cold shower circuit. This ritual doesn’t happen nearly enough for my liking, though. Here in the U.S., saunas are considered a special treat—a luxury. In many other parts of the world, however, saunas are an integral part of life (there’s basically a sauna for every household in Finland!). Unfortunately for me and my fellow sauna-obsessed Americans, stateside sauna use is reserved for spa days. Now, if the Higher Dose team has its way, all that will change. And they don’t just want us all sauna more often, they want us all to experience the (heat) wave of the future. Higher Dose’s mission is “to bring the benefits of infrared therapy to health, fitness and yoga”, and I think they’re onto something. Cool-girl yoga spots around New York City are installing Higher Dose’s infrared technology in their studios for the ultimate “hot yoga” classes, and wellness meccas like the The Herban Alchemist and Gravity East Village are installing infrared saunas on site for clients’ use—even well-respected wellness companies are installing them in their offices. Just ask Sakara Life, who are elated with their decision to take the in-office infrared plunge. Intrigued? So was I. I was fortunate enough to experience both an Infrared Hot Yoga class at Y7 Studio and an infrared sauna session at Gravity East Village. Read on to discover what infrared technology is and why the entire wellness community is feeling the burn.
What is Infrared?
Higher Dose’s patented infrared technology combines full spectrum infrared with clay and carbon/ceramic heaters. Each element in this system boasts its own specific benefits, and they all combine to create a wellness wonder product. Higher Dose uses full spectrum (near, mid and far) infrared, as each type is beneficial in its own way. Near infrared waves penetrate the epidermis, making them optimal for skin rejuvenation, wound healing and overall skin health. Mid infrared wavelengths are beneficial for increasing circulation—mimicking the benefits of a passive workout. Regular use of mid range infrared saunas has even been shown to significantly stimulate blood flow, even after the sauna session is completed. (This means you’ll still be reaping the benefits of your sauna sesh when you get home and binge watch Peaky Blinders.) As the name suggests, far infrared waves have the longest frequency, allowing them to penetrate deep into human tissue. Unlike traditional heat, infrared heat directly warms your body to the core, even though infrared saunas are set at a lower temperature that traditional saunas. In a traditional sauna, you sit in a hot (180-220 degrees) room, and get super-sweaty. In an infrared sauna, the heat (about 150 degrees) heats your body directly, with only 20% of the heat warming the air. Your body absorbs this infrared heat and reacts to it by raising your core temperature. This results in a deep, detoxifying sweat from the cellular level of the skin, where many toxins and heavy metals hide out and accumulate.
Then there’s the clay—yay! From Amazonian to Australian White, clay in its many forms is a long time skincare superstar. If you’re like me, you have a favorite clay mask (or three) you slather on when your pores need decongesting. As part of an infrared sauna system, however, clay does so much more than unclog pores. The clay cleanses and purifies the sauna air, protecting against germs and environmental stressors. It gets to work internally, too: The clay increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, grounds and balances the nervous system, speeds up the oxidation of serotonin, helps the body more efficiently absorb and use oxygen (by emitting negative ions), strengthens the immune system and—clay it ain’t so—improves metabolism. Holla! The last component is a carbon/ceramic combo heater. Combined, this duo produces long wave infrared waves with a high infrared output. This heat penetrates deeper into your body and is more readily absorbed. I’d be remiss not to mention the gorgeous, fragrant cedar of which the sauna is made. Saunas have long been constructed from cedar, and for good reason: cedar contains aromatic oils known for their healing, cleansing and naturally antibacterial properties, which aid in detoxification during your sauna sesh.
Why is Infrared So Good?
Simply put, Infrared makes you look and feel your best. Far infrared heat provides all the healthy benefits of natural sunlight without any of its dangerous side effects. As infrared heat raises your core body temperature, it stimulates your lymphatic and immune systems. Your body’s response is to sweat profusely. This ain’t just any sweat: sweat induced from infrared heat is comprised of 20% toxins, whereas sweat induced from traditional heating systems is comprised of only 3% toxins—making infrared 7x more detoxifying than traditional heat. How? The far infrared heat causes the water in our bodies to “vibrate”, releasing more toxins than regular heat does. This is why far infrared is optimal for detoxification, weight loss and blood pressure reduction. Even though this all sounds intense, the infrared panels are actually less aggressive than a traditional heating system. While conventional heat is an unnatural process, infrared heat mimics the sun. “Think hot, smoggy Miami heat vs. a fresh, sunny day,” says Higher Dose Co-Founder, Lauren Berlingeri. (I’ll take the latter, thanks!)
Up in the Sauna
As stated above, I love saunas, so I was thrilled to try the infrared sauna at Gravity East Village (where I’d been before for colonics). Gravity East Village is a low-key wellness center run by the knowledgeable and passionate Donna Perrone. Your sauna session is solo, which is great because you can get nekkid (the only way to sauna, IMHO). They give you a towel to sit on and another softer chamois-type cloth to wipe your face with. YOU WILL BE USING THIS CLOTH. GEV’s unit is equipped with different colored lights for light therapy as well as speakers so you can listen to spa music, if you’re so inclined. The recommend session length is 30 minutes, but—alpha female that I am—I went for 40. I can see why they recommend 30, though. For those last 10 minutes, I had to put down my magazine and just be in my sauna experience. I was sweating so profusely that, logistically, holding and/or looking at a magazine no longer worked. I was soaked! But you know what? I loved every sweaty second of it. It was intense yet relaxing, and after, I felt invigorated, rather than so relaxed I’m almost sleepy—how I usually feel post-sauna.
After the Sauna
Once I toweled off, my skin didn’t have the gross, sticky feeling it usually does after a major schvitz session. This was great, since there’s no shower at GEV. There is a bathroom next to the sauna where you can freshen up, however. (Speaking of bathrooms—TMI alert: When I peed right after my sauna sesh, it was super dark and… pungent. Coincidence? I think not. Later, toxins!) I came prepared with Mio Skincare and Ursa Major Wipes. Next time I’ll also bring a bottle of Vine Minus Ion Care Water. I brought a hydrating mist with me, which was great, but the extra antibacterial boost provided by Vine would have been clutch after all that sweating. I was pleasantly surprised when I looked in the mirror after my session. Instead of my skin looking super red and flushed, it looked healthy and glowy. Since any makeup I had on melted off within about 10 minutes in the sauna, I thought for sure I’d need to reapply before I faced the world…but I didn’t. I combed my eyebrows, put on lip balm and walked out the door. It’s important to rehydrate after the sauna (and really, to walk into the sauna hydrated as well). They recommend coconut water, but I prefer green juice (also recommended). Luckily there is a Juice Press just a few blocks away from GEV, so I downed a Mother Earth, and got on the train home feeling healthy AF.