- Infrared saunas have arrived in the UK
- Temperatures rise up to 42 degrees
- Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow are fans
Sweat is running off me like rain down a window. I’m red in the face and look as if I’ve completed a ten-mile run. Yet the only exercise I’ve done in the past 20 minutes is turn the pages of a book and pour myself another glass of icy water, while parked on my backside on a fluffy towel.
The appearance of exertion is thanks to the infrared sauna I’m sitting in — the temperature rising to 42c — which apparently is helping me burn as many calories as an hour-long swim, as well as boosting my immune system and soothing my creaky lower back.
Oprah Winfrey was one of the first to showcase the infrared sauna on her TV talk show and, of course, Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan. Cardiologist Dr Alejandro Junger extols the benefits on Goop.
Because infrared heat penetrates deeper into the skin than heat in a traditional sauna — up to 3in — ‘it mobilises and burns fat’.
Infrared heat penetrates deeper into the skin than heat in a traditional sauna — up to 3in — ‘it mobilises and burns fat’
It’s also proven, Dr Junger says, to benefit musculoskeletal ailments, aid heavy metal detoxification, increase blood flow, and boost the immune system’s cell activity.
Dr Junger, author of the book Clean, adds: ‘Infrared saunas stimulate your metabolism by elevating your heart rate much like exercise, so expect to burn off anywhere between 200 and 600 calories.’ This estimation is for a 30-minute session and is influenced by factors such as body weight — the heavier you are, the more you’ll burn.
And now the infrared sauna experience has come to the UK — treatments are available nationwide at select health clubs and venues such as the Triyoga centre in Camden, north-west London.
Mine is courtesy of London’s PUR Wellness spa: its first, installed last year, has proven so popular that it has added a second.
A one-off session is £42, but a package of three 30-minute sessions (after which most clients reportedly feel a boost in vitality) is £110.
It’s a strange experience, being starkers in a hot little wooden cabin (with a tinted window, so you don’t feel as if you’re shut in a cupboard), but relaxing, and oddly addictive.
A sliding panel of filters on the ceiling lets you adjust the lighting if you fancy a dash of colour therapy (red, for instance, is soothing and soporific, orange calms and relaxes, and violet increases concentration and creativity.)
Fifteen minutes into my first session, I’m sweating so profusely I’m sure I’ve expelled every toxin accumulated in the past 40 years, including the dirt from this morning’s journey on the Tube. My thumbs leave soggy prints on the pages of my book.
So is it really that much better than a normal sauna? Apparently so
Dev Maritz, co-owner of the spa, has explained I’ll heat up ‘like a furnace’. He adds that the detoxification effects are such that ‘some of our clients see black spots left on the towels afterwards, from grime previously trapped in their pores’.
Cooking in my infrared cabin like a pudding, I nonetheless feel my heart pump and my muscles jellify. And afterwards, taking a cool shower, I do feel rather holy, as if I’ve exercised. Dev says: ‘You’ll feel “Wow, I’ve just had a 30-minute workout”.’
Dr Junger, who is based in the U.S., tells me: ‘Infrared saunas can elevate the heart rate similarly to cardiovascular exercise so it’s a wonderful option for people who are unable to get their heart rate up with exercise. Heat from either type of sauna can help loosen muscles and relieve joint pain.’
So is it really that much better than a normal sauna? Apparently so. Whereas traditional saunas raise the air temperature to 70c or higher to heat the surface of our skin and make us sweat, the IR sauna uses the heat of infrared radiation (essentially the heat of sunshine but with harmful UV rays filtered out) to penetrate the body directly to a depth of several inches — without heating the environment.
This means that an infrared sauna operates at a lower temperature (my sessions average 38c but it’s possible to benefit at 24c) and patrons can swelter for longer without feeling as if they’re about to pass out from heat exhaustion.
Certainly, my body is floppy and light, and my shoulders less rigid. Two days later I eyeball myself in the mirror to see if sweating like a horse and giving my circulation a boot has improved the condition of my skin.
Coincidence or not, the few spots on my forehead have cleared, and there’s a glow to my complexion. It’s also less dry than normal. I’m guessing the gallons of water I guzzled also helped.
After one session, I chat to an elegant fiftysomething who’s had a treatment, and we share a conspiratorial grin at the thought of all those eliminated toxins.
I suffer from lower back pain, and the penetrating heat seems to alleviate the ache for several days.
Dr Louise Newson, a Birmingham-based GP and health writer at medical website Patient.Info, says that the relatively few medical studies on infrared saunas are positive. ‘There does seem to be some evidence that they work, maybe by reducing inflammation,’ she says.
‘They also cause vasodilation [dilation of the blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure] so may have a similar effect to exercising — when you exercise your blood vessels expand, that’s why you get flushed — it helps the blood flow.
‘So whether it’s because you’re getting more blood flowing into certain areas, [infrared saunas] seem to have a positive effect on some arthritic and some pain conditions, even some heart conditions.’
Dr Newson adds that while an infrared sauna treatment shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to exercise or healthy living, if it boosts ‘your blood flow and your circulation, that’s got to be good’.
What about the claim it can aid weight loss, alongside exercise? ‘Maybe it can increase your metabolic rate, and anything that does that is going to help you burn calories,’ Dr Newson says.
Saunas are, however, not for everyone. Dr Junger warns: ‘Avoid saunas if you are pregnant or nursing, prone to dehydration, suffering from an infection or recent, swollen injury, have artificial joints, or suffer from a disease such as hypertension, cancer, or multiple sclerosis.’
He adds: ‘Saunas are only beneficial if you pair them with proper hydration. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after a sauna — add a pinch of mineral-rich sea salt to the water and/or enjoy a high-potassium coconut water to help maintain proper electrolyte balance.’
Several days before my third and final visit, I realise I’m brattishly impatient for my fix. Afterwards, I chug down organic coconut water, then stand, twisting my torso, to see whether this movement will awaken the usual lumbar ache.
Nothing. This makes up my mind. Usually, throughout the British winter, I suffer being cold and stiff. This year, I’ll be thawing out weekly in my wooden booth, soothing away my aches with the magic of radiant heat.
To book a 30-minute infrared sauna session for £30, £12 off the usual £42, visit purwellness.co.uk/daily-mail-offer or call 020 7243 1718. Offer expires September 30.