Infrared saunas and low level laser light therapies are a growing topic within the world of wellness, exercise and healthy ageing, but how do they work and what benefits do they bring?
Infrared saunas and low level laser light therapies are a growing topic within the world of wellness, exercise and healthy ageing, with benefits said to include improving mood, promoting collagen, aiding skin tissue, boosting energy, and encouraging exercise performance and recovery. With so many potential pros to gain from it, and Chelsea's KXU studio
offering 25 and 40 minute sessions, it’s time to dig a little deeper into red light sauna therapy.
The history of heat therapy
Helio means sun in Greek and Helios was the god of them sun in Greek religion and myth. Ancient manuscripts have documented that Greek athletes were prescribed sun therapy (or heliotherapy) to “improve muscle health” – and the ancient Greeks weren’t alone; the pursuit of sweat goes back around 3,000 years, including Roman baths, Russian banyan, Turkish hot and cold plunge pools and Scandinavian saunas, right up to modern hot tubs and the latest in infrared saunas.
Over time, heat therapies have been used for numerous purposes ranging from religious ceremonies and communal meeting spaces through to relaxation and in the pursuit of Olympic victories, health and wellness.
What are the benefits of saunas?
The majority of modern heat therapy has been delivered by traditional Scandinavian style sauna bathing, which are typically used for intervals from five to twenty minutes, once or twice per week, at temperatures between 80°C - 100°C.
A review of sauna health properties by the Mayo Clinic in 2018 suggested there may be several benefits of regular use, including reducing inflammation and oxidative stress and improving immunity, promoting healthy cholesterol levels and potentially supporting blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
What are infrared red saunas?
Like traditional saunas, infrared saunas are constructed with wood, and you sit within the heated cabin for the duration of the treatment. However, they work at a considerably cooler air temperatures ranging, from of 40°C to 60°C, making the heat more pleasant to sit in for longer periods.
The other difference is that infrared low-level laser light heats you and penetrates deeper into the skin, resulting in treatments reportedly producing up to two to three times more sweat than traditional saunas.
How does infrared work?
Far infrared light and heat is naturally produced by the sun at a spectrum that you feel as heat sensation but is not detectable to the eyes. This is the non-harmful light and heat spectrum (not UVA/UVB) which you feel bathe your skin without burning it when you are in the sunlight.
Full spectrum infrared sauna heaters produce the same safe and effective near, mid and far infrared light at approximately 1,000 watts, which is absorbed into your skin. Infrared light is particularly effective because it is the only wavelengths that penetrate through
Housed within our skin are various types of light-absorbing chemical compounds called chromophores. Two specific skin chromophores types are melanin and haemoglobin which seem to be particularly good at absorbing the visible red and invisible near wavelength range light. As such the infrared-light photons are easily absorbed by our skin cells which consequently cause a low-grade stress. In response, our bodies activate a range of protective and healing signalling pathways, which promote the numerous benefits.
What are the benefits of infrared?
On a cellular level, at the correct light dose and duration there is a stimulatory effect on our mitochondria (our energy factories) with a resulting increase in our cellular energy (ATP). The light also increases anti-inflammatory and protective effect on the cells. The light therapy may also activate stem cells and collagen allowing increased tissue repair and healing.
General infrared use?
With the benefits ranging from lowering stress to improving energy and tissue quality, full spectrum infrared seems like a great addition to a general health and fitness program... but what about more specific uses?
Infrared as a tool for detox
Toxins are a sad reality of modern living, from plastics in our food and water chain to heavy metals in our fish; our liver naturally detoxifies these harmful substances called environmental pollutants, breaking down toxins and either storing them away or excreting them.
Although the science is far from clear, we do know that some fat-soluble toxins such as heavy metals may be stored in liver and in our fat tissue, possibly as a mechanism to protect both your brain and circulating blood levels from accumulating. Therefore, effective sweating from exercise and heat therapies may support additional removal of these toxins from our subcutaneous fat.
One study that looked at infrared saunas reported increased success in helping participants excrete toxic substances through sweat fluid that had penetrated their bodies. It seems that saunas may be an ideal health hack to support re-dressing some of the balance against our daily toxic load.
Benefits of infrared on exercise
Infrared bathing (low level laser therapy) shows promise of improving both exercise performance and recovery, with studies suggesting infrared increased an individual’s neuromuscular system performance and recovery from maximum effort exercise.
Consolidating this research, a large review of studies showed that when applying infrared prior to exercise, healthy adults experienced improved muscular performance while also reducing muscular fatigue associated with exercise. Research on the impact of infrared post-workout suggests it may promote accelerated recovery and tissue healing, reduction in muscle soreness and an improved sense of wellbeing.
Therefore, it seems that infrared saunas may be beneficial as either part of a comprehensive warm up prior to exercise or as a safe post-workout tool to assist recovery.
Pre & Post exercise infrared sauna exercise protocols?
- 25-30 minutes infrared
- Exercise-specific warm up
- Improved neuromuscular performance
- Reduce muscular fatigue
Infrared saunas and Covid-19 – what’s the risk?
- Specific cool down exercise
- 45-minute infrared sauna
- Accelerated recovery and tissue healing
- Reduced muscular fatigue and soreness
It is prudent to follow the government guidelines for sauna use, the main considerations being to ensure social distancing, the sauna’s cleanliness and hygiene measures, and the user’s health. For example, shared saunas would represent greater risk. KXU infrared sauna is a lux single seater, housed within its own changing room, and offering both safe distancing and staggered booking to ensure sanitation between sessions.
The World Health Organisation have released research on the stability and resistance of SARS coronavirus compiled by members of their global laboratory network. The main finding confirm that valid methods of disinfectant cause the virus to lose its infectivity and therefore offer protection. Interestingly, the report also showed that 56°C heat kills the SARS (infrared approx 40-60°) coronavirus at around 10000 units per 15min, which they state is “a quick reduction.”
While research is in its early days, it will be interesting to see how studies progress using different types of lights as we already know that UV light is being used effectively as sanitisers!
Urban living can be hectic, and we know more than ever that exercise and a healthy diet are important. However, a large proportion of people skip addressing chronic stress which can play havoc on both your physical and mental health, and your immune system. With that in mind, committing to regular de-stressing health hacks like infrared saunas may prove beneficial.
Weekly infrared saunas offer a half hour haven of relaxation and with potential improvements in mood, collagen and skin tissue, energy production, exercise performance and recovery. I, for one, am committed to my weekly KXU infrared fix!
Discover KXU's infrared sauna for yourself at their Medi Spa, with prices starting from £40 for a single session and packages also available.
Gideon Remfry is Wellness Director at KXU and KX. You can follow him on Instagram here. Keep up to date with KXU's latest news on their IG and get all the updates from the Medi Spa here.
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