Defeat Your SADness and Treat Your Skin With Infrared Saunas
by Catherine Morris | October 28, 2020, updated about 10 hours ago
Is light dangerous? That might be the impression you get after years of being told to avoid direct sunlight, and apply sunscreen. You should take care of your skin when you’re in the sun, for sure, but in general light is good for your health—you just have to make sure you're on the right spectrum.
Chances are you've heard of infrared therapy, but you might be hazy on the details. Infrared radiation is invisible energy, with a longer wavelength than visible light. Infrared can be further classified as 'near', 'middle' or 'far' infrared.
What does this mean for our health? Plenty. No-one likes to hear the word 'radiation' when it comes to wellbeing, but this form of light actually promotes cell regeneration rather than skin damage. It's non-invasive, painless, and penetrates to the deeper tissues of the body to help them detox, heal, and renew themselves.
How is Infrared Healing?
Anyone who's ever lost track of time outdoors in the summer sun knows that natural light can leave a nasty burn. Infrared is much gentler on the skin, and can even improve skin health—lessening wrinkles, improving collagen density (the thing that makes skin plump), and reducing redness or scarring.
Skin conditions like psoriasis appear to respond well to infrared wavelengths, and if you find yourself with teenage acne long past puberty, you'll be interested to know that infrared can diminish acne lesions.
Skin might be the first place light touches, but its effects go much deeper. Infrared is particularly healing for brain tissue. Studies show that the light can activate the body's anti-inflammatory response to spur healing of traumatic brain injuries, and researchers say it could be an effective treatment for stroke patients, depression, migraines, concussion, and even insomnia.
Defeating "SAD" ness With Infrared
Those endorphins are particularly important as winter approaches. The dark time of year can be tough. We're getting less light, less vitamin D and our mood is often the first casualty of this difficult season.
Exposure to infrared light seems to light up our brains in a positive way. In one study, applying infrared light to the forehead eased depression and anxiety in trial participants.
In some cases a touch of winter depression goes beyond the blues and into something darker. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a major depressive condition that occurs in the autumn or winter months.
According to research, infrared light can reduce the incidence of SAD by as much as 50 percent.
Unlike the blue light that our screens bathe us in, infrared doesn't disrupt melatonin production or impact our circadian rhythms and ruin our rest. In fact, it can actually improve the quality of our sleep—something which has a profound effect on mood.
With all the buzz around infrared, there are now a few options for those wanting to soak up the healing benefits.
One of the easiest ways is to book a sauna session. The Landing Spa in Nova Scotia began offering the infrared experience when it opened in 2016, and says it's a popular service in the winter months when people are seeking out the heat.
Spa Manager Sandy Hill says—
“When someone enters the infrared sauna the heating of the body's tissues enhances the metabolic process through detoxification and circulatory system oxygenation. With the increase in cellular energy comes faster healing for sore muscles, as well as certain types of viruses, as the body releases toxins through sweating. With the increase in heart rate comes increased blood vessels dilating allowing oxygen to enter the cells of your body easier. This can be beneficial for those suffering from fibromyalgia, arthritis, seasonal allergies, and certain skin conditions.”
A typical sauna session at The Landing Spa lasts 30 minutes and clients can bring music or essential oils to enhance their experience.
“The experience is calming, grounding, and relaxing,” says Hill, who adds that, unlike a usual sauna, there's no steam involved,
“The advantage that an infrared sauna has over a 'normal' sauna is that with traditional steam saunas a person is inhaling heated steam. This is not recommended for the health of our lungs. With the infrared the heat permeates into the body without having to inhale heated steam.”
Hill recommends clients take a shower immediately after their session as the heat from the infrared lights will make you detox and sweat. “We sweat out the toxins [and they] sit on the surface of our skin within the sweat. If you just cool down and do not wash, the toxins will reabsorb into your skin.”
If you'd rather remain at home while you get your infrared, there are portable infra-red saunas available, and even stand alone infrared lamps. Just be sure to check with a knowledgeable practitioner if you're unsure how and when to take the treatment, or if you have an underlying condition that worsens with heat.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.