Photo: Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce
Photo: Sølve Sundsbø/Art + Commerce

Hollywood’s juicing crowd has a new obsession. Infrared saunas—which are said to detox the body using heat-generating invisible light—have made fans out of Gwyneth Paltrow, Miranda Kerr, and Cindy Crawford, and many A-listers have custom saunas in their homes. Frank Lipman, the New York integrative medicine doctor to Maggie Gyllenhaal and Donna Karan, encourages patients to partake in infrared to help clear toxins, and he raves about his personal Clearlight sauna. “My muscles relax, I sleep better, and I just feel calm and energized,” says Lipman.

Meanwhile, infrared-dedicated spas, like Shape House Urban Sweat Lodge and Perspire Sauna Studio, and infrared-heated yoga studios, like Y7 and POE Yoga, are popping up across the U.S. But though some believe that infrared light therapy is a cure-all—studies indicate that it may encourage weight loss, lower blood pressure, and relieve pain, and research for cancer treatment support is ongoing—new, cutting-edge skin-care products claim to neutralize damage from infrared, citing studies that it can lead to premature skin aging.

So is infrared good for you or bad? First, the good: An infrared sauna is like a traditional sauna on steroids. “Rather than heating the air around you, which then heats your body, infrared penetrates deep, warming you from the inside out,” explains Joyce Rockwood, a detoxification expert at the Springs, a trendy L.A. health oasis where infrared sauna sessions are $25 per half hour. “It’s like giving your cells aerobic activity,” she claims. Saunas come in varieties like blanket wraps, small one-person pods, and walk-in cabins. Pros like Rockwood recommend going in once or twice a week, and 30 minutes (a typical session) stimulates not only circulation but also intense sweating—both responses that help rid your body of toxins from pollution, food, or a bad bug, says Lipman.

On a smaller scale, infrared light may also treat wrinkles, via a handheld device. NuFace Trinity With Trinity Wrinkle Reducer ($402) emits a specific combination of red and infrared light that goes just below the skin’s surface to trigger collagen production. It’s ironic, considering the number of new anti-infrared creams. Luckily, there’s a simple way to parse the difference between good infrared and bad. The sun produces infrared wavelengths, which fall into three categories: far, mid, and near. The near and mid waves are understood to be the skin-damaging kinds, while “there’s evidence to show that far-infrared saunas provide some benefits and are probably not harmful, though there have been no large-scale studies,” says Mathew Avram, director of the Dermatology Laser & Cosmetic Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The majority of infrared-emitting machines, including most saunas, produce only far infrared, sparing your complexion. But the damaging waves from the sun pose a real threat. “Near infrared can accelerate the aging process, causing uneven skin tone, melasma, wrinkles, and potentially even skin cancer,” warns Doris Day, who last year helped launch Christie Brinkley’s skin-care brand, one of the first to focus on infrared repair. And a recent study by Coty found that near-infrared exposure can damage collagen and elastin.

Unfortunately, infrared light is experienced as heat and would not be easily blocked or absorbed by skin-care products unless they were applied like a thick mud. The best ones, says Day, use antioxidants that have been demonstrated to clean up free-radical damage post-exposure. Try SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum ($162), Make Moonlight Primer ($55), SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($68), and Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker Multi-Rejuvenating Cream SPF 30 ($75). As for adopting infrared sauna sweats into your health routine, always talk to your doctor first, and drink a lot of water before, during, and after, advises Lipman. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see the light.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR US