For over 2,000 years, humans have sat in hot, steamy, airless rooms in the name of well-being.
Saunas have long been enjoyed as a way to relax after exercise and are said to have a number of benefits such as pain relief and plumping skin.
And now, smart tech companies have developed a way to carry a sauna with you, in the form of a blanket.
Infrared sauna blankets are the latest wellness craze to take over TikTok, with more than 1.5 million videos posted on the topic.
The devices, which resemble a sleeping bag, use light waves to generate heat within the body instead of the surrounding air, allowing radiant heat to penetrate the body more deeply than a traditional sauna.
Now, the world’s biggest brand of warm blankets has just launched at cosmetics hypermarket Sephora, and is expected to will achieve up to $10 million in retail sales by the end of 2024, according to industry sources.
Infrared sauna therapy aims to “detoxify” the skin through sweating, reduce blood pressure and smooth wrinkles. Fans also like its ability to aid muscle recovery after exercise and decrease inflammation that causes soreness.
The HigherDOSE blanket, priced at $700, claims to aid post-workout muscle recovery and “detoxify” the body.
Online users report improvements in their complexion, overall stress levels and immune systems, and compare the feeling of satisfaction when they finish a 45-minute sauna session to that of a good workout.
And the variety of infrared tools that are gaining popularity goes far beyond blankets.
Sephora sells a yoga mat-like infrared device and red light masks for the face and neck that, for $350, promise to “ignite your inner glow with two powerful wavelengths of light (red/near-infrared) to energize skin cells, visibly smooth fine lines and target blemishes.’
HigherDOSE says its products present a “new way to ignite radiant skin through detoxification, recovery and longevity.”
But do these devices work? And are they worth the high price?
Infrared therapy aims to remove toxins from the skin through sweat and plump the surface through better blood flow, which helps skin tone, elasticity and firmness.
Most studies have been done in infrared saunas, rather than blanket-type devices. And research has shown mixed results.
The benefits of infrared sauna therapy are said to lie in both the amount of sweat and the effect of heat on the blood vessels under the skin.
Extreme increases in temperature cause blood vessels to dilate or widen, increasing blood flow to the surface of the skin. Studies show that this helps muscles recover after a workout and can boost the immune system, making it better able to fight off infections. Increasing blood flow to the skin can also have a plumping effect, smoothing lines and wrinkles.
Some research has shown that this has a beneficial effect on blood pressure. A 2009 review published in the journal Canadian family doctor It has been found that infrared therapy may be useful in the treatment of mild to moderate hypertension (high blood pressure). The researchers also found some small benefits for chronic pain.
But that analysis had several notable limitations, including poor study design, small sample sizes, and potentially unreliable symptom reporting.
Another small study on the therapy’s impact on the circulatory system found that men with risk factors for coronary heart disease saw improvement in function of its endothelium, cells that line the inside of blood vessels and play a crucial role in preventing life-threatening blood clots.
However, there were only 25 men in this study and they were only followed for two weeks.
As for the supposed cosmetic benefits of sweating (which is said to remove toxins from the skin), very few high-quality studies have found evidence to support this.
What about other effects on the skin?
Most devices on sale use a combination of red and infrared light therapy.
Red light does not generate heat, but rather uses low wavelength light to penetrate the skin about two millimeters.
It is believed to benefit the skin by increasing the activity of the “energy centers” inside the skin cells, a part called mitochondria. This supposedly speeds up healing and growth, enhancing skin rejuvenation.
The vast majority of studies looking at the impact of red light therapy on the skin include a small number of patients and are sponsored by companies that make lightweight devices.
A 2006 study published in the Yonsei Medical Journal revealed that two hours of infrared sauna therapy can increase the amount of collagen produced by the skin three times.
Collagen is the skin protein that gives it elasticity. It decreases with age, leaving the skin sagging and more wrinkled.
Researchers noted a 26 to 50 percent improvement in the appearance of fine lines and non-severe wrinkles. cRough wrinkles showed minimal improvement.
Although promising, the study was small and involved only 20 women. What’s more, the effects on the skin were only measured every four weeks over the course of six months, and many other factors may be behind the effects.
According to Dr. Mathew Avram, director of dermatologic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, The effects of infrared and right light masks would be, if any, modest at best with prolonged use.
“If people see some improvement, what they might notice is maybe a better texture and tone of their skin, maybe a little less redness. But often the improvements, if any, are quite subtle and not always easy to detect,” he told Today.
While some research has been done on infrared therapy, experts make it clear that more extensive research is needed before the benefits can be confirmed.