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At Sundaily, we love digging into the science behind overhyped skincare. Retinol? We explained why it works so well. Spa treatments? We debunked ‘em. We’re all about separating hype from data.
Lately, we’ve heard a lot of buzz about infrared saunas, and we know what you’re thinking: can this thing help my skin?
In this post, we’ll tell you what we know, and what we don’t, about the benefits of saunas for skin health.
What are saunas, anyway?
We’ll address two types of saunas in this post.
The first, the old-fashioned sauna, uses dry heat to raise your body temperature. You’ll often find these saunas in fitness clubs and hotels. Most are lined with wood and some feature steam. All work the same way: by conduction. It simply means that when the hot air touches your skin, it causes you to heat up.
Infrared saunas are the new kids on the block. Rather than cooking you from the outside, they use light to create a reaction from within our cells. This means they rely less on a warm, enclosed space and more on proximity to a special kind of light.
Typically infrared saunas use light in the 750-1200 nm range. When your body absorbs the light through your skin, you’re heated. Think of it like a lizard happily sunning itself on a rock. Infrared saunas allow you to literally bask in the light.
So, are infrared saunas good for skin?
As long as you follow those warnings posted outside the sauna, they’re probably not bad. Whether they actually improve any specific condition (including skin health) is less clear.
First, here’s what we know about regular old saunas: They’ve been used for thousands of years across cultures, and are especially popular in Scandinavia.
Much like working out, saunas temporarily increase blood circulation. Some early data support their general health benefits, particularly for vascular conditions.
Can saunas help you sweat out toxins? Meh. Anyone who’s used a sauna will tell you that when you’re sweating, it’s working. But while we do “sweat out” some toxins, the main purpose of sweating is to cool the body, not to detoxify. That’s the job of our kidneys and liver, and they could care less about getting cozy in the sauna.
Now, let’s talk about those fancy red light saunas. While we don’t have enough data yet to make a call about infrared saunas for skincare, the use of red and infrared light to address skin concerns is a really interesting and promising area of research.
Red light masks are used as a targeted treatment for acne and anti-aging concerns. There’s so much data supporting these treatments that we’ll address it in more detail in a full post on low-level light and skin!
For now, we’ll leave you with a note about the difference between low-level red light therapy and infrared saunas. While red light masks use specific, low doses of infrared light 2-3 times per week for therapeutic purposes, an infrared sauna treatment relies on the idea of heating you up in one sitting, which may be less effective.
What’s the bottom line?
Right now, there’s not enough data to support the usefulness of saunas, infrared or otherwise, in skin health.
If you love your sauna, don’t (or quite literally do) sweat it. Much like spa treatments, they’re undeniably relaxing. And as we’ve noted, stress itself is an environmental stressor (see How does stress affect our skin? for more)! So if saunas help you unwind, go for it. You can enjoy saunas knowing they probably won’t do any harm, and might even improve things like vascular health.
But if better skin is your priority, you’re better off putting your hard-earned money toward powerful antioxidants like Sundaily gummies, topical treatments with a proven track record, or a few in-office treatments with your dermatologist (see These facials are worth the hype for more).