On the topic of skin health and infrared saunas, things are still pretty hazy. “My personal conclusion is that the effect of infrared on the skin is mixed,” says Jeremy Fenton, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, NYC-based medical director for Schweiger Dermatology Group, and clinical instructor at Mt. Sinai Hospital. “I can find information that supports that there are benefits to it, and I can also find information that supports that it is damaging to the skin.”
He describes some papers that discuss how infrared can promote the production of cell-signaling molecules and components that are involved in the breakdown of collagen, which suggests infrared could potentially be damaging to the skin. But at the same time, he describes other material that shows infrared can promote healing and collagen, leading him to conclude there isn’t enough data to say whether or not infrared is helpful—or harmful—to the skin. Fenton attributes these seemingly conflicting results to the fact that different studies evaluate different types of infrared light. “Sometimes very low levels of certain types of energy can have one type of effect whereas high levels can have a different [effect],” he explains.
Mixed results aside, one thing folks seem to love about saunas in general (both infrared and traditional) is the fresh-faced, dewey look they induce. “People do feel like after being in a sauna that their skin has sort of like a nicer glow to it,” says Fenton. At the same time, “there are certain people who you may not get the [skin] benefits that they want from going into a sauna,” he adds, using the example of folks with rosacea. “When they go into the heat, they don't want that sort of rosy cheek glow.” But for the average person? “Maybe it's temporary, but it does give you a nice glow to the skin.”
Fenton’s ultimate conclusion: “I personally would not feel comfortable...going into an infrared sauna two or three times a week with the unknown about how it could really be affecting the skin,” he says, adding that he also wouldn’t fret about occasional use.