Infrared saunas are touted to promote deep detoxification, weight loss and other exciting benefits. Are they worth the sweat?
Being exposed to many quick-fix services in this fitness and wellness industry, I regard anything that promises detoxification and weight loss (without the standard and boring axiom of “eat healthy, exercise regularly”) with beady eyes.
When Pure Wellness Studio opened in Duxton Road offering infrared sauna sessions, you could say I was quite skeptical.
“Exercise alone isn’t enough,” its website states. “Your body requires detoxification on a deeper level too. Because infrared light heats the core of your body and can penetrate the skin up to 7cm, it provides a deeper cleanse as compared to traditional saunas.
“Not only that, the infrared saunas are set at a lower temperature. What that means for you, is you get to enjoy a gentler and soothing experience—allowing for a longer sweat, promoting weight loss, skin purification and improving mental clarity.”
One, I wasn’t sure I needed that “deeper level” detoxification. I eat pretty healthily, I exercise regularly, and I believe my liver and kidneys are functioning optimally, based on my toilet visits.
Two, it doesn’t make sense to treat infrared saunas as a weight loss tool, because hello, there’s something tried-and-tested (and much more sustainable), called balanced diet and exercise?
Nonetheless, I had to book a visit to Pure Wellness Studio to check it out (it’s the first infrared sauna in Singapore) and see if it’s a thing. Plus, you know, FOMO.
It was like entering another universe
Not exaggerating – my stress level dropped several notches the minute I stepped into Pure Wellness Studio. It was quiet and tranquil, a stark contrast to the restaurants and bars below. No chattering or distracting ambient noises. Just relaxing meditation tunes playing in the background.
Co-founder Maxie Chan greeted me at the reception with a muted tone, almost a whisper. I found myself whispering back. Part of her intention to create that retreat-like ambience, I suppose. While I waited for her to clean out and prepare the sauna for me, my mind started wandering to immediate concerns. What clothes am I supposed to wear into a sauna? What happens if it gets too hot? What am I supposed to do inside the sauna? Can I bring my phone in?
As I found out before entering the sauna:
1) What to wear? You can wrap a towel around yourself, wear your undies, or go fully naked in the sauna (I chose the last option as Maxie said that it would reap the most benefits since there’s closest contact with the infrared heat).
2) What happens if it’s too hot? During the 45-minute session, you can step out of the sauna any time you like, to sip some water or to literally chill – though you would want to resume your sauna session ASAP for maximum benefits. Don’t worry about being caught naked; there are curtains surrounding each sauna room to ensure individual privacy. Plus, a jug of water placed outside the room for easy hydration. According to Maxie, the sauna temperature is auto-set (“It has a life of its own,” she says), and can go up to 65 deg C. More on that later.
3) What to do in the sauna? It’s entirely up to you and your imagination. Most people sit and meditate, do some gentle stretching or read a book inside the space (about the size of a public toilet cubicle). There’s enough room to sit with your legs stretched out in front of you, but not enough to lie down and snooze, in case you’re wondering.
4) Can I bring my phone in? It’s not advisable to do so due to the high heat, but there are no rules, which means you could do so at your own risk.
The infrared sauna is a little haven
There are three sauna rooms at Pure Wellness Studio: the Rejuvenate (near, mid and far infrared), Recover (far infrared), and Relax (far infrared, with a bed setup). I tried the Recover room that’s recommended for deep detoxification, muscle recovery and pain relief.
Before entering, I was asked to choose a colour for the chromotherapy lights that were fitted in the room. According to the sauna makers Sunlighten, chromotherapy is the science of using colours to adjust body vibrations to frequencies that result in health and harmony. Each colour possesses frequencies of a specific vibration, and each vibration is related to different physical symptoms.
Red is for energy, orange is for focus, green is for balance, yellow is for positivity, blue is for calmness, and violet is for clarity. Therapeutic benefits aside, the colours made the sauna look personalised and inviting. I pondered over the colours since I could use all the needs, then ended up defaulting to my favourite colour, violet.
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of how my 45-minute session went down.
First 10 minutes
The first 10 minutes were spent finding a comfortable position in the sauna. The entire room is made of wood, so it wasn’t the most comfortable to sit on. Thankfully, the seat and flooring were lined with fresh towels to absorb sweat, provide some padding for my butt, and minimise contact with previous occupants’ bodily material (sweat, skin cells, bacteria… you get the drift).
I had an initial idea of doing some yoga poses in the sauna (you know, my own version of infrared yoga), but the space didn’t make it possible to try. Eventually, I alternated between sitting cross-legged, knees-to-chest, and legs stretched out on the seat.
Maxie recommended me to bring any problematic body part close to the vents for better results. For me, it would be my boobs since I often get clogged ducts from breastfeeding, but I wasn’t adventurous enough to lean my chest towards the panels that were emitting the infrared heat. Didn’t want to risk having a milk leakage situation.
At 58 deg C, the temperature warmed me up and induced sweat within a couple of minutes. It was surprisingly bearable and breathable, since there’s no steam in the infrared sauna. Feeling good, I started logging my experience by taking videos.
11 to 20 minutes
The sweat continued as the temperature rose gradually. I put my phone on the coffee table outside and reminded myself to be present and enjoy this fleeting moment of peace, warmth and vulnerability.
I was beginning to understand why people made sauna trips part of their self-care routine. In this fast-paced, high-distraction and over-stimulated environment, being in a sauna is like going back to the basics. A warm, cosy shelter free of disturbances, and that’s emitting positive rays? Yes, please. Thank you very much.
21 to 30 minutes
Twenty minutes in, I became a sweaty mess where my hair stuck to my neck and shoulders. (That said, it’s a good idea to remove all makeup before entering the sauna.) Totally unglamorous, but I was on a high, and decided to resume my video recording. On normal days, I’m definitely not this open to talk to cameras.
As the temperature inched to 60 deg C, I decided to take a quick water break.
31 to 45 minutes
By this time, most of my thoughts were centred around “It’s getting really hot in here”. Towards the end, the temp went up to 63 deg C, making me feel like I’d just done Bikram yoga. I quickly grabbed my phone to document my last few minutes in the violet room that made me feel so at ease. Frankly, it was also very Insta-worthy.
Achievement unlocked: I recorded 20-odd videos of myself in the sauna without my phone going kaput. Bearing in mind, I let my phone “recover” in intervals outside the heat.
Noticeable benefits after infrared sauna
Right after sauna, my face looked flushed, similar to post-workout. My body cooled down pretty quickly since the studio is air-conditioned, but I decided to wait for a few hours before showering, in case my pores were still open. I felt lighter mentally (maybe talking to my phone helped) and physically.
That night, I had the Best. Sleep. Ever. My fitness tracker logged the longest duration of deep sleep I had in a long while, plus I woke up feeling ready to kick some ass.
The next day, my digestive system was on a roll. I hit the toilet for big and small businesses more frequently than usual, without cause for alarm. My body felt exceptionally relaxed for the next few days, like how it would after a deep tissue massage.
To address the elephant in the room: Does the infrared sauna help with detoxification? I can’t say for sure, but going by the positive after-effects I experienced, I would love to schedule more visits.
Apparently, infrared saunas aren’t just for general wellness seekers. They have a place in medical healing, too. Maxie shared that some of her clients at Pure Wellness Studio are referred by doctors, both GPs and specialists. Examples are people with eczema, fibromyalgia (chronic musculoskeletal pain), toxin overload and autoimmune diseases, cancer patients including those undergoing chemotherapy, autistic children as well as women preparing for pregnancy.
So, are infrared saunas worth the sweat?
Personally, the effects of an infrared sauna are comparable to a Japanese onsen. After an onsen trip, I get the same quality sleep, feelings of lightness and clarity, and awesome excretion. Of course, the mood in a sauna versus an onsen are quite different.
While I’m unlikely to drop my yoga classes for infrared sauna sessions anytime, I’m keen to get my close friends to go on a sauna date – that is, if they don’t mind being nude in the same cabin as me, getting high and engaging in self-disclosure. Pure Wellness has an option to bring a “sweat buddy” along for an additional $35. (A single session costs $75.)
Like they say, people who sweat together, stay together.
Pure Wellness Studio is located at 70A Duxton Rd (Level 2), Singapore 089529 (tel: 8892-2575). The studio is open from Tuesdays to Sundays. For more info, visit purewellnessstudio.sg.