Sweat therapy: why a new breed of saunas have become the latest wellness buzzword

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Saunas are having a red-hot revival in 2017. Stylist investigates...

Saunas need a new publicist. Let’s face it, saunas – usually associated with stuffy businessmen reading their newspapers in the buff – aren’t exactly top of the cool list in a world of spinning and sunrise yoga when it comes to wellness pursuits. But with sauna and steam bookings rising 64% year on year (according to UK bookings website Treatwell), this ancient ritual is on the up.

From Moroccan hammams to Japanese onsens and Korean bath houses, ‘sweat rituals’ have an historic root that spans the breadth of the globe. But while the rest of the world has long been savvy to the health benefits of saunas (Finland has three saunas for every five people), in the UK we’re just waking up to their many benefits. From deeper sleep to smoother skin and lither limbs, this new breed of saunas offers 360 degree rejuvenation.

While traditional saunas burn wood, new technology harnesses the power of light to create infrared saunas. Using visible and non-visible light wavelengths to create heat, infrared saunas work faster than their traditional counterparts. “They heat the body from the inside out by warming your skin tissue, whereas traditional saunas just heat the air,” explains Lou Riby, MD of Elemental Herbology and wellness expert. “This means your body is able to flush out toxins such as traces of dirt, pollution and residue make-up much more rapidly.”

Since the waves penetrate more deeply into the skin than the heat of a traditional sauna, “a small amount of heavy metals and drugs can be ‘sweated out’ during a sauna”, adds Harley Street’s Dr David Jack. It’s this detoxification process that makes infrared saunas so attractive to wellness purists. Detoxing aside, the heat encourages better blood flow, circulation and collagen production, which combined with removing cellular debris from the skin makes for a ‘lit-from-within’ glow previously only achievable through layers of strobing or gallons of green juice.

And this new-gen sauna has built up quite the fan base – Shape House, an ‘urban sweat lodge’ based in LA, boasts an A-list following: Jennifer Aniston has waxed lyrical about the benefits and Oprah’s go-to medic, Dr Oz, has sung their praises conducting part of a show from inside one.

NYC-based infrared sauna firm Higher Dose offers complexion- repairing LED therapy too, allowing customers to choose from a variety of lights (yellow is rejuvenating, blue is antibacterial) to add a skin-boosting touch to their treatment. On UK soil, check out Pur Wellness in Notting Hill, Royale Retreat in Tunbridge Wells, York Hall Day Spa in Bethnal Green, and Olympia Leisure Centre in Belfast where infrared sauna sessions are on offer.

London-based facialist Teresa Tarmey notes, “Even just one of these sauna sessions a week is like giving your skin an MOT. It’ll deeply cleanse your pores and get you feeling squeaky-clean. Make sure to take off all your make-up beforehand – I like to take a small muslin cloth in with me to wipe sweat from my face to avoid clogging my pores. And drink plenty of water and moisturise liberally when you get out.” With a revolving door of high-fliers, beauty editors and bonafide celebrities – Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams have both been spotted at Higher Dose – sweat therapies are clearly driving the wellness pack wild.

But the benefits are more than simply aesthetic – while regular sauna converts rave about smoother, plumper skin and feeling less bloated, sweat time can also soothe your mind. A recent 20-year study in Finland found that participants who visited a sauna four or more times a week were 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those who went once a week or less – this is thought to be a result of the improved circulation and lowered blood pressure offered by sauna time.

“Other benefits include soothing tired and aching muscles and encouraging toxins to be flushed out of the body through deep sweating,” adds Riby. “The high heat also helps to release endorphins which can help with sleep.” A sauna session could also play a part in melting away your worries, explains Riby: “the loosening of tension in your muscles helps you relax and enter a peaceful, mindful state essential for meditation.”

Athletes have long relied on saunas to help loosen tight muscles. “The increase in blood flow to the peripheries and muscles helps counter the build-up of lactic acid and other substances associated with muscle damage during exercise,” explains Dr Jack. The increase in heart rate may also have longer-term cardiovascular benefits. And for any germ-phobes, as they’re less moist than the traditional variety, infrared saunas are less welcoming to bacteria and fungus.

Still not sold? Even typical wellness refuseniks might embrace what we’re calling the Cyber Sauna. Forget awkwardly sitting still for half an hour, avoiding eye contact and shuffling in silence, this is where wellness meets hedonism. At one end of the scale, there’s Helsinki’s Burger King Sauna which is, well, exactly what it sounds like – a hot box attached to the fast-food joint where you’re encouraged to munch fries in 80°C heat while watching a 48inch TV. Gross? We think so.

Closer to home, and far more sensible is The Hot Box sauna in Loch Tay, Scotland, which has a fully stocked licensed bar, as well as a DJ and karaoke room available to hire for private functions. “The idea for a ‘hangout sauna’ came from similar ventures in Scandinavia,” explains Angus Mackay, general manager at Taymouth Marina. “The owners of the spa wanted to create a place where you can socialise with others and promote the Danish spirit of hygge, which is taking pleasure and enjoyment from simple moments”.

As it takes around 20 minutes of sitting in a sauna to unlock the health benefits, the idea behind this heated hedonism is to make those often mind-numbing minutes pass faster. It may also make them futile, but that’s by the by. Look out too for Bathing Under The Sky who will be offering pop-up saunas at the Wilderness, Secret Garden Party and Isle Of Wight festivals this summer.

Clean eating may have been one of 2016’s huge trends, as people did away with heavily processed foods, but as Kate Percival, founder of the women’s health club Grace Belgravia, observes, in 2017, “People are becoming increasingly conscious of the toxins we put in our bodies. Now, the priority is cleansing, with people using saunas and other natural techniques to help rid the body of toxins.” With rejuvenation of mind, body and soul on offer, and health benefits that continue after you’ve towelled off, there’s never been a better time to work up a sweat.

The heat is on

A quartet of super saunas to get your temperature rising

The Hot Box, Taymouth Marina

With views over the Highlands, plus an outdoor bar, fire pit and water trampoline, The Hot Box has room for up to 30 people.

From £10 per person;

Moddershall Oaks, Staffordshire

Apart from a Finnish ‘kelo’ spa, Moddershall Oaks also has an outdoor plunge pool and ‘The Snug’ sauna for private parties.

Half day from £69;

Espa Life at Corinthia, London

With a thermal floor that includes an ampitheatre sauna and steel-bottom reflective pool, this is surely the most luxe way to sweat.

From £145 per person;

Mottram Hall, Cheshire

Embracing the European tradition of outdoor bathing, Mottram Hall have an alfresco sauna space with jumbo suites for big groups.

From £35 per person;

Words: Daniela Morosini

Photography: Laurence Laborie/, iStock