By Courtney Linder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Owned and operated by friends Kelly Miller and Lori Walker, "Haute" (pronounced "hot"), is the first all-infrared sauna in Pennsylvania. Since its Black Friday opening, the sauna has become a hotbed for those looking to relax, detoxify, improve skin tone and even lose weight.
It may not seem intuitive to use a sauna in treating gastrointestinal disorders, but for 33-year-old Katie Davis, visits to a local infrared sauna have become a critical part of managing her Crohn's disease.
"Any time I have a flare-up, one of the first things I used to do was turn to a heating pad because it helps with inflammation," she said. "But this is a better way to treat it."
Since late last year, Ms. Davis of Bridgeville has visited Haute Sauna Studio in McCandless at least once or twice a week, which she says removes toxins and teases out her abdominal pain.
And she's in good company. Celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Lady Gaga swear by infrared-induced sweating.
Haute (pronounced "hot"), is the first all-infrared sauna in the state, owned and operated by friends Kelly Miller and Lori Walker. Since its Black Friday opening, the sauna has become a hotbed for those looking to relax, detoxify, improve skin tone and even lose weight.
"We've seen growth double just about every week," said Ms. Miller. Of those, about 20 percent have purchased memberships. Not your gym's sauna
While Haute is the only all-infrared studio in the state, local salons use infrared technology as an add-on treatment, including EsSpa Kozmetika in Aspinwall, Peace, Love & Zen in East Liberty and Centre Ave. Massage and Spa in Shadyside.
Most locations use a cedar box to administer heat to customers -- similar to saunas included in gym packages -- but Haute uses a compact "pod."
Haute's pods -- capsules lined with SoloCarbon infrared heating components on all sides -- allow space for the head to stick out to avoid claustrophobia. If the inside temperature becomes too hot, customers can easily push down the lightweight dome to expose their chest and arms to the cooler room temperature.
Most customers use the pods while fully nude, although some prefer wearing undergarments or swimsuits. Whichever way they choose to sweat, they have full privacy, unless they opt to reserve Haute's tandem suite, which includes two sauna pods for friends or couples. Overall, there are five suites and six pods, Ms. Walker said.
Because infrared saunas heat the body directly, rather than the surrounding air, they are not as hot as traditional saunas or steam rooms. Throughout the 30-minute treatment, the temperature hovers between 125 to 130 degrees. After 10 minutes inside the futuristic heated cocoon, beads of sweat materialize across the skin as a person's metabolic heart rate intensifies.
Comparatively, traditional saunas -- which heat a combination of basalt, peridotite and hornblende rock to warm the space -- may reach temperatures upward of 200 degrees and take longer to produce sweat.
Like traditional saunas, people with certain conditions should not use infrared treatments. These include pregnant women, nursing mothers, those with known heart conditions, and individuals who rely on pacemakers or other electronic devices. Ms. Walker said children under 18 may not use a pod without parental consent.
Sweat science Within the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared energy falls between microwave energy (the same radiation used to cook popcorn) and the visible spectrum, which the human eye detects as light.
Infrared energy is a safe form of thermal radiation (on the electromagnetic spectrum ultraviolet, X-ray and gamma ray radiation are harmful) that the body perceives as radiant heat. This creates the same warmth as the sun, according to Svetlana Kogan, a graduate of Cornell University who practices integrative medicine in New York City.
Specifically, these saunas use the narrow far infrared (FIR) band, as compared to the full infrared range of radiation, which also includes near infrared, a sometimes dangerous heat.
"When you are exposing the body to near and far infrared light, the near rays can be carcinogenic and can have some of the same effects as ultraviolet light," Dr. Kogan explained.
FIR energy can penetrate the skin up to 1.5 inches deep, according to a 2012 peer-reviewed study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Institutes of Health, although some sources claim penetration up to 3 inches.
"Far infrared penetrates all the way down to the molecular level, specifically water molecules," Dr. Kogan said. "We are more than 70 percent water, so it has a very profound effect on what happens to the body." For this reason, she said, the body may perform biological functions more efficiently when exposed to infrared radiation.
One of those functions, toxin elimination, can aid in removal of dangerous heavy metals such as copper, mercury and lead, she said.
When she observes patients after infrared therapy, the heavy-metal concentration in their urine is always higher, and in the blood it's usually lower, pointing to successful toxin elimination.
Backing the benefits Dr. Kogan also believes infrared saunas may improve blood pressure, help treat chronic pain, reduce the risk of congestive heart failure and lower cholesterol. She cites a 2009 Canadian peer-reviewed study on infrared saunas and cardiovascular risk factors as evidence.
The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota also notes infrared saunas may have health benefits in relation to cardiovascular conditions and rheumatoid arthritis. "However," Dr. Brent A. Bauer writes on Mayo's website, "larger and more rigorous studies are needed to confirm these results. To date, no adverse side effects have been attributed to infrared use."
Due to the combined nature of infrared sauna use with exercise and diet choice, qualitative claims like weight loss are difficult to prove outside customer feedback.
Stacy Sullivan, who owns the first infrared sauna that opened in St. Louis, said she has never pushed the weight-loss benefits to her customers at Sol Sweat because it seems "gimmicky."
"I do believe it is a passive workout," she said. "It's been 15 months and I've definitely had customers who have lost weight." She is careful to note that this may be due, in part, to outside influences.
Haute Sauna Studio (8350 Perry Highway, Suite 5, McCandless) is open Monday through Thursday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. First-time sweaters can book a 30-minute session for $29 and for $45 upon return. Discounted membership packages are available. Information: www.hautesaunastudio.com or 412-536-1996.