Why Infrared Heat Is a Hot Trend at Philly Spas and Workouts

Here’s where to warm up with infrared yoga and saunas.

infrared heat

An infrared heat sauna at Wellness Refinery in Old City. Photograph by Jillian Guyette

It’s freezing outside one December afternoon in Philadelphia, and an icy rain is pelting my face. But I don’t mind, because I’m heading to the recently opened Wellness Refinery in Old City to sit in (and soak in the warmth of) an infrared sauna.

At Wellness, Temple-grad owner Ashleigh Noelle slings milky turmeric lattes and superfood smoothies and sells herbal tinctures and organic facial oils. But the second floor is where things really heat up. Here, clients can luxuriate for 30 to 45 minutes in a private infrared sauna booth that comes with an auxiliary cord, so you can listen to your own music or podcast, and a remote control, so you can adjust a spectrum of healing LED lights. (The practice is called chromotherapy.)

I wrap myself in a towel and sink onto a wooden bench. Then the sweat comes. The temp? A whopping 158 degrees. The warmth feels all-encompassing. And different: Unlike your average coal-fired sauna, the heat comes from infrared lights that your body absorbs — kind of like getting all the benefits of sunlight without the wrinkles.

The infrared sauna boom started in L.A. a few years ago and has been touted as an everything-that-ails-you remedy by such celebs as Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow and Leonardo DiCaprio. Proponents claim benefits ranging from cellular rejuvenation, toxin release and skin purification to improved circulation, muscle recovery, an immunity boost, improved mood, restful sleep and weight loss.

Though all of this may be true, I’m mostly just enjoying sitting in a small, private wooden booth where I can sweat out my worries and be completely, blissfully alone.

“Infrared is just one way of delivering heat energy to the skin,” Joel Gelfand, a Penn dermatologist and epidemiologist, tells me. “The effects of heat on the skin can engender feelings of well-being; there’s also temporary improvement in how muscles feel and act because it promotes flexibility.”

And infrared’s not just for sitting in. Newly opened Teranga Yoga in Bella Vista and Unity Yoga in Manayunk are all-infrared yoga studios. Amrita Yoga and Wellness offers infrared barre and yoga in its Fishtown and Grad Hospital locations, and City Fitness in Logan Square added an infrared studio in 2017. Practicing sun salutations or barre flexes in a heated room is a no-brainer; the warmth helps muscle flexibility and promotes a good sweat, intensifying any workout. Afterward, you feel totally detoxed.

Whether infrared heat is really doing anything, I can’t say. But it almost doesn’t matter. At yoga classes or in the sauna, the warmth soothes and exhausts me, makes me put down my phone, and reminds me of lying on a sun-soaked beach somewhere tropical — a multi-pronged godsend guaranteed to keep me coming back for more.

Published as “Follow the Light” in the February 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.