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Self-Help Patrol: Infrared Sauna

Sweat yourself clean

I first realized I had a sweating problem when I was in the third grade. I was running around during gym class when my friend Dion stopped, cocked his head, looked at me and asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re so sweaty.”

That’s when I noticed I was only the child with sweat dripping from his brow. And thus began my life as the Sweaty Guy.

Formally, I suffer from hyperhidrosis, a condition that will be self-explanatory for anyone with a passing knowledge of etymology. And while I’ve never been officially diagnosed with the disorder, there’s no debating I have it. Spicy foods, public speaking engagements, walk-up apartments, doctor’s appointments, hot bowls of soup, vivid dreams, particularly stubborn bowel movements, romantic encounters (both good and bad) — all of them can send me into unstoppable sweating jags.

All of this is to say that being so sweaty has typically sucked … until now. Because now, sweating is in. Our body’s temperature-regulation system is the hottest new fitness trend. A handful of companies are now extolling the virtues of exercise-less perspiration. You burn up to 1,600 calories an hour using infrared light technology, they claim.

As a heavy sweater who’s deeply skeptical of pseudoscientific health claims, I had to know more.

Strategy

Unlike your typical sauna, which is just a hot box, infrared saunas warm your body without heating up the air around you. The infrared light waves penetrate your skin and warm you from the inside-out — like a human microwave. Sounds safe!

Los Angeles has several infrared sauna locations, because of course it does — this city is full of gullible narcissists. I decide to visit three.

Is it bullshit?

The health benefits to infrared saunas are, at best, dubious (read: probably bullshit). When I pressed employees to explain the virtues of of an infrared sauna, they gave vague answers such as “improved circulation,” burning calories and better skin. Others claim it improves sleep and can diminish joint pain. One woman told me infrared saunas “work on a cellular level” and can thus treat Lyme disease and cancer. Sure.

The most common answer was that infrared saunas rid your body of “toxins.” Ah, yes, toxins — those bodily poisons that, if you ask a wellness expert, are the root of all disease. Interestingly, experts are often unable to identify specific toxins and the diseases they’re supposedly linked to.

“We do not have data that shows one can sweat out toxins in any meaningful way,” Stanford University of Medicine Dr. Catherine Forest told The New York Times in a recent article about infrared saunas.

So there you go.

Goal

Use infrared saunas to lose weight, increase my energy levels and/or improve my overall mental and physical well-being. I’m really hoping they can help treat the plantar fasciitis in my right foot. That shit hurts.

Results

Sweatheory (1503 N. Cahuenga Blvd.)
I’ve reached a point in life where I no longer enjoy hating on things for the hell of it. So it brings me no joy to say that everything about Sweatheory is unpleasant. Sweatheory is under construction when I visit, so my hourlong session is set to the soothing sounds of hammers, buzz saws and power drills.

There’s a loose nail in my sauna and the interior door handle is broken off. Halfway through my session, the control panel starts beeping erratically and flashing random numbers and letters. I’m going to die a Final Destination death, I think. The temperature is going to climb, and I’m not going to be able to open the door, and I’m going to sweat to death. (Spoiler alert: I make it out alive, but only to discover a dead moth in the moldy shower.)

Sweatheory tries to make good on the experience by giving me 50 percent off and a free sweat session in the future, but I doubt I’ll ever redeem that coupon. I didn’t even sweat that much, and left feeling no different.

On a scale of one to five sweat droplets, I give it: / 5

SaunaBar (11677 San Vicente Blvd.)
Amazingly, this infrared sauna location is under construction, too. Formerly Firm Body Evolution, a combination spa-workout center, SaunaBar has rebranded to focus solely on infrared saunas.

This is its grand reopening and the facility is immaculate and calming. A female employee ushers me to my private sauna room. Unlike Sweatheory, which put me in a wooden hut, SaunaBar uses pods (for the lack of a better word). They’re kind of like tanning beds, except your head sticks out and the lights are infrared.

Every surface is a soft white and illuminated by orange, red, blue and purple mood lighting. Then it hits me: There’s no shower in here. I ask the attendant where I can shower after, and she tells me I can’t. Showering right after an infrared negates the circulatory benefits, she says, so I’m expected to simply put my clothes back on once I finish. The thought disgusts me, but I go through the session anyway. (I also disregard her suggestion to keep my clothes on and get in the pod fully naked.)

The session is better at actually making me sweat and the ambiance is quite soothing, but all that chill is negated by having to put my clothes back on my filthy, moist body. I leave feeling gross and looking like I just ran through a sprinkler.

/ 5

Optimal Health (292 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills)
Underwhelmed by my first two experiences, I instruct the attendant at Optimal Health to go hard on me and crank those infrared lights up to 11. She does, and 10 minutes in, I’m sweating profusely. Sweating might be repulsive in social situations, but it feels excellent in a controlled environment. My body is rapidly shedding water and it feels great.

Too great, perhaps. About 25 minutes in, I feel a little faint and need to take a five-minute break. There is a quarter-full water pitcher in my room. I slug it down in a matter of seconds but still feel thirsty. My body is flush and my heart is racing.

I collect myself and slip back into my pod, but only last for another 15 minutes. This is exactly what I wanted — to sweat to the brink of passing out.

I turn off the machine with time left in my session, but wait quietly in my room while the clock runs down. I don’t want to let the attendant know I couldn’t handle a full session after I talked such a big game.

The best part: The sauna room has its own shower. I wash myself with cold water and lemon-scented Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, and my body feels like it’s caked in Icy Hot.

/ 5

As much as I enjoyed my Optimal Health session, all I felt afterward was a kind of placid fatigue. That’s not nothing, but my plantar fasciitis surely isn’t cured, and I’m not any thinner.

But who am I to deny someone the pleasure of an infrared sauna? If people want to spend $45 just to pretend they’ve improved their health, that’s fine. Even if you just think something makes you healthier, happier and more energetic, it has achieved its goal.