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Some Like It Hot

A sizzling new sauna craze has fitness fanatics seeing red and feeling zen

One could easily blame Gwyneth Paltrow for fueling the latest detox obsession that has wellness enthusiasts flocking to the nearest furnace. It all started about a year ago, when the then flu-riddled actress-turned-lifestyle guru posted an Instagram selfie with her lying on a terrycloth towel basked in crimson fluorescent light, with the caption reading “All contagion aside.” Nearly 27,000 likes later, a new health movement was born: Behold the infrared sauna.

Since then, a crop of hip holistic haunts touting themselves as urban sweat lodges has popped up across the country, luring city dwellers seeking the—er—hottest way to perspire. In downtown Los Angeles there’s the Springs, a buzzy wellness hub offering millennial hippies an array of healthy amenities, including 30-minute sweat sessions and kombucha tea on tap. Then there’s infrared pioneer Shape House, with three California outposts, where clients like Selena Gomez and the Kardashians bake in space-age body wraps while catching up on their favorite shows. Netflix and sweat, anyone?

The sweaty selfie posted by Gwyneth Paltrow that sparked a new health obsession (and racked up almost 27,000 likes).

On the east coast, Manhattan’s HigherDOSE, a subterranean spot that opened on the Bowery last May, has quickly become a mecca for models (Carolyn Murphy) and celebrity fitness trainers (The Class’s Taryn Toomey) looking for a quick detox. “We’re health-club-meets nightclub,” declares co-founder Katie Kaps, whose futuristic custom Clearlight saunas are also outfitted with LED light therapy—ideal for mood stabilizing or a lavender-hued selfie (glistening clavicles are so in right now). “New Yorkers are stressed and need to chill,” says Kaps. “Our experience is designed to get you high naturally.” To wit, Kaps’ candlelit space recalls a luxury spa—complete with private rooms, plush robes and, in the near future, “dopatonin” edibles purported to help boost serotonin and endorphins.

But what makes today’s infrared boom so different from the old boys’ club sauna of yesteryear? Devotees claim the infrared technology penetrates human tissue—actually raising the body’s core temperature—while a traditional Finnish sauna simply heats the air. “Infrared saunas run 20 to 60 degrees lower than a conventional sauna, making it easier to tolerate the heat,” explains Donna Perrone, owner of wellness center Gravity East Village. The result? A deeper detox that can aid in weight loss, inflammation, sleep, stress reduction–—and even boost the immune system.

“The first time I used one I thought it was broken,” laughs designer-turned-integrative nutrition and lifestyle coach Daphne Javitch, who recommends clients go to cure bloating, particularly after traveling. “I’m not a big sweater in real life, so when you start to sweat intensely after about 15 minutes, it’s a really pleasurable release. You get out, you’re all rosy and it looks like you did a triathlon.”

The latest spinoff of the infrared trend? Installing a sauna at home, entering it into the annals of high-end property perks, alongside private screening rooms and home gyms. Clearlight’s Sanctuary 1 model costs about $4,000, while a custom-fitted version could run upwards of $10,000. “Some people own a treadmill; I own a sauna,” says Jamie Graber of Gingersnap’s Organic, a vegan café in New York’s West Village; she installed one in her Union Square apartment and uses it five times a week. “It’s the best investment I made—and my skin is better than it’s ever been.”

But is the infrared sauna really a cure-all? Like most wellness trends, not on its own. “Physically, it’s a great complement to a health regime,” says Vanessa Packer, founder of fitness studio ModelFIT. “If you drink juice, eat healthfully and work out regularly, the infrared is a really nice way to help your body recuperate and simultaneously get a deep detox.” In other words, it’s just one piece of the vitality puzzle. As Javitch, who goes once a week, puts it: “Health is cumulative. Every good decision breeds good decisions.” And who doesn’t have 30 minutes to spare? Now to find a machine that keeps us virtuous the rest of the time. . . . Your move, Paltrow.