Is Infrared Yoga Bad For Your Skin?
Love hot yoga and love healthy skin? Keep reading!
Hot yoga — so many people love it and don’t want to live without it! Did you know that hot yoga has been on the scene since the early 70s, but has been evolving on the regular? Over the years, heated studios have experimented with everything from room temperature (which ranges from around 90 to 108 or even higher) and appropriate poses to sweat-friendly gear and, most recently, their heat sources.
This latest hot yoga trend has some studios swapping out conventional forced-air systems for infrared (IR) heating ones. You’ll hear claims of all sorts of health benefits including increased metabolism and weight loss, improved flexibility, greater detoxification, and even reduced fine lines and wrinkles. People taking these hot yoga classes seem to love IR heat because it feels less heavy and oppressive than conventional heating methods and more like baking in the sun on a warm (okay, really warm) day.
This sun-like warmth makes perfect sense when you consider what infrared light is. It’s actually invisible, but IR light is felt as heat and is able to penetrate skin and heat even the deepest layers. In fact, about half of the sun’s energy is in the form of infrared. Which begs the question: Are we sure all this internal skin “baking” is safe/healthy?
“It really comes down to how controlled the ‘dose’ of IR energy is,” says Dr. Whitney Bowe, dermatologist and author of the new book The Beauty of Dirty Skin. “IR light-based therapies have been used clinically to promote wound healing, protect muscles from stress, and reduce inflammation. In fact, I use some IR devices in my office and recommend some at-home devices to my patients that are based on IR energy. But many people don’t realize that prolonged infrared exposure has detrimental effects on the skin.”
For starters, uncontrolled doses of infrared rays have been shown to damage skin by creating oxidative stress and free radicals, according to a research review in the journal Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. Free radicals are highly reactive forms of oxygen that can damage cell membranes, DNA, and structural proteins like collagen and lead to premature aging, chronic skin conditions like acne, and even skin cancer.
“Extended exposure to IR energy has also been shown to alter the function of skin’s mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, and stimulate the activity of enzymes called MMPs that degrade collagen,” says Dr. Bowe. “And high levels of IR heat can theoretically challenge the skin of anyone with a chronic condition that’s characterized by pigmentation, such as melasma and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
At this point you’re probably thinking it’s time to turn in your IR hot yoga towel, but Dr. Bowe says it’s not necessary to give it up altogether unless you suffer from melasma. “I urge my patients to pause their passion for hot yoga. I’ve seen one hot yoga class take us back 6 chemical peels and 4 months of potent prescription peels,” says Dr. Bowe. Her advice: if you are going to keep up with a hot yoga routine, prioritize protecting your skin before you head in to the studio. And in fact, you should take precautions anyway: you’re getting hit with IR every day from other sources as well, namely the sun – and traditional sunscreens don’t protect against IR rays.
“I’m a firm believer in protecting the skin from uncontrolled IR rays using an outside-in and inside-out approach,” Dr. Bowe says. Here are the six smart skin strategies she recommends employing every day, even when you’re not rolling out your mat.
Apply a topical vitamin C serum.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that stimulates collagen production and combats free radical damage from IR rays and – get this – exercise. “Your body produces free radicals through normal metabolic processes like respiration, so when you work out, you produce more free radicals,” says Dr. Bowe. Choose a lightweight serum that doesn’t clog your pores, and be sure to cover your face, neck, chest, tops of your hands, and any other regularly exposed skin.
Supplement with Heliocare.
This natural supplement contains a patented specialized extract of Polypodium leucotomos (PLE), a tropical fern native to Central and South America that’s been used for centuries as a remedy for various skin conditions. PLE’s powerful antioxidant properties help protect your skin from the inside out from free radicals. Dr. Bowe recommends taking one pill every morning; two if you’re heading out in the sun (but it’s not a substitute for sunscreen).
Sip a collagen smoothie.
Supplementing with collagen can help combat the wrinkling caused by IR heat exposure, says Dr. Bowe. It’s the main structural protein in skin, and its two main amino acids – proline and glycine – are essential for the formation and repair of healthy skin. “I like collagen powders from marine sources,” she says. “Marine collagen is smaller in molecular size than collagen derived from cows or pigs, so it’s more bioavailable and thus more likely to get into your bloodstream and reach the places where it’s meant to work its wonders.”
One of Dr. Bowe’s favorite smoothie recipes: Blend together 1¼ cups unsweetened almond milk; 1 tablespoon each of collagen powder, cacao powder, and almond butter; 1 small banana, frozen in chunks; ½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries; 1 cup loosely packed baby spinach; and 2 ice cubes (if using fresh blueberries).
Eat foods rich in vitamins A and C.
Both nutrients play a key role in boosting your body’s collagen. “Vitamin A helps restore and regenerate damaged collagen, and your body can’t even make collagen without vitamin C,” says Dr. Bowe. Dark leafy greens (such as kale, spinach, and chard) are high in both A and C. Top sources of C include oranges, red bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, grapefruit, and guava. Foods high in vitamin A include carrots, squash, mango, and watermelon.
Get extra C.
Vitamin C is easily lost in urine, says Dr. Bowe, so in addition to eating C-rich foods throughout the day, she recommends supplementing with 1,000 milligrams of C daily.
Supplement with vitamin E, too.
Another powerful antioxidant, vitamin E stops the production of free radicals, and researchers are looking at E as a possible preventive measure for skin disorders associated with free radicals. It’s tough to get enough E in your diet – sunflower seeds and some nuts contain small amounts – and UV damage depletes our levels, says Dr. Bowe, so she recommends taking 400 IU a day.
Ultimately, whether you decide to stick with IR yoga or not, we all know we need to keep up our mind-body practices and our skin care regime. It’s a fact that doing yoga offers its own benefits, including reduced inflammation, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and greater numbers of healthy mitochondria – all of which are associated with healthier, younger looking skin. But when we are truly happy and find time for self-care you sport the Instagram-worthy natural glow. In sum: keep oming and keep glowing.