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April 6, 2023

Is IR good or bad for skin?

Is IR good or bad for skin?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that infrared light 'curdles' collagen. One savvy listener called me out on it. So here's a little more info about the ray of light we love or hate, depending on your POV:

First, a little background to my statement: many years ago, Dr. Albert Kligman, one of the world's most noted and respected dermatologists, told me to stay away from saunas because infrared 'curdles collagen' and my skinwould show wrinkles prematurely. A few years later, he mentioned this in one of his lectures. I never asked for a reference since it was the Dr. Albert Kligman! He was the reference.

So, flash forward three and a half decades . . . I just went online to see if I could find some research. There's a bunch, a little of which I've posted below.

In short, infrared light penetrates into the subcutaneous (re: fat) layer of the skin, which is deeper than any other light ray. Prolonged exposure to IR stimulates MMP-1, the enzyme that degrades dermal collagens I & III, the proteins that, when when well formed, keep skin firm and wrinkles at bay. UV and visible light worsen IR's effects. It's logical that prolonged exposure to the pure IR used in saunas also trigger MMP-1, producing the 'curdling' effect Dr. Kligman was talking about. This effect is more rightly described as 'degradation'. I think the good doctor was being dramatic when he said "curdles", which I should have clarified when I shared this bit of info on Facially Conscious.

That said, there are beneficial effects of IR exposure in saunas. Here's a quote from the editorial team at skincancer.net, titled "Infrared Saunas and Skin Cancer: What Are the Links?" (https://skincancer.net/clinical/infrared-saunas-skin-cancer)

"Low doses of NIR (near infrared) in the form of low-level light therapy – which is normally what infrared saunas use – are shown to be quite therapeutic and healing. This low-level light therapy has been shown to help wounds heal faster, reduce skin inflammation, and help treat acne and precancerous patches of skin.

"Furthermore, a 2020 study states that infrared light does not causesunburnand is not known to directly cause skin cancer. Scientists agree that more evidence and studies that take into account realistic NIR exposure are needed to understand infrared light’s risks and benefits.

"Key takeaway:Infrared saunas, with their low-level light therapy, may provide your body benefits. However, long, repeated exposure to high-intensity infrared light can be harmful to the skin. In other words, NIR can be a detriment to a person’s skin or provide them with healing benefits – it all depends on its intensity."

IR is also not recommended if you are taking drugs that can cause photosensitivity or have melasma or lupus. Definitely avoid IR if you have rosacea because it dilates capillaries and up-regulates the form of VEGF (aka: vascular endothelial growth factor) that triggers rosacea episodes. 

So, as with all things, moderation is probably the best use of an IR sauna. Be sure to stay at least three feet away from infrared bulbs. And keep your visits to a few minutes once a week or even monthly if you're concerned about intensifying lines, deepening wrinkles and losing firmness a few months or years down the road. 

Here's some more research for those of us who crave detail:

"IR radiation penetrates the epidermal and dermal layers of the skin and reaches deeper than UV; consequently, it can damage both skin compartments.The epidermis contains the stratum corneum, which is a physical barrier for the body [11]. The dermis is the second innermost layer and contains structural proteins such as collagen and elastin. Collagen accounts for around 75% of the total dry weight of skin and provides strength and integrity to the tissue [12].This protein can be damaged by the effect of IR radiation by the overexpression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), which is activated by FRs (free radicals) [4,5,13].Changes in the structure or organization of collagen are responsible for alterations in the skin morphology, such as discoloration, loss of elasticity, wrinkles, or impairment of barrier function [12,14,15]. The regularly staggered structure of collagen induces periodic variations of electron density visible by X-ray scattering as sharp Bragg peaks. The X-ray profile in healthy skin shows a characteristic d-spacing of around 65 nm and several reflections associated with this distance [12,15]. The position, intensity, and number of reflections of the typical axial periodicity of skin collagen change according to the effect of tissue physiology or physical conditions.These changes indicate a macromolecular disorganization of collagen, and consequently can indicate the degradation of the protein.Therefore, the study of the organization of skin collagen after IR radiation can also help to determine the potential effects of IR exposure on the skin."

You can find the entire article, which lists the references cited here, at:https://www.karger.com/Article/PDF/447015

So, there you have it. Thanks for making me do my 'due diligence' in this. You know who you are!