Infrared Sauna and Your Wrinkled Skin

Dermatologist Suzan Obagi, writing for Scientific American, says that after the age of 20, you produce about one percent less collagen each year. Collagen, which supplies firmness, is one of three primary components of healthy, youthful skin. As the supply of it diminishes, skin becomes thinner and more fragile. The other primary components are elastin, which gives skin its elasticity and resilience, and glycosaminoglycans or GAGs, which provide hydration. Collagen isn’t the only element that diminishes with age. The other components do as well. The decline in these components leads to what dermatologists call “intrinsic aging” of skin.

Intrinsic aging, however, actually has only a slight effect. The real enemy of youthful skin is extrinsic aging. According to Obagi, “Extrinsic aging occurs in addition to intrinsic aging as a result of sun and environmental damage (tobacco use and exposure to pollution, for example). Extrinsic aging shows up as thickening of the cornified layer, precancerous changes such as lesions called actinic keratosis, skin cancer (including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, lentigo maligna melanoma), freckle and sun spot formation, and exaggerated loss of collagen, elastin, and GAGs. Alone or in concert, these processes give the skin the appearance of roughness, uneven tone, brown patches, thin skin and deep wrinkles.”

Are we all fated to acquire “roughness, uneven tone, brown patches, thin skin and deep wrinkles” as we age? Maybe not so much. If you could curb the loss of collagen, you could go a long way toward preserving a youthful appearance. First, you need to do what you can to avoid the forces of extrinsic aging. Avoid environmental pollution, don’t smoke, and use an effective sunscreen when you go outside.

Those aren’t the only things you can do, however. A 2006 study in Yonsei Medical Journal from The Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, reported on the “Effects of Infrared Radiation on Skin Photo-Aging and Pigmentation.” The study had two parts: analysis of human dermal fibroblast cultures (i.e., cultured skin cells) and examinations of patients with mild to moderate facial wrinkles. Both the skin cells and the patients were exposed to far infrared radiation (five hours for the skin cells and 15-20 minutes on each of five successive days for the patients). The skin cells were analyzed for collagen production. The patients were evaluated on standard scales for various skin qualities.

Two hours after treatment, the irradiated skin cells were found to have twice the collagen as the control cells, which got no treatment. This suggests that far infrared increases collagen production in the skin. Then, in evaluating the patients, the researchers found that fine wrinkles improved 26-50%. Skin tone and laxity also improved 26-50%. Coarse wrinkles, however, showed minimal improvement, and hyperpigmented lesions showed no improvement.

Far infrared radiation, of course, is the source of the heat in an infrared sauna. I have written in this space before about infrared sauna’s benefits to cardiovascular health, its ability to lower the risk of dementia, its salutary effects on lifestyle-related diseases, its use in preventing cancer, and its supportive role in weight loss. You may not think it’s worth the effort to take frequent sauna bathing sessions just to make your skin more youthful. But it’s a nice extra benefit to have if you’re using it to prevent cancer, protect your cardiovascular health, or avoid dementia!

Book an infrared sauna session at Peak Recovery & Health Center today.

Image: “A Side of Elephant” by QUOI Media Group. Creative Commons license. Elephants don’t seem to mind having wrinkled skin. We couldn’t fit one in the sauna, anyway.