Infrared sauna: Fans say it goes deep with healing heat

  • Catherine Ames does a 30-minue session in a infrared sauna at Thelo Home & Modern Wellness in Northampton. She says in addition to being relaxing, her time in the sauna has relieved an uncomfortable skin condition. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear

  • Mikala Hammonds, owner of Thelo Home and Modern Wellness, works Friday at the store. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Infrared sauna at Thelo Home & Modern Wellness in Northampton. SUBMITTED PHOTO/Thelo Home & Modern Wellness

  • Infrared sauna at Thelo Home & Modern Wellness in Northampton. SUBMITTED PHOTO/Thelo Home & Modern Wellness

  • Infrared sauna at Thelo Home and Modern Wellness in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Charlotte Gephart, who is a sales associate at Thelo Home and Modern Wellness, displays one of the store's infrared sauna sanctuaries, Nov. 17. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Charlotte Gephart of Thelo Home and Modern Wellness, shows one of the infrared sauna sanctuaries that can seat two. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mineral mist and towels rest in one of the infrared saunas. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Thelo Home and Modern Wellness owner Mikala Hammonds, right, said she decided to add infrared saunas to her business after seeing the positive results they had on her father’s joint pain that had resulted from Lyme disease. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mikala Hammonds, owner of Thelo Home and Modern Wellness, Friday at the store. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/20/2017 5:39:32 PM

When Catherine Ames, 47, of Northampton steps out of the infrared sauna, the skin on her face is glowing and clear, much different, she says, than it looked a month ago.

Before she started her 30-minute sessions each week at Thelo Home & Modern Wellness in Northampton, she had dry skin and rosacea on her face, a condition of the skin that causes tiny broken blood vessels that make her cheeks look sunburned.

She isn’t quite sure what causes her skin condition, but the scaliness on her face is gone and she no longer needs to cover up the redness with makeup.

“After going in the sauna I feel like I’ve gotten a facial,” Ames says, adding that friends have remarked on her appearance after a session. “It’s amazing, it just feels so good.”

Trending nationwide

The infrared sauna uses light to heat the body, penetrating deeper than the hot air in a conventional sauna. “It’s heating you from the inside like the sun,” says Mikala Hammonds, owner of the boutique. The heat reaches three inches inside the body, warming the organs, whereas the heat from conventional saunas penetrates just about a half inch, she says.

Infrared saunas have been touted in the national media lately as a wellness trend with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chelsea Handler praising the treatment and, even in some cases, installing the saunas in their homes. It’s also been reported that some hospitals across the country have used them to promote growth in premature babies or help soothe arthritis.

When it opened a month ago, Thelo Home & Modern Wellness, a boutique which sells furniture, bath products and other goods, had a few saunas installed in the basement joining other local establishments like Elements Hot Tub Spa in Amherst and Healing Tree Health and Wellness Center in Easthampton that provide the service.

Infrared saunas have been used by holistic health practitioners for decades in treating symptoms of illnesses such as cancer and Lyme disease, Hammonds says, but are only now entering the mainstream.

Their benefits haven’t been backed up by science yet and some in the medical community are not convinced. “I take a skeptical view of the idea of getting rid of toxins through sweating,” says Katherine White, a dermatologist in Northampton. “I think people should be modest in their expectations of health benefits.”

Still, sitting in a warm, cozy space for 30 minutes or an hour, certainly feels good.

“It’s just a relaxing feeling,” says Ames.

A time to de-stress

When Ames steps into the sauna, she sits on a wooden bench, takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. The sauna is built for two, but she comes alone for her 30-minute session, which costs $35. This is her time to de-stress and take a break from her hectic schedule, she says, another benefit. A marketing representative for a pharmaceutical company, Ames juggles a full-time job with raising two children.

As she sits in the dimly lit space, the infrared light heats her up, her muscles relax and her heart rate increases. “It’s like a cardio workout almost,” she says.

Apparently, people who spend time in saunas do tend to have healthier cardiovascular systems. In a 2015 study, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that those who made frequent visits to a sauna every week had a lower incidence of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke. The study was on traditional saunas, which heat the air to 175 degrees, whereas infrared sauna tends to heat to a lower temperature —157 degrees. Hammonds believes the benefits are the same.

The heat of an infrared sauna doesn’t feel uncomfortably overpowering as the heat of a traditional sauna, Ames says, even through by the end of the 30-minute session she is dripping with sweat. Your skin doesn’t dry out, and you don’t get that unpleasant burning sensation when you try to breath in the air, she says.

An added perk at Thelo Home & Modern Wellness is a built-in screen on the wall, where clients can scroll through the movie selection on Netflix, she points out. Ames has been making her way through episodes of “Mad Men.”

Hammonds says she’s had clients try the infrared sauna for relief from all sorts of health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints; or lymphedema, a swelling of the limbs caused by the removal of lymph nodes, often during cancer diagnosis. One client with severe arthritis in her fingers, hadn’t been able to put her wedding rings on in a year, Hammonds says, but since coming to get treatments over the last few weeks, she can now easily slip them on. “That’s huge,” she says.

A personal discovery

Hammonds discovered infrared saunas four years ago when her father was struggling with Lyme disease. It took him 15 years to receive a proper diagnosis and by then he had suffered permanent damage to his joints. When he couldn’t find relief through traditional medicine, she says, he started looking for alternatives and discovered the infrared sauna at the Groton Wellness Center, a holistic health center in Groton.

At first her father was skeptical, but after a few sessions in the sauna, the change was remarkable. The swelling in his joints went down, he had more mobility and flexibility, Hammonds says. His energy levels went up. 

A long-time retailer, Hammonds, who already owned boutiques in Concord and Manhattan, decided to open a wellness store in Northampton, a community she had gotten to know in the 1980s when she was a student at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton.

“I think doctors will have to start paying attention to (infrared sauna) because it is so powerful,” she says.

Ames learned about the treatment from a cousin in Austin, Texas. “I had been hearing about it. I just started doing a little bit of research online,” she says. “I love hot yoga and I thought this might feel similar or even more relaxing,”

She made an appointment as soon as Hammonds’ store opened and the sauna didn’t disappoint. She found it to be just what she needed.

“It’s just so relaxing. Any little thing I can do to feel good and feel healthy.” 

Lisa Spear can be reached at


How to connect

Thelo Home & Modern Wellness is located at 153 Main St., Northampton.

It is open seven days a week. Sauna sessions cost $35 for 30 minutes and $45 for 60 minutes.

For more information visit

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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