In Kuala Lumpur, sweating is an unavoidable part of everyday life. The city is built in the middle of a rainforest, which means daily temperatures regularly creep into the high-80’s and the humidity levels are insane (you should see what my hair looks like here). Most of the time it’s too hot to be outside, and when you finally do decide to brave the heat your shirt is soaked through and your makeup is off within a matter of minutes.
So when I found out that something called “The Sweat Spa” was a thing that actually exists in this city, I felt a little meh about it. I sweat for free all day, every day here — why should I spend $35 to do it indoors, where there’s a perfectly good air conditioning unit for me to park myself in front of.
If you follow any beauty blogger or editor on Instagram, you’ve likely heard about Infrared spas. In the last few months, the treatment has blown up in New York, with a spa called “Higher Dose” becoming the selfie spot du jour.
Infrared spas have all kinds of body-positive benefits (at least according to the people who sell them…) including detoxification, weight loss, skin rejuvenation, pain relief and stress relief. Sweat Spa’s website advertises that a single session in one of their saunas can help you burn 500-600 calories,
So how does it work? According to Sweat Spa, the lights’ wavelength will penetrate 3 to 4 deep inches deep into your body tissue, which will stimulate and activate your water molecules and make them start to vibrate. The vibration, combined with the heat resonance, pushes out the toxins stored in your fat cells out through your sweat glands (FYI: Fat liquifies at 110 degrees — who knew!). When you sweat out fat, it takes heavy metals along with it on the way out, but this only happens with the help of infrared lights. The lights also help dilate blood vessels to stimulate better blood flow, while also helping to stimulate collagen in your skin.
… Sounds pretty good, right? I suppose it is superior to sweating through your shirt on a crowded KL street, so I decided to give it a try.
When I walked into SweatSpa in the Bangsar Shopping Center (located in one of the higher-end neighborhoods in KL), there was a Malaysian couple in the lobby having a biometric reading. While I waited for them to finish (and listened to them have an awkward conversation about the fact that they both needed to make some “serious lifestyle changes” with a SweatSpa employee) I filled out a waiver to confirm that no, I wasn’t pregnant, and yes, I promise not to sue them if I pass out or die in the sauna. I then chose from a list of preferences regarding what I was looking to achieve from my Infrared session — Detoxing, Heart Health, Pain Relief, Skin Rejuvenation or Relaxation. Considering I’ve been living the lifestyle of a college freshman since I arrived in Malaysia 10 days ago, I checked all five.
I headed into a small, private room where my sauna-for-1 awaited. TBH, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but this wasn’t quite it. The sauna itself looked like a tiny box had room for only one person, and was basically the tanning booth version of a sauna (and no, you can’t get tan from the infrared lights in it — I asked.). There was a stack of Malaysian fashion magazines for me to keep myself entertained during my 45-minute treatment, which I was grateful for considering the sauna wasn’t big enough for me to do yoga in (… OK I probably wouldn’t have done that.) and apparently scorching hot saunas and iPhones don’t play well together. I expected the infrared lights to be red, and was super surprised when I found out they were invisible after I rang my emergency call button to tell someone on the staff my booth wasn’t working.
I got naked (the less clothes, the better, they say) and assumed the position, which was somewhere between sitting and lying down because the bench was too small to do either one comfortably.
While I read a depressing story about a woman’s husband’s affair in Marie Claire Malaysia, the temperature in my little sauna box climbed. Every eight minutes it went up one degree celsius, and what started at a balmy 56-degrees went up to a torturous 64-degrees by the time my session was up (that’s 132-degrees to 147-degrees Fahrenheit, and yes I had to google that). The soundtrack blasted “Panda” by TK, followed by a remix of “Work From Home” by Fifth Harmony on repeat for 45 straight minutes. At first I thought it was weird that they were playing pop music instead of relaxing spa jams, but after the 5th time I listened to the 2-song playlist it did start to make me feel oddly at peace.
I’m not going to lie: It was really fucking hot in there. At first I was ok (cocky, even — telling myself “eh, this is nothing”) but by the time the lights reached their peak strength I was struggling. I was wiping my face with a towel every few seconds and watching the minutes tick by on the clock praying that it would be over soon. Halfway through the session, I started to chug the water that was left in the booth for me. My skin also felt super itchy, which was horribly unpleasant combined with all the sweat.
By the time it was over, I felt like I had just lived through the world’s hottest hot yoga class without having to attempt a headstand. I felt more awake than I had since I got here (BUH BYE, ALCOHOL TOXIN), and my skin looked like it was on day 3 of a juice cleanse — clear, plump and hydrated. And, yes, ok… Super red and sweaty. As it turns out, the itchy skin came from the vibrating water molecules, which means the treatment was working its magic under my skin. My sweat also didn’t smell or feel sticky the way it does at the gym (TMI? Sorry.) which is apparently because it was a different kind of “fatty sweat” than what I’m used to (does anyone know how I can get that kind of sweat during a workout?).
Sweatspa’s website recommends doing an infrared treatment every day, or investing in one of the sauna-boxes for your home. Since I can’t afford a sauna box, nor can i fit one into my suitcase for my year of travel, I think this may be a one time for me. Thankfully, I can stick to sweating my face off in the streets as the next best thing.