Another day, another Gwyneth Paltrow trend gone too far. (Kidding! Though she was ahead of the curve on this one.) You might know about cupping because of all the celebrities who have posted about it in recent years, but cupping is actually an ancient Chinese alternative medicine that works by facilitating circulation in the body. Celebs including Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston, Victoria Beckham, and Michael Phelps have all tried the treatment out—and most have sung its praises. Basically, it seems like yet another treatment the rich and powerful have known about for years, and it’s finally trickling down to us regular people. Bless up. To learn more about the treatment that may or may not be responsible for Paltrow and Aniston’s eternal youth, I spoke with Ani Baran, L.Ac at NJ Acupuncture Center. Here’s what I found out.
What Does Cupping Do?
It seems like every celeb-slash-cupping fan has a different reason for loving it: Phelps uses it for muscle recovery, obviously, while Kim Kardashian does it in facial form to reduce wrinkles. What is it actually doing to give such a wide range of results? Baran explains: “Cupping the muscle and other tissues upwards.” This helps to “decrease muscle tension while refreshing blood flow,” which in turn promote muscle healing, relieves pain, and can even help with immunity and digestion. “It’s almost like the equivalent of a deep tissue massage,” Baran added. “But instead of having a trained masseuse knead your muscles to release pain and tension, it uses suction.”
If you’re still wondering how this plays into skin care, don’t worry—I had the same question. According to skincare Guru Nurse Jamie, the key is in the increased blood flow that cupping produces. Apparently, increased blood flow equals stimulated lymphatic system equals reduced inflammation, fine lines, and wrinkles. Yay! Science is hard, but so worth it.
View this post on Instagram
Yes, yes she WANTED her back to look like this! We swear. It's called cupping and it is used for pain, tightness and chest congestion and if you live in NY you probably have one of those issues. Oh, and it doesn't hurt…we know what you're thinking. Shoutout to @wthn for snapping such a cool pic! Stop by for a cupping session today and say BYE BYE ?? ?? to that pesky back pain!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #balance #flow #acupuncture #selfcare #breathe #dontworrybehappy #healthyliving #healthylifestyle #16thlife #healthyliving #easternmedicine #treatment #needles #cupping #acupuncturefacial #moxa #acupunctureworks #acupuncturetreatment #tcm #painfree #treatmentsforpain #acupuncturist #nyc #erikaweber #nycacupuncutrist #nycacupuncture
Who Would Benefit From Cupping?
According to Baran, “nearly everyone.” And given the fact that improved blood flow and circulation does improve such a wide array of symptoms, that’s probably true. But people who might actually need cupping to improve their day-to-day lives would be elite athletes, or anyone seeking pain or stress relief. Whatever it is, be sure to go in with a clear idea of what you’re seeking to treat. Per Baran, any initial consultation for a cupping appointment will include a discussion of “complaints and goals.” (And no, “not having Gwyneth Paltrow’s skin” is not a valid complaint.)
What’s A Cupping Appointment Like?
Here’s where it gets fun. The main reason we all know about cupping now, despite celebs’ best attempts to keep it for themselves, is that it leaves a telltale mark. Well, marks. As shown in the above Instagram, a cupping appointment leaves you with a series of raised red bumps. I asked Baran to describe a typical cupping session, and here’s what she told me: “You will sit or lay in a comfortable position as cups are applied, typically to larger, flat areas. Using heat or fire, the cups are applied at an angle that creates deep suction, and pulls toxins away from the body as it works deeply into the muscles. Usually the cups are applied for anywhere between 10-20 minutes.”
Sounds easy enough, right? Honestly, Paltrow and others describe the feeling as relaxing, though some other reviewers experienced more pain and discomfort. Ultimately, for how gruesome the treatment looks, I’m glad people aren’t leaving in agony. And yes, I do feel incrementally more desperate to have my toxins flow out into little suction cups every time I look at a picture.
View this post on Instagram
I need to give a huge thank you to @thestretchboss @belowbodybar and @frankstinsonifbbpro for working the knots out today. It’s been a while since the top half of my body moved like this. The last time I had cupping done, I convinced my kids that I was attacked by the kraken while on my pirate ship. They were upset when I told them the truth a few days later. I think because they had hoped I really was a pirate. Little do they know that I still listen to some of the songs I downloaded from Kazaa back in the day, so I’m still a swashbuckler of sorts. #avastyescallywags #recovery #thestretchboss #cupping
Where Can You Get It Done?
Baran recommends looking to acupuncture centers for this treatment—according to her, that’s “where you’re more likely to find highly trained practitioners who are well versed in this.” As for cost, I surveyed five acupuncture centers that offer the treatment in NYC, and was quoted between $100 and $150 for an initial appointment. It’s worth noting that you may need more than one treatment to get the effects you’re after, but Baran notes that some clients will feel results “in as little as one session.” She also notes that pricing can vary “based on region and the practitioner’s expertise,” so feel free to shop around—but don’t skimp on quality. An amateur could very well leave you with serious burns or bruises, so this is not the time to go for a discount option.
Now that cupping is less mysterious to me, I can’t say it’s less enticing. The logic of improved blood flow and circulation is hard to argue with, and I’ve had good experiences with acupuncture in the past—this seems like an intensified version. I’m certainly not in the “elite athlete” category, but maybe I’ll book a cupping session next time I can’t walk after Barry’s. If it’s good enough for Gwyneth…
A few months ago, I came across an article from The Cut about the potential mental health benefits of infrared saunas. Even though I was in Los Angeles at the time, the sun was still setting at 4pm, and my mood levels had definitely been suffering for it. At that point, I’d tried exercising six times a week, meditating, and gratitude journaling to keep my Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay, and frankly, sweating it out in a sauna sounded like a way more appealing option. Once I was back in my beloved NYC, I promptly booked an appointment with HigherDOSE, an infrared sauna spa with locations all over NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It’s also the preferred spot of celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, and Bella Hadid, if you’re into that. Read on to find out the alleged benefits of infrared saunas, and what I thought after my 60-minute session.
What Do Infrared Saunas Do?
Simply put, infrared saunas claim to make you hotter in every way (obviously, pun intended). Not only does an hour of intense sweating knock off some water weight, but infrared heat may actually help boost your metabolism. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, who spoke to The Cut, just half an hour in an infrared sauna could help you burn up to 600 calories. (That’s like, one million squats or an hour on the treadmill. If this is what celebs have secretly been doing instead of working out, I will never feel okay again.)
For those of you less obsessed with losing weight (tell me your secrets), infrared saunas also have major skin benefits. Again per Dr. Lipman, infrared heat boosts circulation, blood flow, and collagen production, giving you an immediate post-sauna glow, as well as long-term benefits from regular use. Lipman, along with HigherDOSE’s co-founders, also hype up the detoxing capabilities of infrared saunas. Co-founder Lauren Berlingeri claims that infrared pulls “heavy metals, environmental pollutants, and radiation” from your system, and the instructional pamphlet inside the sauna room advised that some of your sweat may come out as black from all the toxins being released. (Sidenote: I’m still not sure that I believe “detoxing” is a real thing, but I really want it to be.) Other potential benefits include pain relief (from sore muscles to chronic headaches) and a boosted immune system.
View this post on Instagram
Currently sweating it out at an infrared sauna place. If you don't know about infrared saunas GET ON BOARD! I love it so much. It's not like a regular sauna where I can only sit there for like 10 mins and then I feel like I'm melting. infrared saunas are great for deep muscle relaxation, detoxing, cardio vascular health and your skin! Michelle told me it helps skin heal faster – I don't know about that but it does feel great! But you know, obviously, I'm no doctor(right @steveagee??)
Finally, the mental health benefits: a 2016 study showed that whole-body hyperthermia (whole body heating, specifically to 101.3º F, for the non-scientists among us), could have antidepressant effects lasting up to six weeks. Claims have been floating around for years that infrared heat can influence serotonin levels or release endorphins, but evidence is tenuous. The 2016 study, however, focuses on the “stress” aspect of sitting in a sauna—the extreme heat—and how these bursts of stress can better train your brain to deal with non-sauna stressors, like anxiety or depression. Again, no one’s claiming that this is rock-solid science, but these studies, along with the fact that everyone seems to feel f*cking amazing after leaving one of these saunas, was enough to make me desperate to try it for myself.
So, What’s An Infrared Sauna Like?
I visited the 11 Howard location of HigherDOSE, and was immediately thrilled by the spa-like room I entered. Each sauna room has a private bathroom (with a nicer shower than the one in my apartment), a Bluetooth speaker system, water, chilled eucalyptus towels, and of course, the sauna itself.
You’re given a chromotherapy menu, which tells you the different light therapy colors available to you, and the benefits of each type of light. It’s pretty intuitive (yellow and orange are more activating, blue is more relaxing), but given that I’m a type-A weirdo, I spent the first half hour cycling through all of them anyway. The first 20 minutes felt like sitting in a colorful, less-hot-than-normal sauna. I was warm, but I didn’t have that slowly-being-cooked feeling I get after about 10 minutes in a regular sauna. At the 20-25 minute mark, things got really satisfying, by which I mean sweat started pouring down my entire body. Again, in regular saunas, I’ll notice a drip here or there, then walk out and be surprised at how sweaty I actually am. In the infrared sauna, there was no doubt that I was coated in sweat, and steadily producing more.
I also have a pretty short tolerance for regular saunas; I’d say 20-30 minutes and I’m begging to leave. With the infrared sauna, I was happy to stay in there a full 50 minutes (I left 10 minutes to shower), and honestly could have stayed a bit longer. Promptly after showering, I noticed a few things. My skin was baby-soft, the dull full-body ache from yesterday’s boxing class was greatly improved, and while I didn’t suddenly feel an all-around calm or “mental high,” my anxiety was noticeably tamed. I know this because my face, which is highly sensitive to many things, including heat, got some crazy red blotches about ten minutes post-sauna. But the last time I’d gotten blotches like this, I locked myself in a bathroom for two hours, crying furiously and sending my dermatologist selfies. This time, I washed my face, said “f*ck it,” and moved on with my day. See? Anxiety calming.
I’m not including a description of my blotchy face to alarm you. Any discoloration was gone within the hour, and I trust that if you have skin like mine, you already know that heat is a trigger. But it was truly remarkable to look in the mirror at something that would have typically ruined my day and be able to let it go. In terms of a mental boost from the infrared sauna, I was expecting something like a runner’s high (which I’ve also never achieved, possibly because I’ve never run long enough to get there). But the mental boost I got instead was actually way more valuable to my life—for the next few hours, at least, I didn’t get derailed by minor sh*t. As far as superpowers go, I’ll take it.
So, the only real major con of infrared saunas? The price tag. HigherDOSE sessions cost $45 and up for solo sessions, or $30 and up if you go with two people. As a one-time expense, it’s not bad, but given that many of the benefits are unlocked by regular use, I wish the experience were slightly more accessible. Given my experience, I’d love to go more often, but until my wellness influencer career really takes off, I’ll likely have to limit it to a once-monthly treat.
Images: Keziban Barry; @higherdose (2), @busyphilipps / Instagram;