Infrared–it’s one of those technologies that sounds like it could be a superpower. It has the gravity of an unknown cure-all, and in some ways, it is. Infrared technology has been clinically proven to assist healing when applied to the skin. And its fast yet gentle, deep-penetrating heat makes it the perfect technology for straightening or curling while reducing heat-related damage to hair.
INFRARED IS ALL AROUND US
Everything around us is emitting infrared radiation (IR) at this exact moment, and this heat’s unique features make its application particularly useful in a diverse range of hot tools.
“Its a type of electromagnetic energy that has longer wavelengths than the regular light that we are used to seeing, and that’s why it is invisible to the naked eye,” explains Liam Ben-David, the founder of Sutra Beauty, a manufacturer of professional and consumer blowdryers and styling irons.
Infrared is a measurable frequency range. While the human eye can detect wavelengths between 400 to 700 nanometers (or a billionth of a meter), infrared extends from 0.7 to 300 μm (micrometer) wavelengths, making it invisible.
All objects that do not have a non-zero temperature both emit and absorb infrared or thermal radiation—even cold objects, such as an ice cube. In fact, having a temperature of absolute zero is impossible. “Almost everything that emits any kind of heat (such as cell phones, computers and televisions) has infrared; we just can’t see it,” Ben-David says.
Products may claim to utilize infrared radiation, but in actuality, they are not channeling it in a targeted way. “The vast majority of the time, this translates via red lights that people put on their tools and say that they have infrared. Technically, this is true, but keep in mind that almost everything and anything that emits heat
has IR. Their tools had IR before the red lights, and they have it regardless of the lights by the mere fact that they emit heat.” Viable infrared technology will control these wavelengths in a way that specifically benefits the hair, not merely exploit the fact that all hot tools intrinsically generate infrared radiation.
ON THE SAME WAVELENGTH
To truly harness IR and turn it into a means to achieve sleeker hair, there has to be an effective way to capture it. “In reality, the true translation into the hair tool world isn’t the infrared itself, but the radio frequency (RF) generator that complements the IR frequency. I call this ‘infrared optimization,’” Ben-David explains. This is something Sutra specializes in. “With today’s technology, we’ve found the most ideal IR output for each tool. But what makes the results so superb compared to regular hair tools is actually the RF generator. In essence, it optimizes the IR rays by coupling them with their ideal frequency as contact with the hair is made.”
When applied correctly, IR is significantly less damaging to the hair than alternatives, such as steam. “Imagine a potato,” Ben-David explains. ”You can bake it in the oven, put it on a flame, fry it or boil it in a pot. All techniques could be using the exact same temperature, but the results will be as different as night and day. The same is true regarding IR optimization. The IR wavelengths are much less harsh on the hair when properly coupled with the ideal frequency.”
“Infrared ray technology helps maintain moisture balance, stimulates hair growth and prevents dandruff.”
-Judy Mowatt, marketing manager, HairArt Products
IR reduces the time it takes to get hair ready, and in this respect it is also less damaging. “Infrared light gives off gentle infrared rays that can detoxify, sterilize and deodorize the hair, leaving the cuticle laying more flat and compact, which can help make the hair healthier and shinier after use,” says Gina Giambalvo-Glockler, sales manager for Corioliss Professional.
THE BENEFITS OF INFRARED
The best tools are built to maximize targeted infrared. Judy Mowatt, marketing manager for HairArt Products, explains how this works. “The nano-infrared technology in the plates emits longer wavelengths, which enables deep, penetrating heat that relaxes the hair, heating it from inside out,” she says.
Again, if properly controlled, the benefits are numerous. “Infrared ray technology helps maintain moisture balance, stimulates hair growth and prevents dandruff,” Mowatt says. “It relaxes and softens hair, kills surface bacteria and reduces exposure to heat for quicker styling in about half the time.” It is also a great option for customers worried about sensitive strands. “IR limits hair loss that could result from frizz and breakage, leaving a silky and shiny finish.”
While steam can strip the hair cuticle, IR works with it, acting as a sealant. “This is the reason infrared strengtheners work phenomenally well with chemical-straightening treatments,” notes Ben-David.
For all of these reasons, the future of infrared looks bright. “I think this is only the start,” Ben-David says. “[At Sutra], we’re discovering so much and at such a fast pace. When we launched our IR optimized tool category, we basically applied one standard frequency for the entire IR category. We are learning that each particular tool has a frequency range that it works ideally with. Another thing we are researching and figuring out through the data we’re collecting is the ideal frequency for each hair type. So we’ll have an ideal output for thicker, coarser hair, fine hair, etc. We’re basically fine-tuning the IR to provide the ultimate results.”
TO IR AND BEYOND
While this is a newer trend in hair tools, infrared for beauty originated in skin care. When directed to the skin, infrared technology is more focused on healing as opposed to speeding up drying time or utilizing heat as a shield.
The research on its skin benefits is promising. In a study titled “Effects of Infrared Radiation on Skin Photo Aging and Pigmentation,” published in the Yonsei Medical Journal, researchers found that after six months of exposure to infrared heat, in 20 patients with hyperpigmentation and mild to moderate wrinkles, over half (51 to 75 percent) reported an improvement in skin texture; 25 to 50 percent also noted an improvement in tone.
The study concluded that the “content of collagen and elastin produced by the fibroblasts increased after infrared radiation ... this increase was proportional to the duration of irradiation exposure.” It also found that “skin treatment with infrared radiation may be an effective and safe non-ablative remodeling method and may also be useful in the treatment of photoaged skin.” For those with sun-damaged skin, the results seem almost too good to be true. But they are not; beauty consumers are already enjoying the unique skin benefits infrared heat offers with new beauty devices.
“Infrared technology is in the energy spectrum of light just beyond LED,” explains Dr. Gross, founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. “Because infrared has more energy, it penetrates more deeply into the skin–it goes to the bottom of the lower dermal layer of the skin. On the other hand, LED covers all the skin layers above that.”
But that’s not where the benefits end for the skin. “Infrared technology stimulates circulation and improves wound healing. This has benefits to skin because it enhances the results of LED, which is why I included both light forces in my SpectraLite EyeCare Pro,” he explains of the infrared eye mask. “Infrared has been known to help promote difficult-to-heal wounds of the skin, particularly in the legs.”
Infrared technology is a work in progress, and the future means understanding how different frequencies are able to address different skin issues. The SpectraLite EyeCare Pro mask “features 72 LEDs created to target crow’s feet and [facial] lines,” explains Dr. Gross, adding that it utilizes four different wavelengths of light therapy. When used daily for three minutes for 6 to 8 weeks, your customers should notice visibly reduced fine lines and firmer skin.
Dr. Gross reiterates that not all light is created equally. “Pure infrared light sources are mostly beneficial in a hostile situation, but not for consumer use at home. Infrared technology is for wound healing and circulation, but doesn’t build collagen,” he says.
As IR technology becomes more advanced, we can look forward to an “IR prescription,” where we’ll be able to recommend solutions for any concern, just as with topical products.