An infrared sauna, like a traditional or dry-heat sauna, uses heat to help you sweat, relieve muscle soreness, rest, and relax. The difference is the method used. Traditional saunas heat the air in the room up to 150–190 degrees Fahrenheit, while infrared saunas use electromagnetic radiation.
In a dry-heat sauna, the heat is generated through electricity or wood, and some produce steam by throwing water onto heated rocks. Traditional saunas are very hot, reaching temperatures of 180–190 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also free of moisture, with humidity levels as low as 10 to 20 per cent.
An infrared sauna works by using infrared lamps that release electromagnetic radiation to heat the body directly. The two kinds of infrared saunas, near-infrared and far-infrared, also emit small amounts of red, orange, and yellow light, which is considered light therapy.
One of the many reasons infrared saunas have become so popular is because the wavelengths can penetrate tissue to heat the body instead of heating the air as traditional saunas do.
You can use an infrared sauna at a health or fitness centre, or you can purchase your own. At home, you can install a permanent sauna or set up a portable infrared sauna for more flexibility.
An infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses light to create heat. This type of sauna is sometimes called a far-infrared sauna — “far” describes where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum. A traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air, which in turn warms your body. An infrared sauna heats your body directly without warming the air around you.
The appeal of saunas, in general, is that they cause reactions similar to those elicited by moderate\exercise, such as vigorous sweating and increased heart rate. An infrared sauna produces these results at lower temperatures than does a regular sauna, which makes it accessible to people who can’t tolerate the heat of a conventional sauna. But does that translate into tangible health benefits? Perhaps.
Several studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, headache, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit. However, larger and more-rigorous studies are needed to confirm these results. Some of these studies were also performed with patients using the traditional sauna.
What Is Far Infrared?
Far infrared saunas provide benefits by heating the body directly rather than heating the air around your body. These rooms are often described as infrared heat therapy rooms because heating elements reflect heat in the form of light directly onto a user’s body.
In a far infrared sauna, about 20 per cent of the heat goes to heat the air, and the other 80 per cent directly heats your body. This radiant heat penetrates the skin more deeply than traditional saunas.
Because the air around your body is not heated, many people feel that far infrared saunas are more tolerable than traditional saunas. In fact, temperatures in far infrared saunas are significantly lower than in traditional saunas.
Far infrared is the most common type of infrared sauna, but full-spectrum saunas are also available, and these provide near, mid, and far-infrared energy. Each type of energy is said to provide a different benefit.
- Near-infrared is absorbed just below the surface of the skin to promote healing and revitalization. It is believed to be best for wound healing and increased immune function.
- Mid-infrared penetrates deeper into the body’s tissue to increase circulation, release oxygen and reach injured areas. This range is said to promote muscle relaxation.
- Far infrared is the longest wavelength. It is believed to penetrate the fat cells to eliminate toxins and stimulate metabolism.
How does an infrared sauna work?
With a different heating mechanism and more purported benefits than a regular sauna, an infrared sauna experience differs from a traditional sauna sweat session in several key ways.
Infrared saunas use electromagnetic radiation to heat your body. This kind of radiation does not pose the same risks as UV radiation, because the wavelengths are longer, and the frequency is much shorter. Infrared saunas do not get as hot as traditional saunas because they do not need to; they typically heat to 120–140 degrees Fahrenheit.
When you enter an infrared sauna, you will typically sit or lie down on a bench, though some are set up with mats on the floor. You will see the lights from the infrared bulbs that are producing the heat. Sessions typically last up to 30 minutes. Unlike traditional saunas, where the dry, super-hot heat produces immediate sweating, you won’t start to sweat for about 15 minutes or so. But don’t worry, by the end of your session, you’ll be just as drenched as in a typical sauna. Sometimes, you’ll be able to listen to music. Cell phones typically aren’t allowed, as the heat can damage them.
There are countless benefits attributed to the use of far infrared saunas and to sauna use in general. Not all of these benefits are supported by high-quality scientific evidence, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t experience the benefits if you use a sauna.
Scientific studies investigating sauna use are often small. Some of the most widely cited studies are decades old, and the same researchers conduct many of the studies.
A large review of sauna studies was published in 2018 by Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Study authors commented on the state of research regarding sauna health benefits.
“Regular dry sauna bathing has potential health benefits. More data of higher quality is needed on the frequency and extent of adverse side effects. Further study is also needed to determine the optimal frequency and duration of distinct types of sauna bathing for targeted health effects and the specific clinical populations who are most likely to benefit.”
Here’s what scientific studies have suggested about using saunas in general and far infrared saunas specifically.
Negative side effects of using an infrared sauna
The reported benefits of using an infrared sauna, including better sleep and relaxation, are impressive. Relief from sore muscles reportedly tops the list.
But just like anything else, with the pros, come the cons. Before you heat up, take note of these potential side effects and risks.
According to a 2018 systematic review, the negative signs and symptoms of sauna use include:
- mild to moderate heat discomfort
- low blood pressure (hypotension)
- transient leg pain
- airway irritation
One small 2013 study found that continuous sauna exposure, which consisted of 2 sauna sessions per week for 3 months — each lasting 15 minutes — demonstrated impairment of sperm count and motility.
Dr. Ashish Sharma, a board-certified internal medicine physician and hospitalist at Yuma Regional Medical Center, also shared insight regarding negative side effects linked to sauna use.
Overheating: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Anyone – even the healthiest of people – can overdo a sauna and overheat their bodies, causing heat-related illness. But this doesn’t happen without warning. If you’re not familiar with the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, here’s a Academy of Family Physicians web page on heat-related illnesses. A good rule of thumb is to get out of the sauna and into a cool shower if you suspect you’re overheating.
Regardless of how healthy you feel, an excessive exposure to high temperatures of a sauna can cause your body to overheat, beyond it recovery level. A sauna increases body temperature by using a light wave to transmit radiant heat to the body. Often, people tend to confuse the signs of overheating with the hot feeling or the warmth that they experience in the sauna.
If you spend more time than the recommended time in the sauna than its likely to get overheated, as to this effect, it is very important to be cautious regarding the time frame you are likely to spend while using the sauna. And while chilling out, and you observe your skin turning clammy or experience the feeling of dizziness, nauseous, then it’s advisable to step out of the sauna as soon as possible.
One of the most recommended ways you can avoid heat stroke or heat exhaustion is to get a thermometer that you will use to monitor the temperature to be sure you are rightly hydrated.
For those in sauna detoxification programs where up to an hour or more a day may be spent in the sauna, some experts advocate keeping a thermometer handy to monitor your temperature.
Traditional dry heat saunas carry the additional risk of the user getting a burn by accidentally touching the heater or hot rocks. In a safely designed infrared sauna, the heaters are covered and sudden contact burns cannot occur.
Note that your skin nearest the far infrared heaters can get reddened from the increased blood flow there, but this goes away within an hour or so after the sauna (and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable).
Dehydration is one of the common problems associated with the use of sauna; this effect is accompanied by certain symptoms that are important to understand to prevent its occurrence effectively.
You probably would recall that the last time you spent 25 -30 minutes in the sauna you tend to feel thirsty or probably experience dry skin. When enjoying your time in the sauna and you experience symptoms like dizziness, headache, dry mouth, and sleepiness then it might be experience dehydration.
It is advisable to take a quantity of water before and after spending time in the sauna. You can chill out with a bottle of water to remain rehydrated. While doing this, it is advisable not to spill the water on yourself; as doing this will make you uncomfortable by increasing the level of humidity in the sauna.
It is also advisable to rehydrate yourself for at least an hour after taking a sauna therapy. Take a full glass of water after 15 -20 minutes, this will help you stay hydrated all through. While doing this; stay away from soda and sugary drinks, and alcohol which increases your chance of overheating and dehydration.
Dr. Sharma says the dry heat generated in an infrared sauna can cause you to become overheated, and if used for a prolonged session, it can also cause dehydration and even heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Although infrared saunas are generally considered safe with no side effects, there are still some potential risks.
As with any sauna, the dangers of infrared saunas include the risk of becoming overheated, dehydrated, or dizzy. You can generally avoid this by drinking enough fluids before and after. And of course, avoid using any drugs or alcohol when trying a sauna.
Some individuals need to use an infrared sauna with caution. Although considered safe and even beneficial for those with heart disease, anyone who has had a recent heart attack or has unstable angina (a condition limiting the amount of blood flow to the heart) should avoid using infrared saunas.
EMF Dangers of Home Infrared Saunas
The electromagnetic spectrum is divided into ionizing and non-ionizing bands based on how the wave interacts with biological tissue.
Ionizing Band of the EM Spectrum are characterized by short wavelengths, very high frequencies, and very high intensities. Ultraviolet light, gamma rays and x-rays all fall within the ionizing band on the EM spectrum and have the capability to remove electrons from their normal orbit in atoms and molecules which can damage tissue and genetic material.
Health hazards related to ionizing EMF are radiation burns. By far the most common health hazard of ionizing radiation is sunburn, which causes one million new skin cancers annually. Many national governments have established safety limits for exposure to these ionizing frequencies of electromagnetic energy based on specific absorption rates to guard against thermal damage or Burns.
The non-ionizing band of the EM Spectrum are characterized by the lack of energy to ionize atoms or molecules, they have longer wavelengths at low frequencies and intensities. They can be identified as Radio Waves, Microwaves, Infrared and Visible light. The portion of the non-ionizing EM Spectrum band related to infrared saunas include appliance ELF radio waves and far infrared.
Natural EMF or ELF’s (extremely low frequency radio waves) band begins with the low intensity frequency of the human body or the earth’s magnetic field both resonate at 10Hz. Artificial ELF’s come from our household appliances at a nationally regulated 60Hz.
What are the health concerns with exposure to EMF in an infrared sauna environment?
The mainstream scientific evidence suggests that low-power, low-frequency, electromagnetic radiation associated with household currents like that of an infrared sauna does not constitute a short or long term health hazard.
A 2009 study at the University of Basel in Switzerland found that intermittent (but not continuous) exposure of human cells to a 50 Hz electromagnetic field at a flux density of 1 mT (or 10 G) induced a slight but significant increase of DNA fragmentation in the Comet assay. However that level of exposure is already above current established safety exposure limits.
All infrared sauna companies utilizing the newest low-emf flexible carbon heating panels are operating with non-ionizing EMF radiation levels of 1 G or less at 4cm from the heating source and .5 Hz at 3 feet from the power source at a flux density of .001mT or less. That is 1/1000 of the recommended safety of 10 G or 10,000mG and 1/1000 of the 50 Hz electromagnetic field it takes to increase DNA fragmentation.
Inside the infrared sauna we are creating multiple low frequency EM fields that tend to cancel one another. The Flexible Biophoton Nano carbon infrared heating technology used for home saunas have a patented design that Extremely Low Frequency EMF is canceled out by Far Infrared EMF and neutralizes the tissue Specific absorption rate of extremely low frequency EMF to impact absorption of the more desirable Far Infrared EMF tuned to the resonant frequency of the human body. Celebration Saunas Biophoton Nano Carbon infrared heating panels and systems are provided with a configuration that simplifies the system complexity while also delivering sufficient infrared heat and sufficiently low EM radiation levels at selected wavelengths.
Our Standard heaters emit 10mG at 4cm and 5mG at 24cm. Click here see our low EMF Report.
Our Ultra-Low EMF / 0 EMF heaters register at 0.3mG at 10cm. Click here see our ultra-low EMF Report.
The truth is electromagnetic radiation is a universal language of life. Human beings not only need electromagnetic radiation input from the outside world on an ongoing basis for survival (e.g. visible light for melatonin cycle, UV radiation for vitamin D synthesis) research has demonstrated that every cell in your body also emits EMF.
Our bodies produce two types of EMF in the form of electrical charges that control our nervous system, brain and heart and in the form of far infrared or body heat produced in the mitochondria of our cells helping to regulate important functions and keep us healthy.
Drugs stored in your fat can be pulled into your bloodstream in the sauna
Some chemicals we take into our bodies during daily living are overwhelming or difficult (or impossible) for our bodies to deal with and — because they are fat soluble — end up getting stored in our fat.
Any drug stored in your fat from past exposures, including, for example, anesthetics you might have been exposed to, can have affects on you as you mobilize them and sweat them out.
(If you’re like most people and you think back to all the drugs you’ve taken, and any operations you might have had, you’ll recognize that you’ve been exposed to a lot of drugs over the course of time!)
Depending on the drug, this can be one of the dangers of the infrared sauna, as well as traditional saunas.
This is why we believe that no-one should attempt to do a systematic sauna detoxification program on their own without really studying up on the topic…and following an expert’s protocol exactly. (Come back to see our upcoming sauna detoxification pages.)
When to avoid infrared saunas
In general, infrared saunas are considered safe for most people.
However, if you’re on medications, have implanted medical devices, or have a medical condition — whether acute or chronic — you should be cautious.
Cook-Bolden says you should speak to your healthcare provider before encountering any form of intense heat exposure.
Cook-Bolden says these conditions make people more prone to dehydration and overheating:
- having low blood pressure
- having kidney disease
- taking medications such as diuretics, other blood pressure-lowering drugs, or medications that can cause dizziness
While not an exhaustive list, the conditions listed in this section warrant avoiding infrared sauna use or getting clearance from a healthcare provider.
- Nerve and motor function conditions. If you have a neurological deficit, Cook-Bolden says your ability to sense and respond to the intensity of heat might put you at risk for heat or burn injuries.
- Pregnancy considerations. If you’re pregnant, avoid using the sauna unless you’ve received clearance from your doctor.
- Age considerations. If you have an age-related limitation, avoid using a sauna. This includes older adults who are more prone to dehydration and dizziness with dry heat, which can lead to falls. For children, discuss infrared sauna use with their doctor before trying it out.
- Weak or compromised immune system. If you have a weakened immune system, Cook-Bolden says you should contact the facility to make sure it’s well-kept and that it has strict cleaning protocols and procedures in place that meet industry standards. Afterwards, talk with your healthcare provider to get clearance to use the facility.
- Unhealed wounds. If you have open wounds or you’re recovering from surgery, wait until these areas are healed. Then talk with your healthcare provider first to get permission before getting infrared sauna treatments.
- Heart conditions. “People with cardiovascular diseases, or underlying heart arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation, should talk with their doctor before using a sauna,” Sharma says. The use of a sauna can increase heart rate and cause arrhythmia.
If the risks outweigh the benefits, Sharma says, remember the benefits of saunas are mainly because of the physiological effects of sweating and increased heart rate, just like moderate exercise.
“If you cannot tolerate the sauna or do not have an infrared sauna available where you live, you can also get similar — and even more — health benefits by doing cardiovascular and strength training workouts,” he adds.
Infrared saunas can be a wonderful tool to reduce stress and promote healing and relaxation. While there is limited research about its long-term benefits, plenty of small studies suggest it may indeed have the edge over its traditional, dry-sauna counterpart. As long as you don’t have any condition that would put you at risk, an infrared sauna sweat session could do your body good.
So what to think of infrared saunas? The existing evidence, though scanty, suggests spending up to 15 minutes a day in one could benefit your heart and ease symptoms associated with chronic pain. And, for now, there don’t seem to be any significant health risks.
Ask your doctor first. But if you’re wondering whether an infrared sauna is worth a try, the evidence suggests you have little to lose and possibly something to gain by checking one out.