Infrared saunas don’t heat the air around you. Instead, they use infrared lamps (that use electromagnetic radiation) to warm your body directly.
“These saunas use infrared panels instead of conventional heat to easily penetrate human tissue, heating up your body before heating up the air,” explains physical therapist, Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT, CPT, MASP.
An infrared sauna can operate at a lower temperature (usually between 120˚F and 140˚F) than a traditional sauna, which is typically between 150˚F and 180˚F.
Manufacturers claim that in an infrared sauna, only about 20 per cent of the heat goes to heat the air and the other 80 per cent directly heats your body.
Supporters of infrared saunas say the heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air. This allows you to experience a more intense sweat at a lower temperature.
Eisenstadt says this environment is more tolerable, which allows you to stay in the sauna longer while increasing your core body temperature by two to three degrees.
How To Use An Infrared Sauna for Maximum Benefit
Using an infrared sauna can reap an incredible amount of rewards. But before you hop in, it’s important to know infrared sauna time limits, usage guidelines, and other tips for your sauna session.
Not all saunas work the same way. Where traditional saunas make you sweat by raising the temperature in the room, usually by water applied to hot rocks, far infrared works by reaching water molecules in your body tissue that trigger your sweat glands. Since your body and the materials in the room absorb more than four-fifths of the wavelength, the air might not get above 100°F to 130°F – compared to 180°F to 220°F for traditional steam saunas – but the sauna is doing its work. That makes a Finnleo Far Infrared Sauna safer, cheaper on energy use, faster to warm up, easier to assemble, more comfortable, and more effective at generating sweat and washing toxins away.
Warm up the sauna to the temperature of your choice
For a far infrared sauna, most people set the temperature for anywhere between 100-140 degrees. If you are a beginner, and particularly if you are not in great health, you’ll want to start at 100 degrees or less. This way, you’ll give yourself a chance to get used to the heat.
Length of time. For first-time users, start with 10 to 15 minutes. You can add time each session until you reach the suggested time of 20 to 30 minutes. Saunas come with a timer, so make sure to set it. You don’t want to stay in there too long and risk becoming dehydrated.
It’s okay to get in after 10-15 min. after you’ve turned it on, even if the temperature is not up to your target temperature yet (infrared sauna time limits can vary, but typically that is more than enough time to wait before you hop in). It doesn’t take longer than that for infrared sauna heaters to warm up, and once they do, you’ll be getting the infrared heat effect. The infrared-emitting heaters will be on continuously until the heat gets up to the temperature you set.
(Please note: For traditional saunas, most people set the temperature for anywhere between 160-200 degrees. Be mindful as this is not a traditional sauna).
If you’re not used to sweating, consider soaking your feet in warm water for 10 minutes before your session. Showering also will help you sweat.
Check with your doctor if you have a medical condition that might limit your sauna use, and never try to treat your condition without seeking medical advice.
Have a glass of water before you enter the sauna. Take some water with you into the sauna as well. This is the most important “how to take a sauna” step! Other good drinks to take into the sauna with you would be a sports electrolyte replacement drink (or coconut water, which is nature’s electrolyte replacement drink!). It’s important to stay hydrated, as your body will sweat.
Bring a Towel With You Into The Sauna
You’ll need a towel to sit on and a smaller towel to wipe down with once you start sweating. Remember, your body will be sending out toxins, including heavy metals, with your sweat, and you won’t want your sauna bench or floor to absorb these.
If possible, don’t wear clothing into the sauna
If not wearing clothing isn’t an option, then wear the absolute minimum of clothes that you can—-not more than a bathing suit, for example.
Why did you ask? Well, some people think they’ll sweat more if they enter a sauna with clothes on. This is dangerous and a mistake! When you cover your skin with clothes, your sweat can’t help cool you down by evaporating on your skin. You will quickly overheat and also lose the benefits of wiping away your toxin-loaded sweat. When you wipe away the toxin-filled sweat, the toxins don’t sit in contact with your skin and possibly be reabsorbed. Remember this, as it is one of the most important infrared sauna usage guidelines.
What you can do while in the sauna
Relax, read, meditate, listen to music, or visit with friends. Just don’t go to sleep.
After the session is over
When your session is done, it’s suggested that you take your time and let your body cool down. Once cooled down, feel free to take a shower or bath. Just make sure you are drinking plenty of water.
Number of sessions per week
Most facilities that offer infrared sauna treatments recommend using the sauna three to four days per week. If you are healthy and tolerate the four days, you can use the sauna daily.
What should you know before you try an infrared sauna?
There are a few things you should know before indulging in your first session.
- Stay Hydrated! Drink at least a few water bottles of water before, during and after your sauna session.
- Don’t use the sauna if you have been drinking alcohol heavily prior to your session. Alcohol is dehydrating, and sauna-ing while already dehydrated is dangerous.
- If you feel ill or have a fever, it’s best to wait to use the sauna until you’re feeling better.
- Try to wait for 1 – 2 hours after eating before beginning a far infrared sauna session. This allows your body to attain the best overall results since blood is not being diverted for digestion.
- Towels are required in the saunas– you may bring your own, or you may rent 3 for $5 from NE Wellness.
- You will probably appreciate having one towel to sit on or lay on. One towel to help wipe off and absorb perspiration as it accumulates on your body so that you sweat more. One towel placed under your feet to catch any perspiration that might otherwise fall to the sauna floor.
- You may not sweat a lot during your first 2-3 sauna sessions. This is normal for many people, as they haven’t had a recent history of sweating, and it takes a few sessions to “retrain” the body/ lymph system to do what comes naturally.
- Over time, you will begin to sweat more quickly and at a lower temperature setting as your body adjusts to your regular sauna routine.
- Listen to your body! Take care not to overheat during your first few sessions. If you feel lightheaded, have a queasy stomach, or start to get a headache, terminate the session immediately. As the body continues to adjust, sweating can increase dramatically, and body temperature regulation becomes more effective.
- Sauna Apparel. Birthday Suit is great, seeing as you have the entire sauna room to yourself for 50-60 mins. More skin exposure is certainly preferable as it’s easier to wipe away sweat.
- Wear or bring loose clothing to put on after your session. Your body will be hot (and maybe sweaty) and putting on tight-fitting clothes is very uncomfortable. Your body will continue to be warm for a while afterwards as it is still burning calories and trying to cool you down!
- Schedule your sauna on your needs. If you need a get-up-and-go in the morning, the sauna will certainly help you. The autonomic nervous system is less stressed in the morning, so the positive effects of sauna are greater at these times. If you are sauna-ing to help with muscle recovery, try scheduling your session for post-workout when your muscles are more receptive to the infrared rays. If you are having trouble sleeping, an infrared sauna in the afternoon/ evening will certainly add a deeper, more relaxed sleep.
If you have any health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, or are under medical care, get cleared by your doctor before your first session. Even though infrared saunas have been found to be fairly safe, you don’t want to take any chances when it comes to your health and safety.
What are the Things to Know Before You Purchase an Infrared Sauna?
Far Infrared Sauna Therapy is recognized as one of the most effective result-driven tools for optimal health maintenance, disease prevention and increased immune function—this form of therapy aids in over one hundred different health conditions. From weight loss to pain relief, research abounds on the effects far-infrared heat has on common diseases along with studies on more challenging health problems such as successful cancer therapy. Generally, the temperature within an infrared sauna is cooler; yet, infrared heats the body from within, so the perspiration is more profuse thus highly effective. Therefore, you don’t get the hot (185 degrees) air temperatures that you get in a traditional sauna. Far Infrared Saunas provide the perfect combination of comfort and gentle heat, ensuring usage over a longer span of time—as a result, you sweat longer and more profusely. So let’s get to it!
When it comes down to it, the heater technology is the most important
There are various types of far infrared heaters—carbon, ceramic, combination carbon/ceramic and saunas that put both carbon and ceramic heaters in the same sauna. Your heaters are the heart of your sauna as all of the health benefits will come from them. Picking the incorrect heaters requires more electricity, more heating time, less efficiency, and detracts from the overall comfort, safety and just plain enjoyment of your infrared sauna.
Carbon heaters: From my personal experience, I have found that carbon heaters do not get hot enough to raise your core body temperature (the surface temperature of carbon heaters is only around 140 degrees). They just don’t hold enough infrared heat to raise your core temperature. For this reason, cheap sauna companies run their carbon heaters almost all the way up the interior walls to make the sauna feel hot. The problem is, heating the air to overcompensate for poor surface temperature defeats the purpose of far infrared radiant heat, warming your body from the inside.
Ceramic heaters: If I had to choose between only carbon or ceramic infrared heaters, I would choose ceramic and here’s why—ceramic heaters actually get hot! They will put out far more actual radiant far infrared heat than carbon heaters. The problem? They get too hot! The surface temperature of the ceramic heaters gets to be around 400 degrees. When your body is sitting 3-4 inches away from something that is that hot, it is very uncomfortable. Additionally, the infrared wavelength is much shorter (which means that it can’t penetrate as deep for maximum absorption).
Combination carbon/ceramic heaters: Combination carbon and ceramic heaters are hands down the most efficient and highest quality heaters on the market today. They start with the highest quality carbon fibre then add a fine ceramic compound to add a hot infrared punch. By having both styles of infrared, you get a much more comfortable (and effective) surface temperature of 200 degrees. This means it has a longer wavelength and is hot enough to raise your core temperature.
Heater Placement is very important
I have found there are several features in the design and engineering of a sauna that can directly affect an infrared sauna’s efficiency. For example, it is best to investigate then avoid a design with too many glass panels on the front and sides that don’t have heaters placed on the panels. Glass is fine; however, the object of a far infrared sauna is to heat your body—not the air. Therefore, you must have heaters on all sides of you for maximum efficiency.
Also, be aware of the number of heaters within the unit. The best saunas have full-body coverage—even on the floor. If you are going to purchase a pure carbon sauna, make sure that the heaters are pointed at your body. What happens with cheap saunas is that the companies run the heaters all the way up the wall. Meaning, a huge amount of the infrared is being pointed at the air above your head. This wastes energy and efficiency.
The type of wood you choose is important
Cedar is simply the best wood for constructing infrared saunas. This is because it is naturally antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial. It does the best job at keeping your sauna environment completely germ free—this is very important over the span of years you will be owning and using your sauna (trust me!). Additionally, cedar is the softest wood available for infrared saunas making it able to withstand the constant heating up and cooling down of the sauna environment. Nordic spruce is also a great alternative white wood as it is hypoallergenic and your best alternative to cedar. You will need to clean nordic spruce a bit more than cedar which can be done with a damp cloth and mixture of nine parts water to one part hydrogen peroxide. This goes for all other woods used in an infrared sauna—you just have much more leniency with cedar.
Find out the ease of assembly
Find an infrared sauna that is easy to assemble. Trust me, they’re out there (I know because we sell them!) There is no reason your sauna should take hours to construct. I recommend you find a sauna that can be put together in less than an hour. Be sure to pre-determine where you want to place your sauna and take into consideration that the power cord is only so long (8 ft. for our saunas). When it arrives simply unpack the directions and take it out piece-by-piece then assemble from the floor on up. The easiest and most efficient saunas have high-pressure bindings and buckles and don’t require any tools. The panels align and will simply snap together.
Educate yourself about EMF (Electromagnetic fields)
Why be aware of EMF? It’s toxic! EMF’s are energy waves with frequencies below 300 hertz or 300 cycles per second. The EMF fields we encounter daily come from normal everyday things such as power lines, radar, microwave towers, TV, computers, cell phones, motors, fluorescent lights, microwave ovens, electric blankets, house wiring and hundreds of other common electrical devices. Levels of EMF have steadily increased over the past fifty to one hundred years (not hard to imagine). In 2002 three reputable scientists from the CPUC California Electric and Magnetic Fields Program concluded: “To one degree or another, all three of the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.” They indicated that exposure to levels below three mG (EMF is rated in what is called milligauss or mG) are safe. Any Infrared Sauna on the market should be able to produce authentic third party testing proving low EMF below this level. If not, the risk is yours to take. Why take it?
Know about the power requirements of your future sauna
I am constantly asked about the electrical components in an infrared sauna. The quick answer is most of the smaller saunas out in the market today require no special or additional electrical wiring. However, the larger saunas do require a 20 amp circuit breaker (usually a $50-$100 upgrades done by an electrician). Another caution – many inexpensive infrared saunas have cheap wiring, thin gauge wires poorly and improperly shielded wiring and flimsy EMF shielding. This level of wiring can be dangerous and present serious safety issues. Also, depending upon the size of the sauna, it will only use between 1,100 and 2,990 watts. This may sound like a lot, but the actual dollar amount is only around 10 cents per hour. That’s $10 – $15 a month. Depending on the wattage, you may also need a 240-volt outlet in the room you want to put your sauna in.
Look for safety certifications and clinical studies
Be sure your new Infrared Sauna has been thoroughly tested to meet all safety and performance requirements for the USA and Canada. Look for these Certifications:
- Low EMF
- No VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)
- FSC Wood Certification
- Emissivity Certification
- ETL Certification
Also, be sure to investigate the countless medical studies on the merits of using an infrared sauna. There are too many to document here; however, depending upon the sauna you choose, that company should provide you with lists of data addressing medical studies—third party testing is the best.
Limited research suggests infrared saunas may have a wide variety of benefits—from improved heart health to pain relief to post-exercise recovery—while the full effect of infrared on the skin is seemingly unknown.
“We have some very intriguing, short-term, small trials that seem to suggest some possible benefit, but to understand the risks and benefits, we need much larger clinical trials, done over much larger periods of time,” Bauer says. He adds that there’s not yet enough data from a medical perspective to recommend that anyone should use infrared saunas, though, at the same time, he notes that the few peer-reviewed studies to date haven’t revealed any serious adverse effects, either.
So where does that leave us? Ultimately, we need bigger clinical trials conducted over longer periods of time to confirm results. So in the meantime, it’s really your call whether to embrace—or skip—the trend.