Saunas, sweat lodges, steam rooms — we all like a good sweat. It’s relaxing and rejuvenating, not to mention that heat has long been associated with a variety of health benefits across many cultures.
The latest trend causing temperatures to rise are infrared saunas. Not only are stand-alone infrared sauna studios popping up coast-to-coast, now fitness studios are getting in on the game too, installing saunas in their facilities. Thanks to deep penetrating heat, celebs and wellness aficionados are touting infrared as a better way to detox, relax, relieve pain and lose weight, plus a fast track to better skin.
Traditional saunas have been used for generations, but some may not be as familiar with infrared saunas and question their safety for general use. Can infrared saunas be beneficial for just about anyone, or are there certain people who should avoid them altogether? Understand more about how infrared saunas work, and also explore the potential health benefits and common concerns associated with using them.
There are very few dangers involved with using far infrared saunas. The biggest far infrared sauna dangers concern those individuals who have existing conditions that may require them to avoid being exposed to extreme heat. Those who have had a stroke or a heart attack, for example, should avoid the use of saunas. There is the danger of overheating or dehydration, but both of these can be avoided by smart use of a sauna. For the most part, using far infrared saunas is completely safe.
How Does an Infrared Sauna Differ from a Traditional Sauna?
Not all saunas operate in the same way. While traditional saunas rely on the use of heat to make the air warmer, an infrared sauna utilizes light and heat to generate warmth. Infrared saunas utilize FIR (Far Infrared Radiation), not to be confused with the UV radiation in tanning beds. This infrared radiation heats your skin to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit, thus making you sweat and release toxins.
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. Check out our range of Portable Sauna Melbourne to help with your problem.
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. 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.
Far infrared sauna benefits the body
There are a number of health benefits associated with the use of infrared saunas. Sweating, of course, cools the body when its temperature rises, but there are other benefits as well. When the body sweats, it removes some of the toxins that have entered during the day—things like copper, zinc, and lead exit the body through sweat. Bacteria are also brought out and is rinsed from the skin. This removal of bacteria improves circulation and promotes clean, healthy-looking skin. When you sweat, dead skin cells are also removed, and you end up with a beautiful complexion.
Sitting in an infrared sauna is similar to moderate exercise. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which help to alleviate pain. When you sweat in a sauna, your body produces the same endorphins. This can help to soothe the aches and pains of everyday life. The increase in body temperature also promotes better circulation throughout the body. This improved circulation helps the body’s natural healing process.
There are countless benefits attributed to the use of far infrared saunas and 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.
Weight loss is one of the primary benefits cited by many people who use or sell far infrared saunas. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hard evidence to back up the claims, and the evidence that is provided is not always high quality.
Another key factor regarding the use of far infrared saunas to lose weight is the confusion between water loss and fat loss. Sweating causes water loss, so it is no surprise that people weigh less after a session.
During a typical sauna session, some reports say that the average woman loses 0.5-0.75 pound of body weight in water, while the average man loses 1.0-1.5 pounds. Larger bodies are likely to lose more weight. But water loss is not sustainable.
Some say that sweating releases heavy metals like mercury and lead, as well as environmental chemicals that are trapped in the body. Others promote the idea that is sweating releases alcohol, nicotine, sulfuric acid, and other organic and inorganic compounds.
One of the most commonly cited health benefits of infrared saunas is improved muscle recovery after exercise. Many gym-goers report a decrease in pain and inflammation after intense exercise when they follow up their workout with a session in the sauna.
Both far infrared and other types of sauna are said to improve blood flow and circulation. Many sauna users report feeling flushed during and after use. However, it would be hard to tell for the average consumer if blood pressure is directly affected.
However, several study authors acknowledge that sauna use is linked to a decrease in blood pressure.
This is another area where anecdotal claims are substantial but scientific evidence is lacking. However, anyone who has used a sauna can attest to the fact that time spent in a quiet space, away from a computer or cell phone encourages mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing—restorative body processes that are backed by science. Looking for Sauna Melbourne? Look no further, Portable Sauna has you covered.
If using a far infrared sauna is associated with a decrease in blood pressure, reduced weight, and stress relief, it is not a far leap to consider that it may also be associated with a boost in heart health.
Risks and Side Effects
Most researchers investigating the health benefits of far infrared saunas note that few side effects are associated with their use. However, to stay safe, there are some factors to keep in mind.
If you are not used to using any sauna, there is a risk of overheating. Therefore, it is important to keep sessions short when you begin. If possible, use the lowest heat setting.
It is also possible to become dehydrated if you don’t drink enough water before and after your treatment. Remember that you will lose water during the sauna. It is important to replenish that water so that your body can recover effectively.
Lastly, even if you hydrate properly, lightheadedness may occur. Be sure to move slowly both in the sauna and as you move out of the sauna. Also Portable Sauna Melbourne page which has everything Portable Sauna related that you might need
Certain people should exercise caution when using any sauna, including a far infrared sauna.
Even though these sessions may provide benefits to people with medical conditions, particularly high blood pressure and heart conditions, you should speak to your health care provider before using it for enjoyment or as treatment.
Additionally, anyone taking medication—particularly those that cause drowsiness—should get medical advice before using a sauna.
You should not use any sauna while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Lastly, women who are pregnant or think that they might be pregnant should avoid steam rooms or saunas until they get personalized advice from a healthcare provider.
The Research Suggests Significant Near Infrared Sauna Dangers
The current research suggests many near-infrared sauna dangers. First of all, it is well known from glass and steelworkers that near-infrared between 800nm and 3000nm over time promotes cataract formation, a clouding of the lens of the eye (ICNIRP 2013). Second of all, the research shows that near-infrared causes damage to the skin. The research shows that exposure to near-infrared accelerates the aging of the skin and is part of what ages a person’s skin when they spend too much time out in the sun. It also shows that near-infrared produces oxidative stress in the skin, and several papers show it has the potential to cause cancer. While research papers are showing positive effects on skin-related to wound healing, these are not applicable or relevant in a sauna. I’ll go into that in more detail, but first, let’s look at the research that shows harm to the eyes and the skin from near-infrared.
Near-infrared has been proven to promote cataract development with high or repeated exposure. Cataracts are an age-related clouding of the lens of the eye and are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. A large study in 1984 showed that long term exposure to near-infrared is associated with increased cataract formation. Iron, steel, and glass workers are exposed to high levels of near-infrared. Thirty-two per cent of ironworkers had early signs of cataract formation by age 60, compared with 12% of controls. By age 70, 16% of glassworkers required cataract surgery, compared with 1% of controls.
Animal studies have since confirmed that near-infrared promotes cataract formation, and have uncovered some of the mechanisms. Crystallin is a soluble lens structural protein that maintains the transparency of the lens. Crystallin degradation and decreased production cause a clouding of the lens and are associated with cataract formation. A study in 2011 found that near-infrared exposure decreases crystallin levels, and changes its structure to a less soluble form (Aly, 2011). A study in 2013 showed an increase in matrix metalloproteinases in the cornea and the lens after exposure to near-infrared, an enzyme that degrades structural proteins. This parallels one mechanism by which near-infrared causes skin damage (Dadoukis, 2013). Scientists have found only wavelengths under 3000nm (near and mid-infrared) to cause this damage to the eye. Shorter wavelengths, 780um to 1400nm (near-infrared), are the most damaging. Wavelengths over 3000nm (far infrared) have never been shown damage the eye.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) sets occupational limits on near-infrared exposure. While animal studies have been able to determine thresholds for acute exposure causing immediate cataract formation, there is little data on safe levels of long-term exposure, and thresholds have not been established. The ICNIRP acknowledges that “cataract has been epidemiologically associated with chronic intermittent exposure at low irradiance”, as in a near-infrared sauna.
Oxidative Stress and ROS
Reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as superoxide (02-), cause damage and need to be detoxified out of the body. This means that they consume some of your body’s supply of antioxidants leaving you more vulnerable to harm from other toxins.
Specifically found that near-infrared led to the generation of superoxide (02-) originating in the mitochondria of human fibroblasts, leading to MMP-1 expression. It also leads to increased oxidized glutathione (glutathione is antioxidant — oxidized glutathione is the form it has after it is “spent”). Schroeder 2008 also found a reduction in antioxidants in the skin after near-infrared exposure. Costa 2015 found that after near infrared exposure there was a significant reduction in catalase and superoxide dismutase, both enzymes that protect against ROS. Darvin et al. 2010, concluded: “Hereby, it has to be considered that IRA irradiation (near-infrared) is used only in cases of lesions and injury, i.e., infrequently.” Their point is that due to the production of free radicals, habitual near-infrared exposure, as you would have in a near-infrared sauna, is to be avoided.
Potential to Cause Cancer
Near-infrared (IR-A) has been found to suppress the apoptosis that would normally occur after ultraviolet-B (UVB) exposure (Jantschitsch 2009). Apoptosis is when cells with genetic damage die, to prevent them from becoming malignant. Calles 2010 found that near infrared exposure affects the expression of 599 genes. Eleven of those genes related to apoptosis. Costa 2015 confirmed that reduced apoptosis is dangerous, especially because they also showed decreased repair of DNA. This is due to a reduction of GADD45a protein (specifically 57.2% decrease at 48 hours, and 34.6% decrease at 72 hours). Check out Portable Sauna Melbourne specialists in providing solutions to your problem.
Kimeswenger 2016 specifically looked at the near-infrared effect on human melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin, which absorbs ultraviolet light to protect the skin. The worst form of skin cancer is melanoma, and it forms in melanocytes. In this study, at 24 hours, by itself, near-infrared did not affect apoptosis, but in combination with UVB, it significantly reduced apoptosis. They then looked at what effect near-infrared was having on DNA repair (since DNA damage is the major trigger for ultraviolet radiation-induced apoptosis). They found that at 6h, 24h and 48h there was no effect from near infrared on DNA repair. They showed that near-infrared was altering the expression of several apoptosis-related proteins. The conclusion was “Since IRA (near-infrared) does not affect the repair of DNA-damaged melanocytes, the enhanced survival of severely DNA-damaged melanocytes might support the accumulation of UVB-induced mutations, malignant transformation, and ultimately melanomagenesis.” This means that evidence shows the possibility that near-infrared is what makes UVB cause melanoma. This is very real and very concerning near-infrared sauna danger.
It is widely known that near-infrared light promotes cataract formation. There is much that is still yet to be understood about near-infrared and skin, but we do know that higher levels of exposure cause harm. Dangers include decreased antioxidant defence, accelerated aging of the skin, and the potential to cause cancer. We do not know if a low-enough level could be used to trigger benefits, and if so, what that safe level is. Near-infrared saunas and saunas that include near-infrared, such as “full-spectrum” saunas, do not offer any benefits that outweigh these near-infrared sauna dangers. High Tech Health has spent significant time studying this technology in-depth, but unfortunately, for consumers, it appears that other sauna companies have not.
Far infrared sauna benefits are widely reported by health experts, medical professionals, and those in the sauna industry. While you are likely to experience some enjoyment from the experience, there is no guarantee that the treatment will promote weight loss or provide relief from a medical condition.
If you are interested in using far infrared technology for improved wellness or certainly if you plan to use it for medical purposes, speak to your healthcare provider about including the sessions as part of a comprehensive program.