Red light therapy and infrared saunas are two of the most popular technologies in health and wellness right now.
You’ll find them at gyms and spas; and in private homes.
Celebrities, medical professionals, and fitness gurus alike tout the benefits of these naturally derived therapies.
When comparing infrared sauna with red light therapy, it’s clear that both provide a number of health benefits, although in very different ways. Saunas are one of the oldest therapies around, and they rely on heat. Red light therapy is a cutting edge technology that relies on direct exposure to light.
Let’s take a closer look at both to see how they work—and how they can work together.
Check out our powerful BIOMAX Series light therapy panels. In addition to the red light wavelengths, these now ship with 480nm blue lights, for even more theraputic benefits.
Sauna: An Ancient Therapy that Still Works
Heat-based therapies have been around for millennia. From Turkish baths to Mayan sweat houses to Japanese onsen, the ritual of heat and sweat-inducing treatment for therapeutic purposes has a sacred place in many cultures.
For the Finns, it started with hot earth pits that evolved into rooms heated by smokey wood stoves. These were the first Finnish 'saunas,' meaning 'bathhouse' in Finnish.
A hallmark of Finnish culture, saunas gained worldwide popularity in the 20th century. Modern saunas feature heated wooden walls and a compartment of stones warmed by an electric heater. Together, these elements generate an envelope of dry heat with temperatures oscillating between 150 and 185º F. The sauna-goer lingers in this hot little space, sweats profusely, and emerges feeling refreshed and all a-glow.
Saunas: Sweat Without Exercise
The relaxing and often social ritual of taking a sauna yields health benefits that modern science has only begun to comprehend.
One interesting discovery in sauna research involves “heat shock proteins.” These are specialized stress proteins that protect and repair cells and bolster the immune system.
Normally, these proteins activate when body temperature spikes, such as during exercise. However, recent studies indicate that passive heat can produce similar effects. This mimics the physiological effects of exercise. This is great news for people who use saunas regularly.
Taking a sauna post-exercise has been shown to have benefits as well. In one well-known study, six male distance runners took a sauna after each training session, for three weeks. This resulted in what researchers noted as “a worthwhile enhancement of endurance running performance, probably by increasing blood volume.”
Somewhat surprisingly, one study found the that there were more toxic elements excreted in sweat than in urine. Included in these were cadmium, lead, and aluminum. It's good news that saunas may be helpful for this, when you consider the growing body of research warning about high levels of harmful substances and heavy metals that leach into our bodies from the environment.
Infrared Saunas: Same Heat, Different Source
Ever since astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered infrared radiation (IR) in 1800, scientists have been fascinated by its properties. IR is emitted by all objects in the universe to some degree. This extends from the red edge of the visible spectrum at 700 nanometers to 1 millimeter.
But, how does infrared heat work? Imagine a sunny day in the middle of winter. The air around you is cold, but the sun warms your face. That’s the sun’s infrared rays at work, warming your face as they penetrate your skin. You feel the warmth despite the cold ambient temperature of the air around you.
In 1965, a Japanese doctor put this science to work and patented the first infrared light sauna. Unlike traditional saunas, where an electric heater or wood stove heats the air and the objects in it through convection, infrared saunas use radiant heat coming from an IR heat lamp, which directs warmth toward the body as well as other objects in the room.
What this means is that the air inside an infrared sauna doesn’t need to be really hot in order for you to sweat. In fact, infrared saunas maintain an ambient heat of 110 degrees F to 130 degrees F, which some people find more comfortable than the range of traditional saunas. Infrared saunas still make you sweat a lot. This generates all the benefits of a traditional sauna, but with less stress on the body.
In Infrared Saunas, Wavelength Matters
Most infrared sauna models rely on light waves in the far infrared part of the spectrum, known as far infrared light (FIR). This has a range of 3000 nm to 0.1 mm.
FIR light is the only kind of infrared light capable of raising your core temperature in a way that simulates the heat stress of traditional saunas and exercise. FIR saunas feature metallic, ceramic, or black carbon heating elements. The last of these being the safest and most modern option. They are often built of wood, like their traditional counterparts.
The research on FIR sauna therapy is nascent but promising. One paper summarizes studies showing that time spent in FIR saunas improved quality of life in patients with Type II diabetes. It improved cardiac and vascular function in patients with chronic heart failure. It eased pain, stiffness, and fatigue in patients with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
All things considered, FIR sauna therapy is one way for patients with health problems to feel the benefits of exercise without actually doing it. This is also without having to withstand the intense temperatures of a super hot Finnish sauna.
Near Infrared Saunas
A few infrared light saunas on the market use near-infrared light (NIR), which starts at 700 and tops out around 1400 nm.
Near infrared light does not produce heat, so it won’t light your internal fire the way FIR does. The warmth of an NIR sauna comes from the incandescent light bulbs that power its heat lamps. Those bulbs can get quite hot.
Oftentimes, NIR sauna manufacturers say they use incandescent light bulbs in order to harness a broader spectrum that includes therapeutically beneficial light bands.
Included in these are the red light wavelengths of 630 nm and 660 nm and near-infrared wavelengths of 810 nm, 830 nm, and 850 nm.
These bands of light have been scientifically proven to yield benefits for humans. They also happen to be the same ones harnessed in red light therapy.
We’ll get into that more a little later, and look at why NIR saunas can’t effectively provide red light therapy from incandescent light bulbs.
Summary of Infrared Saunas
They heat the body in order to activate physical benefits, in the same way traditional saunas do. These physical benefits include:
Activating heat shock proteins, shown to bolster the immune system and repair cells;
Increasing blood flow to enhance recovery and endurance, post-exercise;
Sweating out toxins. Note that some manufacturers falsely claim that infrared saunas make you generate sweat that contains up to 20% more toxins than that which is generated by traditional saunas. There is zero evidence to back this up.
Infrared saunas are less hot than traditional saunas—and thus more comfortable for some people.
Most infrared saunas employ far infrared light waves, which are more effective at generating heat.
Some infrared saunas use near infrared light waves, which don’t generate heat; rather, the warmth in the sauna space is due to heat emitted from incandescent light bulbs.
Now that we understand the origins, uses, and benefits of infrared saunas, let’s see how they compare to red light therapy.
Red Light Therapy: Light That Heals
When comparing red light therapy vs. infrared saunas, it’s important to remember that red light therapy employs light, while infrared saunas employ heat.
Both technologies deliver therapeutic benefits, but they do so in ways that are completely different to one another. Yet, these two different treatments are also potentially complementary, as we will see later.
Red light therapy is the process of targeting the body with specific near-infrared and red light wavelengths. These are recognized for their unique therapeutic and regenerative results.
Also called photobiomodulation (PBM), this kind of therapy is applied via medical grade LED light panels that produce truly powerful bands of light during frequent or daily sessions of 10 to 15 minutes.
The set-up alone makes for an all together different experience to infrared saunas. There is no heat involved with red light therapy. The LED lights themselves don’t get hot, and users don’t break into a sweat or experience elevated heart rates, as happens in infrared or traditional saunas.
Five Bands of Light That Science Says Work Best
Let’s start with the red light spectrum, which extends from approximately 620 nm to 750 nm. Within this range are two wavelengths that have been scientifically proven to yield benefits. These are the 630nm and 660nm bands.
The 630nm wavelength is ideal for addressing skin concerns. As they penetrate the skin cells and sebaceous glands, these bands smooth out uneven pigmentation, and rejuvenate the skin’s tone and texture. They’ve even been shown to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and can also stimulate hair regrowth. The 630nm wavelength has also been effective in treating non-melanoma skin cancers, reducing acne breakouts, and eradicating symptoms associated with psoriasis.
The 660nm wavelength penetrates a little deeper than the 630nm wavelength. This addresses issues pertaining to the entire range of skin tissue. In multiple studies, the 630nm wavelength has been shown to deliver anti-inflammatory effects, such as reducing swelling following an injury and reducing neuropathic pain. It’s also been shown to accelerate wound healing as well as reduce training fatigue.
These 5 wavelengths of light are among the most effective for red light therapy.
In the infrared spectrum (750 nanometers to 1,200 nm) are three other bands of light that have shown evidenced-based benefits to humans. These are the 810 nm, 830 nm, and 850 nm wavelengths.
The 810nm wavelength offers a wealth of neurological benefits. It could even play a role in future medical treatments for brain disorders. Studies of the 810nm wavelength suggest that it improves healing and recovery post-exercise, improves stroke recovery among certain patients, and even may alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms.
The 830nm wavelength penetrates deeper through skin and tissue into the bone to promote healing deep in tissues. Studies of this wavelength have found that it accelerates healing of severe wounds and may help to ward off infection. It’s also been shown to promote bone repair and growth. And it helps athletes recover faster after an injury.
The 850nm wavelength works in concert with the other wavelengths mentioned to provide a wide range of therapeutic and anti-inflammatory benefits, such as muscle recovery, healing of wounds, collagen production for more radiant looking skin, and even orthodontics and tooth alignment.
Used individually or combined, these five wavelengths generate truly powerful effects that comprise the (scientifically backed!) magic of red light therapy.
Today, the BIOMAX panels also come with an additional set of blue lights which emit at 480nm, to treat the surface of the skin.
As a result, the newly innovated panels have even more synergistic benefits.
Near Infrared Saunas: Right Wavelength, Wrong Irradiance
There's another factor that is equally as important as the kind of wavelengths being used. This is the total energy output of each wavelength, also known as irradiance.
Red light therapy LED devices must produce powerful levels of light in order for the therapy itself to be effective.
This brings us back to the subject of near infrared saunas. While it’s true that these saunas emit some or all of the five wavelengths mentioned above, they can’t do it nearly as strongly as is done in some LED light therapy panels.
This is in part due to heat lamps of NIR infrared saunas emitting heat to raise your body temperature.
LED red therapy, on the other hand, is limited to only the most effective wavelengths, uncompromised by other light waves, and delivered at incomparable irradiance.
This explains the superior function and effectiveness of LED red light therapy over NIR infrared saunas, if we are looking strictly at the role red and NIR light play in therapy.
Red Light Therapy and Infrared Saunas Pair Well
Red light therapy and infrared saunas are different enough to be complementary, and powerfully so. Each method of treatment takes a completely different approach to therapy.
There are numerous test cases in which these different treatments work in concert. One good example would be for a thrown-out back. Usually, physical therapy would be part of recovery. However, at this point, it's too soon after the injury and too painful. Additionally, the inability to work out can add to your frustration.
In this case, red light therapy and infrared saunas provide a one-two combo.
Red light therapy has been shown to promote healing and reduce inflammation and pain symptoms, potentially shortening your recovery time.
Meanwhile, infrared sauna sessions will simulate the heart-pumping, blood circulating endorphin rush you crave while also potentially helping you sweat out toxins.
PlatinumLED Devices: In a Class of Their Own
These are not only the most powerful LED red light therapy panels available on the consumer market. PlatinumLED boasts the most advanced R+|NIR+ spectrum on the market. Furthermore, all BIOMAX Series panels now include the integration of blue lights at 480nm as well, which is a game changer for the industry.
From reseach and development, to design and manufacturing, we own the entire logistics chain. This ensures the highest degree of quality control over every aspect of these devices.
No other product on the market offers this combination of power and versatility.
Whether used on their own or in combination with other therapies, PlatinumLED light therapy devices are a must-have for your wellness and recovery practices.
It has been a pleasure to see our customers continue to grow both in recovery and general health.
For more information, or if you have a specific ailment that needs to be treated, we recommend checking out the blog for more information about how red light therapy can help you.