Infrared saunas are a modern take on an ancient practice of heating the body for therapeutic purposes.
Most people are familiar with saunas, but they may not know that infrared saunas can provide similar treatment as well.
In this article, we cover the differences between traditional saunas and infrared saunas, as well as the health benefits of infrared sauna bathing. We also explore how you can enjoy this time-honored therapy at home.
For those interested, the SaunaMAX Pro is now available. It offers all the features of the best consumer RLT panel on the market, but now mountable inside your sauna.
Read on to learn more about infrared saunas and how they can boost your health.
What is an Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas involve the use of red light therapy panels in a sauna space.
This form of treatment has been popularized because it’s easy, practical, and effective. Saunas provide an enclosed, private area for users to conduct full-body, unclothed treatment for 15 to 20 minutes.
Instead of heat, infrared saunas use light-emitting diode (LED) technology to bathe the body in infrared waves. Saunas can be either completely enclosed or, they can be made up of several LED infrared light therapy panels.
Unlike traditional saunas, infrared saunas don’t emit extreme heat, given that they have no external heat sources. The infrared electromagnetic spectrum can be divided into three sections of wavelengths, including ‘near-,’ ‘mid-,’ and ‘far-infrared.’ Each demonstrates its own therapeutic effects.
Infrared waves absorb 3-4mm into the body and excite water molecules within the cells, generating heat within the body and raising one's core temperature by 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same concept behind infrared heaters.
Traditional saunas are hot; between 150˚F and 195˚F. Infrared saunas are cooler, typically ranging between 110˚F and 140˚F.
Overall, infrared saunas are an effective way to use red light therapy panels for numerous therapeutic benefits. Let’s take a closer look at what users can expect to find.
Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas
Infrared saunas are relaxing, which helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system to stimulate healing.
Many research studies have investigated the health effects of infrared saunas and reported therapeutic benefits that can improve lifestyle and well-being across the board.
Improved Immune Response
Your cells create heat shock proteins as an immune response to any kind of stress, which could also include exercise or calorie reduction.
Heat shock proteins are antigens that help stimulate the immune response. These proteins protect the cells and prevent cell death. They also inhibit inflammation, protect the heart, and may help prevent insulin resistance.
One review found that infrared sauna bathing can normalize blood pressure, improve blood flow, and can be used to treat congestive heart failure.
In part, increased blood circulation, and reduced blood pressure can help improve cardiovascular function.
Reduced Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
In one study, a far infrared sauna was used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome. Ten patients took a 15-minute sauna and then relaxed under a blanket outside the sauna for another 30 minutes.
The treatment was repeated once daily, five days a week for four consecutive weeks.
The patients reported a significant decrease in perceived fatigue and experienced better mood after the treatment.
Decreased Muscle Soreness and Faster Muscle Recovery
Another study found that far infrared sauna sessions can help decrease muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery after intense strength or endurance training.
In this case, ten healthy, active men performed specific exercises. Then, they had a 30-minute sauna session followed by 30 minutes of relaxation, which resulted in improved muscle recovery.
Infrared Sauna and Pain Relief
According to a two-year study, infrared sauna sessions can help ease chronic pain.
In one case, 24 patients with chronic pain were treated with a variety of pain management techniques. Included in these were rehabilitation, exercise therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy along with once-daily sauna sessions for four weeks.
Two years after the study, 77% of the treatment group patients returned to work as compared to 50% of the control group, suggesting that a combination of various pain management techniques and consistent sauna therapy may effectively treat chronic pain.
In 2018, light therapy researcher Dr. Michael Hamblin wrote that nerve cells in particular are highly responsive to infrared wavelengths. He stated that far infrared sauna bathing could be a beneficial alternative to exercise for sedentary patients with high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, or osteoarthritis.
Far infrared sauna therapy has also been found to be helpful to brain health. It may help treat Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and brain injuries as well, as related to its increasing circulation and blood flow.
The clinical and therapeutic benefits of infrared wavelengths have been related to the induced thermal response on the body. This affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis causing an increase in norepinephrine output, increases production of nitric oxide, and creates improvements in muscles and connective tissue elasticity.
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy
Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional Saunas
Both traditional and infrared saunas are designed to purify the body by helping it release toxins through sweating.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two treatments, both of which have numerous benefits for the body.
What Are Traditional Saunas?
Heating the body for health reasons is practically as old as mankind.
All around the world, various cultures employ heat therapy, including Finnish saunas, Turkish hammams, and Roman and Greek bathhouses. Native American sweat lodges and hot springs are as popular as ever.
At first, they were used as a type of bath, since profuse sweating cleaned the body. It wasn’t until much later that scientists discovered how good they were for health as well.
Many modern saunas still burn wood. They heat stones for up to 12 hours until the temperature is intense enough for therapeutic use. Once the stones are hot, they remain hot for another 12 hours.
A traditional sauna can be wet or dry. Wet saunas involve throwing water onto the hot stones to create steam, which makes the sauna feel even hotter. On the other hand, dry saunas use no water. Both are effective, so the choice usually comes down to personal preference.
Some modern saunas use electric heating, which allows for faster heating of the stones and better temperature control. Electric saunas are popular in settings where a wood fire would pose a safety hazard or undesired smoke.
Sauna treatment is often used along with cold treatment sessions, including ice baths. Some alternate between intense exposure to heat and cold. However, this should be done carefully.
Excessive exposure to extreme temperatures can obviously result in negative outcomes, so the sessions should remain short.
What Are Infrared Saunas?
The evolution of far infrared saunas started in the 19th Century with John Harvey Kellogg, whose patients entered a small cabinet with exposed light bulbs with the intention of inducing sweating.
The first ‘Incandescent Light Baths’ were presented at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. They quickly became popular all over the world. As it turns out, the incandescent bulbs Kellogg used emitted a fair amount of infrared wavelengths.
In the 1960s, researchers identified near, mid, and far-infrared wavelengths. The first infrared sauna was developed in 1965 by a Japanese doctor. For over a decade, infrared sauna treatments were only provided by Japanese doctors.
1979 brought about the first broad-spectrum infrared sauna. One concern until recently was electromagnetic frequency (EMF) emissions. Today, LED infrared devices generate virtually no EMF emissions and are considered safe.
How to Use an Infrared Sauna
Treating the body using infrared heat is a soothing experience. Here's how to make the most of the therapy and ensure that you’re getting safe treatment.
You’re going to be sweating a fair amount in an infrared sauna, which can dehydrate you. Have a glass of water before your sauna, and drink plenty of water in the sauna, too. Electrolyte drinks replace salts and minerals lost through sweating. Adverse health reactions have been linked to alcohol consumption. It is recommended that users avoid drinking alcohol prior to entering a sauna or during a session.
Your first time using far infrared saunas should be a short session at a relatively low-temperature, possibly at around 110 degrees.
Enjoy sauna bathing for no more than 5-10 minutes to start. You can increase the temperature and treatment time the more you get used to the experience.
It’s hard to overdo a traditional sauna because the intense temperatures can quickly become uncomfortable. Most users will simply leave when it gets too hot for comfort.
However, the lower perceived heat in an infrared sauna can make it easier to overdo the treatment. We recommend that you don’t stay in the sauna for longer than 30 minutes and that you limit your sessions to no more than every other day.
Rinse, and Repeat
This isn’t just a catchy phrase. Take a shower after the sauna to remove the toxins that you’ve sweated out, so they don’t get reabsorbed through your skin.
When to Stop Your Session and When to Avoid Infrared Saunas
While infrared saunas provide safe health benefits, keep these precautions in mind.
- Stop your session immediately if you start to feel dizzy or nauseous.
- Do not exceed a 30-minute time limit. Staying within the 30-minute window is considered safe because infrared heat only raises your core temperature by 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid using an infrared sauna if:
- You have multiple sclerosis (MS). People with MS are often heat intolerant
- You’re trying to conceive. Sperm is vulnerable to thermal damage
- You’re pregnant. Fetuses are very vulnerable to thermal damage
- You have any serious medical conditions
Using an Infrared Sauna When You’re Sick
You can enjoy an infrared sauna when you’re sick! In fact, infrared therapy can help ease cold and flu symptoms and help the healing process by simulating a feverish state (hyperthermia). Fever is a powerful antiviral and antibacterial defense with the intent of causing thermal damage in invading pathogens to damage or kill them.
Artificially raising your core temperature with infrared heat won't simulate a fever but even a small temperature increase may be enough to harm or even kill a viral or bacterial infection, and support the immune system.
If you have a fever, do not use infrared sauna therapy. Just rest, drink plenty of fluids, and let your body’s natural defenses work.
Red Light Therapy Sauna Solutions
However, it’s designed specifically for in-sauna use, both waterproof and engineered to stand extreme sauna temperatures.
The SaunaMAX Pro features the same R+ and NIR+ wavelengths, along with a trace of blue light at 480nm for more complete and holistic treatment.
We should note that while the SaunaMAX Pro is not an ‘Infrared Sauna,’ it rather provides red light therapy treatment in the sauna for the first time.
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, and check out our Learning Center for more information.
We look forward to your seeing better results for your health and well-being soon with the SaunaMAX Pro!