The Infrared Sauna. Sauna culture in the USA is expanding, with athletes, health-conscious people, and many others flocking to sauna studios or installing their own in the comfort of their homes. Finland, on the other hand, is a seasoned expert in the regular use of traditional saunas. With over 2 million saunas for a population of just 5.5 million people, it’s no wonder Finland is the world’s #1 happiest country.
While the USA may not have 2 million saunas per 5 million people, we're starting to embrace modern sauna culture more readily, with the onset of infrared saunas in the last two decades. While this is a more modern take on traditional dry saunas, they still provide significant health benefits with a relaxing experience that may just leave you relaxed, rejuvenated, and replenished. In this blog, we discuss the benefits of this therapy, how it works, what its benefits are, and who may consider using it or not.
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What Conditions Can They Help?
Light and its Role in Health
In our last blog post about red light therapy, we established that there are differing light sources that humans can and cannot see. We also established that many of these various light sources provide significant health benefits that have been repeatedly proven in thousands (yes, thousands!) of clinical studies, with prominent researchers behind the science, including NASA scientists. The blog post above showcases how differing light sources benefit brain and body health, including sunlight, infrared light, and other light colors.
What is an Infrared Sauna?
This is a type of sauna that uses harmless light to produce heat. Unlike a traditional sauna that heats the air around you to warm the body, an infrared sauna uses infrared light to heat the body directly. This direct heating via infrared light allows an intense sweat without reaching the high temperatures that traditional saunas often reach (150-200 degrees Fahrenheit). In comparison, this sauna has temperatures that range from 110 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. While these are not as hot as traditional saunas, they still provide many health benefits to each user and allow people sensitive to heat to use a sauna.
How Does an Infrared Sauna Work?
Infrared saunas use non-invasive “infrared light” to produce heat. Infrared light has applications in clinical and health settings through different devices or therapies. When exposed to the body, infrared light safely penetrates the skin and tissues, providing a stream of positive benefits. However, humans cannot see this light source; instead, we sense it by its warmth. Infrared light is another common light source found in red light therapy devices, which we discuss in our red light therapy blog post. While humans cannot see infrared light, we can see red light. Red light is in the visible spectrum of human vision, while infrared light is not due to its varying wavelengths and power outside the visible spectrum.
3 Types of Infrared Light:
Infrared saunas typically use a type of infrared light called far-infrared. But, depending on which sauna you use, it may contain a combination of all three infrared light wavelengths: near, mid, and far. Find descriptions of each type of infrared light below and the various benefits associated with each.
Near-infrared light promotes wound healing, enhances cell regeneration, and supports skin health. It also activates collagen and elastin production while reducing the appearance of wrinkles or fine lines (commonly used in red light therapy devices).
Mid-infrared light improves circulation, allowing more oxygen to reach injured body parts. It also aids in pain relief and muscle recovery and promotes detoxification through increased sweating, safely penetrating deeper into the body.
Far-infrared light induces deep sweating for detoxification, allowing toxins like heavy metals to sweat out of our bodies. It also supports weight loss through calorie burning, decreases pain, and eases joint stiffness by penetrating deeply into body tissues.
Combination saunas offer a comprehensive approach, addressing various health concerns and providing a personalized experience by combining Near-Infrared, Mid-Infrared, and Far-Infrared lights. Sunlighten saunas, featured below, have a sauna called the mPulse, which includes all infrared light wavelengths AND red light therapy, maximizing the proven benefits from various light sources, all in one session.
What Are The Top 10 Benefits of an Infrared Sauna?
1. Detoxification: When you sweat in a sauna, the body often releases toxins, resulting in a pleasant and needed detox from unwanted toxins that linger in our bodies. Environmental or air pollutants and skin-care products are common toxins excreted from the body in a sauna. According to Clearlight Saunas, toxins such as heavy metals, phthalates, pesticides, and other toxins can also be expelled from the body during a session (2020).
2. Immune System Boost: While more research is needed in this area, anecdotal evidence (patients' self-reports) in this study indicates that using a sauna regularly may decrease the frequency of catching a common cold.
3. Inflammation Reduction: While acute inflammation is necessary for many biological factors, chronic inflammation can harm long-term health, advancing aging. Heat from the infrared light penetrates deep into the body, causing blood vessels to dilate and improving blood flow. Enhanced blood flow helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to inflamed areas and promotes healing, lowering inflammation.
4. Pain Management: Pain can be reduced by improving blood flow, relieving inflammation, relaxing the muscles and joints, and increasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Similarly, recovery time for people with muscle soreness or fatigue reduces.
5. Improved Sleep & Recovery: Many sauna users sleep better after evening sauna use. This may be explained by how the body naturally attempts to cool down after sauna use. Sleep science today shows that core body temperature must cool by 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to fall and stay asleep throughout the night (Walker, 2022). While using a sauna at night may sound counterproductive, the body naturally cools down after, promoting healthy sleep.
6. Stress Relief: Exercise makes us feel good–it relieves our stress and promotes dopamine (the pleasure and reward chemical in our brains). Sauna use is an exercise in its own right; although it is more passive, it reduces stress. However, health professionals advise that sauna use should not entirely replace other active exercise forms.
7. Skin Health: Remember the near-infrared light (NIR) wavelength? Applying NIR on the skin in a sauna has been shown to improve skin tone and texture by increasing collagen and elastin production, a result red light therapy produces. Collagen helps keep fine lines, wrinkles, and loose skin at bay. Similarly, NIR can enhance wound healing, increase skin hydration, decrease pore appearance, and clean the skin by removing dead skin cells. Interestingly, both NIR and FIR light have been shown to block a certain amount of UVB skin damage when exposed to either light source before exposure to outdoor sun.
8. Improved Heart Health and Decreased Blood Pressure: When studied in the laboratory, this therapy shows decreased blood pressure, as reported by the Cleveland Clinic (2022). As discussed, a sauna session is similar to light/moderate exercise, which means the heart has to increase blood flow. In turn, blood pressure is reduced, and circulation is improved, all of which are great for heart health.
9. Calorie Burn: Combined with diet, exercise, or other avenues, this is a great supplemental tool for your weight loss journey.
10. Improved Energy Levels: By nature, improving blood flow and decreasing stress and
inflammation plays a significant role in energy, whether you use a sauna or not. But since this therapy can accomplish these feats, daily energy levels may rise. However, if one is detoxing, many people report feeling tired after their first or second session, but this subsides as toxins are released through sweat from the body.
*Bonus Benefit: Improved Athletic Performance: This therapy helps train your sweat response and your body’s ability to sweat when it needs to cool down. While sweating more may turn some people off, this natural and positive body adaptation develops over time. The more you sweat, the cooler your body is and the better your cognitive and physical performance.
How To Use:
Typical temperatures range from 100-150 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average time in the sauna of 20-40 minutes, depending on experience. The Cleveland Clinic and functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Melissa Young, outline important tips for getting started with an infrared sauna that we'll discuss here (2022).
1. Lower Temperature, Less Time:
Dr. Young mentions starting at a lower temperature, like 110 degrees, for 10-15 minutes. 2x per week is a great starting point for inexperienced sauna users. As your body gets used to the heat, you can increase the temperature and the time in the sauna. In many aspects of life, less is more. Starting with lower temperatures and less time also helps the body acclimate to its new hot environment so that one does not overheat the first time.
2. Maximum Time:
Depending on your experience and temperature setting, 30-40 minutes is more than enough. If you use the sauna at 145 degrees, 30 minutes will be more than enough. However, if it is only 110 degrees, you can play with roughly 10 more minutes of sauna use.
It is essential to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise. Hydration is fundamental to brain and body performance in basic daily tasks. When we sweat, we lose fluids that need to be replenished. So, stay hydrated, drink some water, and replenish electrolyte levels with an electrolyte solution if possible.
4. Post-Sauna Session:
When one finishes their sauna session, they may be a little lightheaded. Turn off the sauna and perhaps open the door to allow the body to cool down while remaining seated. Make sure to shower after a sauna session to rinse off any toxins that sweat out and onto the body.
What Conditions Can They Help?
The Mayo Clinic notes the positive impacts on conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure, dementia, Alzheimer’s, headaches, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis (Bauer, 2022). Additional potential benefits include improvements in rheumatoid arthritis, muscle recovery, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and hair growth. While scientific studies are ongoing, self-reports suggest relief for many users. This therapy enhances fundamental bodily functions such as blood flow and inflammation reduction, addressing potential root causes of various conditions. As always, please discuss with your doctor how this therapy may help you and any specific condition you may want to address.
Who Should Consider Not Using
This therapy is primarily considered a safe therapy. However, some people should consider not using one and speak with their doctor. The Cleveland Clinic reports that people who have MS, are pregnant, are attempting to conceive, or are sick should not use this therapy (2022). Additionally, people with heart or kidney disease or any other pre-existing condition should avoid infrared saunas and speak with their doctor.
What should I wear?
This is really up to the individual. Whatever is comfortable is the general rule. Loose-fitting, breathable clothing is a great choice, but some people wrap themselves in a towel.
What can I do during my session?
In today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, pausing and checking in with yourself is essential. Finding time for oneself can be challenging between the kids, work, the house, etc. Electronic devices will overheat in a sauna, so take advantage of this quiet time to kick back and truly relax. Maybe focus on some breathwork or meditate. Bring in a book or a magazine and water inside to stay hydrated. Some sauna companies have speakers built into their saunas, allowing you to play your favorite music during a session.
Infrared saunas provide a fantastic way to transform your health and day-to-day life. While an infrared sauna does not get as hot as the traditional saunas commonly found in Finland, they provide substantial benefits that cannot be overlooked for long-term health. If you are in the market for one, we recommend Sunlighten saunas. Sunlighten's mPulse sauna version combines both infrared light and red light therapy, showing promising results in treating various conditions and maximizing overall health.
At Better Brain & Body, an infrared sauna session may be implemented in a patient's customized treatment plan based on the patient's goals and Dr. Brown's direction. Our infrared sauna is also available for use through our wellness memberships. Anyone who wishes to start their sauna protocol independent of our functional neurology care can do so. Better Brain & Body offers wellness memberships at an affordable cost where, at the direction of our physician, you are free to select therapies to use that can make a difference in your overall health.
Use the following affiliate link to purchase a Sunlighten sauna and receive $100 off your order: https://get.sunlighten.com/39m0h8c0ud2g
Better Brain & Body sometimes uses affiliate links in our content for therapies we are extra passionate about. This does not cost you anything but helps Better Brain & Body offset the cost of clinic expenses.