Infrared (IR) saunas and therapy are taking the world by storm. So much so that people are replacing their traditional furnaces with this new piece of technology.
There’s a handful of scientific information and findings on infrared saunas, but we want to make sure that the basics are covered and that you can make an informed decision about purchasing a new sauna.
This article covers everything you need to know about these saunas and the healthy benefits IR light has on the body.
What is Infrared Heat
Light is an electromagnetic wave characterized by its wavelength and is separated on a spectrum of spectral bands. The light we are exposed to the most is known as white light, a light that’s emitted by the sun.
White light can be reflected, absorbed, or transmitted when it hits a body, some wavelengths are absorbed whilst the others are reflected.
These wavelengths that are reflected determine the color of the object we are looking at.
When looking at the spectrum, light with a wavelength between 0.8 and 50 micrometers is what we call infrared (IR) light. Such light is invisible to the naked eye and only certain animals such as snakes can observe the infrared radiation.
While IR light can’t be seen, it can be felt in the form of warmth.
This means that infrared warmth is safe to use or expose yourself to in regular doses. Everything in life should be done in moderation and exposing yourself to too much of something can be damaging.
But before we dive into why you should consider buying these saunaS, we need to talk about heat, light, and IR light therapy.
What is Heat Therapy?
Heat therapy provides a way to relieve chronic pain and has many benefits for the human body. It promotes healing by increasing the blood flow to our muscles, producing more white blood cells and important nutrients. This helps in easing muscle soreness and to an extent help with many chronic health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Many athletes or casual runners who experience joint pain or muscles spasms use heat therapy to help ease the pain. When spasms occur, circulation is blocked, but we now know that heat therapy helps relieve the spasm by restoring circulation and relaxing any muscles that are tense or in pain.
Heat also interrupts the transmission of pain signals. Receptors compete to see who can get to the brain first and one set of receptors can block the passage of another.
Heat therapy activates calcium channels in our body that blocks pain receptors directly and stimulate the sensory receptors. This therapy is part of your traditional saunas and it does a good job in giving sore muscles relief.
What is Light Therapy?
Let’s say it’s the fall or winter season and you aren’t getting much sunlight or going outside because it’s too cold. Your body needs natural light to keep it energized and keep the processes and systems working and flowing.
Light therapy helps with seasonal affectiveness disorder, essentially mimicking the sunlight that your body should be getting. It also helps if you are trying to fix your sleeping pattern if you are someone that prefers to work at night and rest during the day.
These health benefits are also present during infrared sauna sessions as it’s a combination of both heat and light therapy. So let’s have a look at IR light and what makes this sauna so good.
What is Infrared Light Therapy?
IR light therapy falls between heat therapy and normal light therapy. This means an infrared sauna has the best of both worlds.
When IR light is used on the body, it’s important to understand what’s going on. The way that IR lightwaves exert biological effects on cells is by triggering functions within our cells.
One of these functions is increasing the production of nitric oxide. This means you’re getting local vasodilation, or in more simple terms, a damaged area is getting more blood flow.
For example, let’s say you sprained your ankle along with some ruptured ligaments. IR therapy increases nitric oxide production in the area of the ankle sprain and vasodilation takes place. This means more nutrient-filled blood delivery to that area, allowing faster healing.
When you expose yourself to infrared light, it sends a trigger to the pores in your fat cells to open up. This doesn’t mean that you are burning the fat, instead, it’s being released from the cells causing them to deflate.
You’re now left with the task of burning calories and the fat that’s been leaked into the bloodstream. You also lose a lot of water weight so be sure to stay hydrated.
Therefore, IR light therapy helps with the mobilization of fat for those who struggle to lose weight. This makes the challenge of burning calories easier, but the task of weight loss still depends on you.
While it helps certain health conditions, it can also worsen the effects when exposed to infrared warmth for long periods.
Now that we know the science behind an infrared sauna session and how they benefit our bodies, let’s go over why the types of infrared heat.
Infrared Sauna Heat
Traditional saunas or dry heat saunas are the ones found in most homes. They are comparable to convection ovens as they warm the environment around you.
Whether we’re talking about the traditional Finnish saunas that burn wood to produce warmth or a wet sauna that uses moisture created from pouring water onto hot rocks, all saunas achieve their goals by exposing you to heat.
The difference that separates the saunas from each other is the method of warmth and how they’re used. An infrared sauna doesn’t depend on a stove or electric heater to warm up rocks or wood to produce warmth. It uses IR light bulbs that give off warmth the second it’s switched on.
Types of Infrared Heating
When we talk about the wavelengths in infrared heating, we can break them down into 3 different categories.
The first and shortest of these wavelengths is the Near Infrared (NIR). Despite it being the shortest, it penetrates the deepest as the sun emits half of its energy in this spectrum. As a general rule, light with a shorter wavelength tends to have more energy and a higher frequency.
The second and longer wavelength is the Mid Infrared (MIR). It penetrates deep into the body and allows for an increase in circulation and oxygen flow.
The final wavelength is the Far-infrared (FIR). This is the closest wavelength to the infrared warmth that our body gives off and reverberates the warmth generation of our body. Doing this allows for deeper rises in core temperatures.
Infrared saunas that use NIR focus on topical healing and pain relief. Those that use MIR promote your circulatory system, and FIR saunas are best for removing toxins from your body and relaxing your body in the cold winter.
This should help you decide which infrared sauna is best for you before making any purchases or beginning infrared your sauna session.
What Is an Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas were invented in the states in the late 1970s and today are seen as one of the most effective holistic health practices. It’s not considered a traditional sauna but the overall health benefits you reap from these infrared sauna sessions are mostly the same.
An infrared sauna can be compared to a microwave as these objects directly warm the food instead of the environment around them like what an oven does. This is done using infrared heat. So your body would be the food and the infrared sauna would be the microwave, except you aren’t quite being cooked.
Physiotherapists and hospitals are making use of infrared sauna treatments for patients who have joint pain such as arthritis or tight muscles. However, during these infrared sauna treatments, the objective is to heal instead of focusing on relaxation.
Whilst your typical dry heat and traditional Finnish saunas normally reach higher temperatures between 150 and 195 Fahrenheit, infrared sauna warmth operates at a much lower temperature, between 120 and 140 Fahrenheit.
This means during your infrared sauna session, you can sit in the sauna for longer periods compared to the average 15 minutes of a dry heat sauna. Instead of waiting for the room to warm up as you would a steam sauna, infrared saunas are ready to use as soon as the lights switch on. It misses some of the ambiance and charm of a conventional sauna, but it gets the job done.
Most saunas are built of wood, and infrared saunas are no different. They are typically wooden cabins or rooms surrounded by IR lights, dowsing the room in a reddish hue.
Despite an infrared sauna operating at lower temperatures than a dry heat sauna, infrared saunas warm your body inside and out by using IR lightbulbs leading to tangible health benefits. It’s a radiant heat that warms the body directly and penetrates the skin.
This is much different from the warmth in a regular sauna.
Improved circulation helps to release toxins from the deeper levels beneath the skin. We have a system responsible for this process and infrared saunas aid in the effectiveness of such a process. It also aids in boosting your immune system and overall health.
This is known as the lymphatic system, one that drains toxins and helps to clean up human tissue. These toxins are drained through the sweat glands and this process increases circulation and allows you to burn calories when it occurs.
The more you sweat, the more toxins are being removed. Repeating this process can lead to weight loss and burning calories, so be sure to invite some friends over for a sweat sesh. However, you will primarily lose water weight during your infrared sauna session.
Infrared saunas also have better detoxication compared to steam saunas as the heat is more direct and targeted.
Another benefit to the warmth being direct is that it increases your core temperature. You want to ensure that this temperature is kept relatively high as cold-core temperatures can lead to hypothermia and can damage your immune system.
Since infrared saunas only use light as a source of warmth, there’s no humidity inside the room, unlike traditional saunas. This means you don’t have to worry about foggy environments when wanting to relax in your sauna.
However, this is more of a personal preference as some people prefer to have a misty environment when using a sauna and opt for a wet sauna or steam room instead.
Exposing yourself to too much IR light and its high temperatures can have damaging effects on the skin, drying it out and causing dehydration. It could also increase the effects of hypotension.
A large amount of electrical expertise is required if any of the lights malfunction and that could cost you a few bucks. We don’t recommend fiddling around with the lights yourself unless you’re really sure about what you’re doing.
How Do I Know If I Should Avoid Infrared Saunas
As much as everyone is choosing to use saunas for the health benefits and relaxation effects, it isn’t for everyone, especially infrared saunas. Certain health conditions can worsen when exposed to infrared heat.
Safety Tip 1
Anyone that suffers from heart or lung disease should avoid infrared sauna sessions as it could worsen the effects. The same applies to those who suffer from blood pressure problems, or liver and kidney issues. Both those who suffer from high and low blood pressure should avoid these saunas. It would be best to avoid saunas if you suffer from any severe medical conditions, to be honest.
Safety Tip 2
It’s important to note that pregnant women should avoid the infrared sauna. Since an infrared sauna warms up your core temperature, the developing child in the womb won’t be able to withstand such high temperatures. This can also have direct effects on the fetus’s growth and overall health.
Safety Tip 3
When debating the topic of whether infrared saunas help you to lose weight, this is mostly due to excessive sweating. The weight being lost is water weight so if you are feeling dehydrated or are someone that warms up quickly, avoid these saunas.
While there are some weight loss benefits of using a sauna, you’re still going to have to put in the hard work to burn off those calories. Anything that sells itself as a miracle cure to burning fat is probably lying to you.
A standard 2-person infrared sauna normally measures in at about 4ft by 4ft and can cost you between $1,500 and $2,500. For these smaller saunas, many customers tend to have a sound system or colored light panels to spice up the environment and this will cost you an extra $1,000.
Choosing to have an outdoor sauna will require a sauna cover which costs around $500.
A 4-person infrared sauna is typically installed in family homes or hotels and they measure in at about 5ft by 5ft. They also stand at around 6ft tall so there’s plenty of space for the family. You can expect the average price for a sauna this size can cost you between $2,000 and $,4000, before factoring in any additional costs for extra features.
Lastly, we have a 6-person infrared sauna and these are the ones typically found in gyms, spas, or homes big enough to fit a 7ft by 7ft sauna on the property. These are spacious and aren’t for the everyday consumer as they’ll cost you anywhere between $8,000 and $12,000.
Infrared saunas offer the same benefits as any traditional sauna, but what sets them apart from the rest are the benefits that IR light therapy has on the body. With everything you’ve learned today, you can enjoy your infrared sauna experience and not have to be stuck choosing whether or not it’s for you.
As we know, infrared saunas are more about the method of heating than anything else. Both the health benefits and the concerns around using them are the same as with wet and dry heat saunas, so whether you end up choosing an infrared sauna over any other option is entirely up to your personal preferences.