Saunas have been used for centuries for health and well-being. A sauna is a room or enclosure, often lined with wood that's heated to high temperatures.
Infrared saunas use infrared light to heat the body rather than hot air.
Science suggests they have health benefits, including improved heart and lung health and reduced pain.
Other potential benefits include weight loss, relaxation, and skin health.
Infrared saunas are generally safe, but there are a few risks to be aware of, such as dehydration and dizziness.
Pregnant people, anyone with implanted medical devices, and those with chronic health conditions should use infrared saunas with caution or avoid them altogether.
Advocates of saunas claim they have many potential benefits, including relief from muscle tension and pain, improved circulation, and even weight loss. Some research supports these claims, but more studies are needed to confirm the health effects of saunas.
Most traditional saunas use dry heat generated by a wood-burning stove or electric heater. However, infrared saunas, also called far-infrared saunas (FIRs), are a newer type of sauna that uses light to create heat. Some say they are more effective than traditional saunas at penetrating the skin and providing health benefits.
Continue reading to learn more about infrared saunas and if science supports their use for health.
How do infrared saunas work?
Traditional saunas are small, typically wooden rooms that are heated to between 150°F and 195°F (65°C to 90°C) using a wood-burning stove or electric heater. They also contain hot stones that create steam when doused with water.
The idea behind saunas is to raise your core body temperature, causing you to sweat. As a result, your heart rate increases to pump more blood to the skin to cool you down, mimicking the effects of exercise and providing similar benefits.
Infrared saunas work differently. They use light from the infrared spectrum to heat your body directly and raise your core body temperature rather than heating the air around you.
The different approach means that the temperature in infrared saunas is much lower, usually between 110°F and 135°F (44°C to 57°C). Some people find this lower temperature more comfortable and less intense than traditional saunas.
Do infrared saunas have any health benefits?
Maybe! Saunas of all kinds are thought to have some health benefits, but more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be made. Here's what we know so far.
Improves heart health
Infrared saunas may be good for cardiovascular health. As you sit in the sauna, you begin to sweat, blood vessels widen, blood flow increases, and your heart rate speeds up. Your body's response to the heat of a sauna is similar to that of moderate-intensity exercise.
Studies show that infrared saunas can improve heart health and lower blood pressure in people with cardiovascular disease and those who are healthy.
Because using the sauna has a similar effect to walking at a moderate pace, FIRS may be particularly beneficial for people who can't exercise, such as those with arthritis or other chronic pain conditions.
Boosts lung health
Healthy lungs are important for optimal oxygenation of blood and removal of carbon dioxide and other toxins. Unfortunately, many conditions can impair lung function, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pneumonia.
Studies suggest that infrared saunas may help reduce the risk of acute and chronic respiratory conditions and pneumonia. They also appear to reduce some markers of systemic inflammation, a condition that drives lung irritation and damage.
Chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis can be difficult to treat and cause significant disability. Infrared saunas may help ease pain and improve the quality of life in people with these conditions.
A 2-year study found that people with varying types of chronic pain showed improved outcomes with infrared sauna treatment. In addition, the researchers noted that multidisciplinary treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), rehabilitation, and exercise therapy, combined with thermal therapy, may be a promising method for treating chronic pain.
Are there any other potential benefits?
Although research is lacking, infrared saunas may have some other potential benefits. For example, many people claim that they help with the following:
- Weight loss — Sweating in an infrared sauna may help you burn a few extra calories and speed up weight loss. You'll also lose water weight, leading to quick but temporary results on the scale.
- Relaxation — The heat of an infrared sauna may help you relax and feel less stressed.
- Detoxification — Saunas are often promoted as a way to detoxify the body and remove toxins like heavy metals, but there's little evidence that they work.
- Skin health — The heat of an infrared sauna may help improve circulation, bringing oxygen to the skin, and leading to a healthy glow.
Are there any risks to using an infrared sauna?
Most people can safely use infrared saunas, but there are a few risks to be aware of, including:
- Dehydration — Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your sauna session to avoid dehydration.
- Dizziness or fainting — The combination of heat and dehydration may cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded and even faint. If you feel these symptoms, leave the sauna and cool down immediately.
- Fertility problems — Infrared saunas emit heat, and too much heat exposure can damage sperm and lead to fertility problems. So, avoiding infrared saunas is best if you're trying to conceive.
Furthermore, certain people should use infrared saunas cautiously or avoid them altogether. These people include:
- Pregnant people — Avoid using infrared saunas during pregnancy as the heat may harm the developing baby.
- People with implanted medical devices — Metal implants can absorb heat from infrared saunas and cause burns. If you have an implanted device, check with your doctor before using an infrared sauna.
- People with chronic health conditions — If you have a chronic health condition, check with your doctor before using an infrared sauna, as the heat may exacerbate your condition.
Infrared saunas are a type of sauna that uses infrared light to heat the body. They're thought to have many health benefits, including improved heart and lung health and reduced pain.
Although infrared saunas are generally safe, there are a few risks to be aware of. Talk to your doctor if you're interested in using an infrared sauna and have any health conditions.