A trend in the natural living niches lately has been red light therapy, or infrared saunas, and their benefits.
Saunas in general are known for removing toxins, reducing cellulite, and helping you lose weight. Around the world, saunas are known for these medical claims, but there’s not much evidence to prove any of it, especially the more extreme claims like reversing cellular damage and detoxing metals.
This article will guide you through infrared sauna benefits and risks that have a scientific backup, so let’s first talk about what a sauna is.
What Is a Sauna?
Saunas are a form of heat therapy, which has been used since the third century BCE. The Mayans were the first to use heat therapy, and then the Romans and Grecians followed suit in 300 BCE. Saunas are now popular in just about every culture around the world, particularly in Northern Europe. Similar to hot springs, the Finnish have taken the idea of a sauna and incorporated it into their everyday life. While saunas didn’t originally come from Asia, the idea of hot community bathhouses is similar, and different communities in Asia featured these as well.
Saunas can be any room or device that is created to make a wet heat or dry heat environment to encourage bodily heating. That used to be done by humidifier-type objects, but now it’s becoming popular to encourage these environments by using infrared light, which companies are claiming to heat people quicker.
Types of Saunas
Steam Saunas: These saunas put water on different heating devices to create steam. While not the original sauna, these saunas are the ones that are typically shown in pop culture.
Dry Saunas: These are the traditional saunas that are heated with hot stones, fire, electricity, or gas.
Infrared Saunas: These saunas use invisible rays that focus on heating the body directly. There are three different types of infrared saunas: near-infrared, far-infrared (FIR), and full spectrum.
Despite there being three different kinds of saunas, most research focuses on how the benefits of dry and steam saunas, so learning about the infrared saunas is important if you plan on using them. FIR saunas are the most common and most sought out home saunas, so most of this research is centered around those.
Heat Health Benefits
What’s the point in sweating in a sauna? A lot of people think it’s a nice experience, especially in FIR saunas where it doesn’t feel as hot. However, there are a lot of people whose heat tolerance is lower but still use saunas anyway. Why?
A huge part of sauna benefits is that sweating alone has health benefits. Here are some of the proven sauna health benefits achieved through heating and sweating:
- Sweating imitates cardiovascular exercise. Your cardiovascular system has to work harder in the heat than it does normally, so saunas make your heart work more than normal. Working your cardiovascular system will also lead to “runner’s high,” the sensation that makes you happy and relaxed after working out.
- Sweating improves brain function. It’s a claim that sweating increases growth hormones and brain cells, and triggers muscle growth. It also helps the neurotransmitters in your body, leading to better brain functioning.
- Sweating induces heat-shock proteins. This helps your cells last longer and prevents them from radical damage and cellular antioxidants. Heat-shock proteins can also help with muscle gain in some situations.
- Sweating reduces stress. Sweating in saunas helps you relax, giving you a life with less stress than before.
Overall, sweating is a great way to help your body, and saunas are an enjoyable way to get your body sweating!
What Are Infrared Saunas?
Infrared saunas are a fairly new kind of sauna that works with electricity. When light bulbs were first invented, Dr. John Kellogg created an “electric light bath.” These early light bulbs harbored light waves that were very close to infrared light waves, so he unknowingly pioneered infrared saunas.
A German businessman saw Dr. Kellogg’s creating at a conference in Chicago and recreated the “electric light bath,” selling it all around the world. He claimed that it had healing properties, and even the king of England was supposedly cured of gout using the early infrared sauna.
How Infrared Saunas Work
Infrared lights have benefits for the various organ systems and cells that regular saunas can’t handle. Traditional saunas focus on heating the air, not the body, but infrared saunas use light waves to directly heat your body tissue, up to one and a half inches into your skin. All you feel is a simple heat.
This is called photobiomodulation: a kind of therapy that uses light.
What is Photobiomodulation?
Quantum physics tells us that your molecules can be excited by light frequencies. Higher-frequency lights carry more energy, so infrared lights carry a lot of energy. The molecule essentially releases energy and goes back to its original form.
The easiest way to see this happen is by observing a fluorescent lightbulb. The ultraviolet light lights up the chemicals and lets the lightbulb light up.
Photobiomodulation happens when the process occurs in live things, not light bulbs. But that’s where the difference between near-infrared and far-infrared comes to play.
Near-infrared light and even some red light can work up the energy-producing enzymes in your mitochondria, increasing how well it works and causing it to start the healing process within the cells (raises cellular energy production, slowing down oxidative stress, and calming down any inflammation).
Far Infrared Saunas
There’s still a lot of speculation as to why the far-infrared spectrum has any health benefits, but there are a few things that are known about how it stimulates the body.
The main one is that instead of working the mitochondria, it works the cells by exciting your water molecules. This could work the mitochondria as well since there’s a lot of water molecules around the mitochondria.
Infrared Sauna Health Benefits
These are all the notable health benefits of an infrared sauna:
- Blood Pressure and Heart Health. Probably the most notable and most researched infrared sauna benefit is how it helps stabilize blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart failure.
- Detoxification. Sweating and increased circulation helps your body detoxify in general, getting rid of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic that are poisonous to the body. It’s been proven that mercury levels specific can be brought down with sauna therapy.
- Anti-Aging. As already discussed, saunas increase heat-shock proteins and antioxidant enzymes, as well as starting cellular cleanup. This helps our cells function like new, which also slows down aging and helps cognitive functions.
- Injury Healing. Saunas increase human-growth hormones and insulin, which helps injuries heal faster and better.
- Muscle Growth. Photobiomodulation in infrared sauna therapy causes inflammation to lessen, and that accelerates healing.
- Increases Mood. Saunas increase endorphins and opioids in the body, which increase your happiness and relieve any pain.
- Mental Health. Saunas also increase a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This helps your brain grow new cells and helps protect cells that are already there. Improved BDNF levels help brain function. If your BDNF levels are low, it can lead to psychiatric and mental diseases. It’s also natural that less stress leads to less mental health issues, so it’s important for that reason as well as it lowers cortisol.
- Cognitive Function. Infrared saunas improve the function of norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps improve cognitive function.
- Weight Loss. Sadly, direct exposure to infrared lights and heat can’t kill fatty cells or burn fat. But, saunas change the hormonal environment, which helps increase lean muscles and help insulin work more efficiently. Saunas also reduce inflammation, which helps with many different things, one of those being that it prevents diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity.
- Metabolic Diseases. In people of a healthy weight, sauna use can increase appetite. The study that yielded those results also showed that infrared sauna use coupled with a low-calorie diet is a great way to lose body fat.
- Inflammation Issues. Since saunas increase circulation in your body, it naturally reduces inflammation. Infrared saunas are especially good at decreasing inflammation because of the photobiomodulation. This process helps your blood levels, reduce oxidative stress, and help your mitochondria work more efficiently. There’s a growing number of inflammatory diseases that far-infrared exposure has been shown to help.
- Sleep. Similar to how a warm bath or shower at night can help you sleep better, saunas can also help improve your sleep quality. The drop in your body temperature at night is a huge reason that these warm water activities help you sleep better, but saunas raise your temperature so high that it takes hours to come back down. If you use a sauna in the afternoon, then you’ll be set to go by the time it’s time for sleep.
- Skin Health. Your body naturally eliminates heat by letting more blood flow to the skin. Your skin adjusts to this, and it makes it healthier in the process. Regular sauna users’ skin can hold moisture better and keep a healthier pH balance. This along with the absence of sebum from sauna use helps eliminate acne as well. Because of the way many skin diseases occur, the way that saunas help inflammation naturally helps skin diseases, like eczema. Photobiomodulation has been known to help many skin issues that require inflammation to lessen and your skin barrier to remain strong.
- Cellulite Reduction. This is a controversial benefit from infrared saunas that are still being researched today. The consensus found in studies shows that infrared exposure helps enhance other cellulite reduction treatments. Standing alone, the best way to get any results is by using a dry brush before both a sauna and shower.
Infrared Sauna Risks
Like most things that enable us to reach our fitness goals, there are advantages and disadvantages of using a sauna. Sure, infrared saunas are considered pretty safe for most people, but it’s still important to get approved by a medical professional before using any kind. Many different conditions can lead to overheating and other health issues from sauna use; don’t just assume that you are in the clear.
Although it isn’t the sun, you can still be burnt by the heat exposure from an infrared sauna. Avoid direct contact with the heating elements and don’t use the sauna for more than the recommended time frame. It’s also important to not use a sauna after (or during) any contact you have with alcohol.
If you’ve never used a sauna before, it’s a good idea to stay at a lower temperature for shorter periods of time, gradually increasing both as you continue going to the sauna. It’s important to pay attention to your body and make sure that you’re taking breaks or stopping use if you start feeling sick. Before and after your sauna you should be keeping yourself hydrated and doing something to replace the electrolytes you lost during your sauna session.
One of the most important things to remember when using a sauna is to stay hydrated, and not just the “I drank a glass of water, I’m fine” kind of hydrated. You’ll need to research if you haven’t already on how much you should be drinking per day for your body weight before thinking about getting into any sauna. This is extremely important as sweating so much can cause your body to become dehydrated extremely quickly.
The best prevention against any risks from saunas of any kind is to use common sense and pay attention to your body. You need to be able to examine yourself enough to know when it’s time to step out and take a break.
Common sense dictates that you should always let someone know when you’re using a sauna if you’re someone with any health issues, along with ensuring that it’s ok to use a sauna with your doctor. Getting a physical beforehand is a great idea as well so that you can make sure you’re in prime health. As scary as it sounds, health issues can often lie dormant, and you don’t want to find out that you have a problem while you’re straining your body in a sauna.
It’s hard to say whether or not saunas can be harmful to children in the womb, but it seems to be safe for both the child and woman. However, pregnancies are specific and are unique to each couple, so it’s important to double-check with your doctor before trying to use a sauna.
Where to Get the Benefits from Saunas
Saunas can get expensive really quickly, and they’re not always the best thing for everybody. However, the more research you do, the better of an idea you’ll have going into one. The health benefits of infrared saunas are enough to convince most people to try it out, but where’s the first place to start?
Many local gyms have saunas, but that’s not always the most economical choice for a lot of people. You can always buy the equipment for making your own sauna for your home, a choice that many others choose compared to looking at gym costs over a few years.
Two companies sell at-home saunas:
- Sunlight: A well-established brand that offers a variety of different saunas to pick from. They also sell one-person portable saunas and are much easier on the wallet than the traditional wooden models.
- Clearlight: Another well-known brand that offers many different saunas, including whole-room saunas.
How Often Should You Sit In a Sauna?
In many cultures, people use saunas daily, so for most people, it’s safe to use them daily. But how long you stay in a sauna depends on the model you are using.
Infrared saunas are easier to sit in since they feel much drier than traditional saunas do, making it a much more comfortable experience. Since you can stay in them for longer amounts of time, you’re getting more benefits from an infrared sauna. Most people work up to using an infrared sauna for 30-45 minutes for the best benefits.
Other Sauna Benefits
Most of the above benefits apply to all saunas, not just infrared saunas. However, saunas have different benefits that can be offered as well.
If you suffer from asthma or any other lung conditions, saunas are a great way to open your lungs up. Any sauna that features steam can help your lungs open and fill up to capacity easier, making your asthma more controllable in the future. Adding this to the already well-rounded list of benefits from saunas makes for a great health routine.
Globo Surf Overview
While the idea of an infrared sauna can be a bit scary to most people, it’s not as terrifying as it sounds. The health benefits are huge and impact many different parts of the body, and the risks are extremely minimal as long as you’re paying attention to your body and using common sense.
As such, the benefits of infrared saunas are wonderous, and if you think you can use a sauna in your life, be sure to go check your local gym!