At first glance through the glass, it’s nothing special. Wooden benches and soft red light. You grasp the handle of the wooden doorframe, pull it towards you and step inside. At first breath, warm, thick, velvety air fills your lungs, and the smell of nutty cedar wood fills your nostrils. The warmth quickly envelopes you, and though the red light isn’t hot, somehow your skin flushes under its gaze. You relax on one of the slatted benches lining the small room, breathe deep, and allow your stressors to melt away. Let the infrared sauna work its magic. We are presenting you Infrared Sauna Benefits.

Hot Commodity with a Long and Steamy Past

Infrared Saunas are the new kid on the block when it comes to heat and sweat therapy. The tradition of gathering for a sauna dates back thousands of years, originating with the Norse people of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The benefits of heat can be seen in the use of “hot air baths” and sweat lodges documented in history by diverse groups of people from Native Americans, to Eastern Europeans, all the way to the doctors of Ancient Chinese Medicine.

The original saunas were used by Finnish folk- rich and poor alike- to gather as a community and experience the togetherness of a cleansing group sweat. The healing and detoxifying advantages of relaxing in a heat filled room gained more traction and eventually came to be used as a place for spirituality and purification. Ceremonies, rituals, and even births were held in the warmth of the sauna.

The Present Day Sauna Ritual

Chances are you’ve probably heard of the Instagram heroes and Hollywood celebrities sweating it out, but do you know the endless history-backed rewards of stepping off the street and into the heat? We’re here to give you the lowdown on how to make your sauna experience the safest and most advantages habit yet.

Dry Heat, Steam, and Infrared

The traditional saunas we often see on TV and in our local gym are usually dry heat or steam saunas. Towel-clad elderly, or rippled athletes sitting in a wet and dripping room filled with thick, eucalyptus-scented steam…you get the picture. What we’re discussing today is the newbie to the health world, the infrared sauna.

Infra-what?

The infrared sauna made its debut a little over a hundred years ago when the “electric Light Bath” was introduced at the World’s Fair. It was even rumored to have been used by German doctors to cure gout! The infrared lamps give off incandescent light with infrared rays that can penetrate the skin and raise the body temperature, without heating the air around it. At the time, it wasn’t proven to be healing without any damaging side effects, but another 80 years of research has us using these supposed miracle boxes with many pleasing results. 

The infrared saunas differ from dry heat or steam precisely because of this infrared light. Unlike standard saunas, the air inside the sauna is not warmed with an electric or wood heater, but instead, this light absorbs into your skin. This causes your body to heat up from the inside, making you ferociously sweat, but not in the discomfort of super high heat. Many people find infrared saunas easier and more comfortable to use because the surrounding air is kept at a less intense temperature than traditional saunas but still, gives you all the fantastic health benefits.

How to Use The Heat to Your Advantage

Now that we know the basics of the infrared sauna and how it came to be let’s talk about how to use this today. Research is still being conducted on this kind of heat therapy, but so far, no disadvantages have been reported for able-bodied individuals.  Here are some of the incredible infrared sauna benefits and their positive effects:

infrared sauna benefits infographic

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Detoxification

Why did the humans of ancient civilization carry the practice of taking a sauna into the present day? Detoxification! This was the original use of the hot health habit and we still see this proven true today.

The infrared sauna is considered by many to be more adept at detoxing the body than the regular sauna due to the penetrating properties of the infrared light. Sweating is one of the body’s natural ways of pushing toxins out and purifying itself from the inside.  We all know the feeling of stepping out into a hot and humid day only to be quickly drenched sweat. The body uses water from the immediate dermal layers of the skin to try and cool itself off. The same thing happens upon entering a high-temperature traditional sauna.

Unlike the well known dry heat or steam saunas, which warm the air around you, the infrared sauna uses the penetrating light to raise your body’s core temperature from the inside. Infrared heat penetrated more deeply than warmed air, so the warming sensation begins- and is felt- below the skin instead of on top of it. The light is believed to penetrate so far into the cells and organs of the body that the sweat produced is filled with a higher level of toxins, harmful metabolites, chemicals, and solvents.

There are many sources citing that over 800 firefighters and police officers affected by the toxins emitted during September 11, 2001, were able to detox their bodies by using infrared sauna therapy successfully.

What a treatment huh? Who doesn’t want to be rid of environmental toxins and chemicals all while relaxing in a warm— but not stifling— sauna?

Relaxation

Heat therapy has been used for thousands of years to reach spiritual levels of relaxation and meditation. This still rings true today as saunas are recommended as an excellent way to fight stress. Not only does the quiet ritual of sauna meditation promote relaxation, but the drop in cortisol (the stress hormone) after a sauna session is hard to dispute.

Infrared saunas are particularly good at promoting relaxation, precisely because of the light. This infrared light is similar to the sun’s natural light but does not have any of the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays— the rays that can encourage skin cancer. Have you ever spent an entire day in a windowless office and found yourself lethargic and negative? Then you go for a walk, turn your face to the sun, and feel a little lighter and more positive? These are the same symptoms associated with seasonal depression disorder. Letting the rays of the sun penetrate your skin for a moment helps your body release serotonin (the feel-good chemical) promoting relaxation…similar to a day at the beach! The infrared sauna is thought to have a parasympathetic healing effect, meaning it helps the body handle daily stressors better. All of this encourages your body to recuperate more efficiently because it is receiving adequate rest and relaxation.

Not only does it promote relaxation on a hormonal level, but the infrared sauna also reduces stress by encouraging muscle relaxation. Many people find a regular or steam sauna to be too tricky to handle. This is because the body is overwhelmed by high heat and merciless humidity. The infrared sauna, on the other hand, uses light to penetrate the muscles on a deeper level, but still keeping you comfortable. Your muscles use that energy to create their heat (equalling sweat) where they can then relax naturally. This kind of muscle relaxation is on par with that of a hot bath, but with more full-body and long-term benefits.

Pain Relief

As you’ve probably realized, infrared heat is a pretty powerful thing. But it doesn’t just stop at stress reduction and detoxification. It is also known as a powerful treatment for those suffering from pain due to arthritis, soreness, muscle spasms and chronic pain.

Studies show that patients who suffer from chronic pain and have been prescribed infrared sauna therapy (IRS) have had increasingly less pain, and were also significantly more likely to return to work than those who did not receive IRS sessions.

Imagine that a few sessions of relaxing in an infrared sauna could reduce pain in the long run! There are many studies to support the use of these saunas to treat chronic issues associated with pain and discomfort.  It probably doesn’t hurt that they also reduce mental and physical stress.

Heart Function

One of the most exciting things about the benefits of infrared saunas is that their use has helped in the treatment of people who suffer from heart conditions.

Due to the penetrating energy of infrared light, the resulting heat promotes the arteries in the body to expand and ultimately encourage full-body circulation. That is why you’ll notice your skin flush when the light hits it, but not to worry. This kind of light is not the kind that will burn or harm you. The rosiness of your skin will disappear about 1-2 hours after you finish your session.

Using an infrared sauna raises the core temperature of the body which forces the heart to work just a little harder. This increased heart function causes sweating, increased heart rate, and an increased cardiac output. This cardiac demand is similar to that achieved by going for a moderately paced walk!

Here’s what happens to your body in an infrared sauna:

What does this mean for you?

Though it might not equal the effort level of going to the gym, this kind of cardiac expenditure can be extremely helpful for those people who are otherwise immobile. This is an excellent addition to people who cannot get their heart rate up because of obesity or pain. Any health habit that can promote circulation and ultimately lower blood pressure is a fantastic addition to your weekly routine.

Skin Improvement

Ahhh what every person of any age wants to hear. How to clear up acne, skin rashes, wrinkles, and cellulite.  These studies are not fully backed up, but frequent users of infrared saunas are publicizing their skin improvements after starting this sweaty practice.

It is no surprise that sunlight can help improve signs of acne as well as plenty of other skin conditions like psoriasis. As was mentioned before, your body detoxes itself by releasing toxins through your skin, often in the form of sweat. Other times, your pores will get clogged producing acne or single pimples, as well as skin rashes like eczema and keratosis pilaris (tiny bumps on the backs of arms).

The reasoning behind this skin improvement is thought that by utilizing a more efficient method of detoxing your body, your skin will have fewer toxins to hold on to. WIthout all those toxins to get rid of, you’ll end up having fewer flare-ups.

Bonus perk besides making your skin clean and clear?

Reduction of wrinkles! Though there is not documented studies about this, many religious infrared sauna users rave about their skin looking younger and more refreshed. Why is this? Remember how infrared heat permeates the skin and raises your core temperature, promoting dilated veins and arteries and causing better circulation? This fantastic side effect encourages collagen production and cell turnover of the skin on the face.

Many frequenters of infrared saunas report their skin looks smoother, more supple, with better tone and fewer lines than before they started treating themselves to the sauna.

One last benefit your skin could receive from the infrared sauna is faster healing of wounds. Again, you have better circulation and blood flow to thank for that. Of course, it isn’t recommended to subject yourself to the sauna if you’re critically injured, but for those minor scrapes and cuts, you could see faster healing all while receiving many other benefits from this seemingly magical health ritual.

Weight Loss

Now, this particular topic has many people torn.

The infrared sauna is known to increase your heart rate and promote blood flow. The effects on your heart are similar to those achieved by going for a moderately paced walk. Does this mean that stepping into the infrared sauna will suddenly turn you into a Baywatch babe?

Not necessarily

If you were to step on the scale before and after your session, you would probably see a drop in weight, but that is due to a large amount of water released from your body while you sweat. With proper hydration after a trip to the infrared sauna (more on that later), you will most likely gain it all back.

That being said, for those persons who cannot perform a physical activity because of obesity or other mobility health issues, this could help them to get their heart rate up, be healthier, and possibly lose a little bit of weight in the process.

Don’t Sweat It: How to Make Your Sauna Experience Safe and Healthy

There are many ways to incorporate heat therapy through infrared sauna usage into your health routine, but what are some of the things to remember? Here are some of the precautions as well as some things to remember to make sure you stay healthy and don’t end up in the “red” zone.

Precautions to Take When Using the Infrared Sauna

Remember, every step towards your best possible self-has some possible dangers, especially if you don’t do your research and take it slowly.  Some of the issues regarding stepping into the heat are:

Overheating

Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke. Anybody—including those who are physically fit and otherwise healthy— can be the victim of heat stroke. If you’re subjecting yourself to higher heat for a prolonged period, there is the possibility that your body could overheat. Some symptoms to remember if you think you might be experiencing heat exhaustion are confusion, dizziness, rapid heart palpitations, nausea, and fainting. This list could also include sweating, but as you’ll be in a sauna, you should not panic if sweat is your only symptom. If you experience any of these, your best option is to exit the sauna (without standing up too fast or moving too quickly) and get yourself into a refreshing shower.

Dehydration 

This goes hand and hand with immense sweating and eventual overheating. You are more likely to experience heat exhaustion or stroke if you are already dehydrated. If you intend on adding infrared sauna usage to your schedule, make sure you increase your water intake throughout the day (before, during and after) to escape the possibility of becoming dehydrated.

It is recommended to bring water into the sauna with you and try to sip about 1/2 cup for every 15 to 20 minutes you’re in the sauna. That being said it is also recommended that you begin your sauna sessions at 10-15 minutes, and slowly increase your sessions over time to as long as 30-40 minutes. If you cannot withstand the heat for that long, that is OK! Stay in tune with your body and leave the sauna when you feel you’ve had enough.

Pre-existing Medical Conditions 

If you have recently experienced medical issues including stroke, heart attack or brain tumors, it is best to avoid the sauna. The high heat can sometimes make it difficult for those individuals unless they have supervision from a doctor.

If you have a pacemaker, other metal implants, diabetes, hemophilia or even silicone implant (such as breast) make sure to consult a doctor before adding infrared sauna therapy to your health routine.

Previous Use of Drugs 

If you are a person who has used drugs—psychedelic or otherwise—in the past, be warned that exposure to detox-promoting infrared saunas could encourage those past drug residues to be released from stored tissue and back into the bloodstream. This kind of warning is issued for any sweat detoxification, including Bikram yoga! It is not guaranteed that this release of past drugs will happen, but it is something to be mindful of before you go full-speed-ahead into the sauna.

One article mentioned that officers who are exposed to chemical explosions (resulting in them unwillingly inhaling drugs or chemicals) sometimes enroll in sweat detoxification programs. These programs use saunas to help the officers sweat the chemical out of their systems, but sometimes induces a “trip” from whatever drug they inhaled. This kind of detoxification can happen to you as well if you have recently ingested any substances.

Heat-Triggered Skin Conditions

Yes, the sauna can encourage some fantastic changes in the skin, unless you have a skin condition that is worsened by heat. Some people who suffer from rosacea and eczema have experienced deterioration in the condition, but some people also have experienced improvements. If you are worried that you might be one of the few who has a skin condition that will worsen, follow the recommendations and begin your sessions a few minutes at a time. If you notice your skin changing, or becoming more irritated, discontinue use. Sometimes your skin must get worse before it gets better (all those toxins have to come out through the pores of your skin!), but use your best judgment. You know your skin better than anyone else.

The main danger of using the infrared sauna is going too far, too soon. Most healthy individuals who experience heat exhaustion or symptoms of dehydration exposed themselves to too much time in the sauna. Be aware of your body, monitor your progress and most importantly, take it a little bit at a time.

Incorporate Infrared Saunas into Your Health Routine

Now that you know the many benefits of infrared sauna sessions, you can try it for yourself! There are a few things to be wary of, but at this time, no studies are showing longterm disadvantages to adding this history-rooted ritual to your week. Having said that, no serious side effect should be there in case of using the sauna correctly.  Whether you try it at a spa, or you invest in an at-home option, the infrared sauna can be a fantastic addition to help you feel your absolute best. Be mindful of your body and your individual needs, and remember: if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the sauna.