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Jan 26, 2022
5 min read

3 science-backed benefits of infrared saunas

An infrared sauna is a type of heat therapy that uses infrared light to heat your body. It can provide the same relaxing benefits as traditional saunas, but at a lower temperature. A traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air, but an infrared sauna heats your body directly without warming the air around you. Some research suggests Infrared saunas help alleviate symptoms of chronic heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, and fatigue.

felix gussone

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD

Written by Ethan Miller

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Imagine stepping into a sauna that doesn’t feel hot. You’re expecting a 150°F wave of dry heat, but instead the air inside feels less like an oven and more like a summer breeze. 

As opposed to traditional saunas, which use a heating element, infrared saunas use light to give you the relaxing benefits without all the hot air. Some claim a visit to the infrared sauna improves blood flow, promotes relaxation, and even alleviates muscle aches. Here are the benefits of infrared saunas.

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What is an infrared sauna? 

An infrared sauna uses electromagnetic radiation to heat your body directly. If that sounds scary, it shouldn’t. Electromagnetic radiation is just light. The colors of the rainbow are the visible part of the spectrum while things like ultraviolet light and infrared light fall along the fringe. From ultraviolet onwards, the radiation can be dangerous (like the components of sunlight that can cause skin damage), but the infrared range seems to be safe.

In fact, it can make the experience of sauna bathing more pleasant. Instead of sweating it out in an unbearably hot chamber, heat goes directly into your body; this keeps the air temperature much lower while still raising your core body temperature. It also allows you to stay in the sauna for longer where you can reap more of the relaxing benefits (Vatansever 2012). 

Note this technique is not the same as red light therapy, which utilizes wavelengths visible to the human eye.

Health benefits of infrared sauna therapy 

There are a lot of claims about the health benefits of infrared saunas. Some of these––including weight loss and less cellulite––are not supported by solid science. 

That said, there are some benefits backed by research we’ll take a look at below. Let’s keep in mind that scientific studies investigating sauna use are often small in scale, but they can give us an idea of how warming up the body might lead to health benefits. If you’re trying to treat any health conditions, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan that goes beyond just sauna or infrared therapy. 

1. Alleviates aches and pains

Heat therapy has been around for centuries. It’s a great way to relieve muscle tension, combat chronic pain, and promote an improved sense of overall health. 

One study found that spending time in an infrared sauna after strength and endurance training helps with pain relief and reduces muscle soreness. People with rheumatoid arthritis experienced short-term relief from pain, fatigue, and stiffness during four weeks of regular use (Mero 2015; Oosterveld 2009). 

2. Helps improves heart health

Infrared saunas might be helpful in treating heart-related conditions. Studies have shown that “Waon therapy” (soothing warm therapy) sessions can reduce cardiac events in people suffering from chronic heart failure. ​​In one study from Japan, participants spent 15 minutes in a 140 degree Fahrenheit infrared dry sauna, and were then bundled in blankets to keep warm while resting for 30 minutes. 

After five years of follow-up, heart failure or death occurred in about 70 % of people who didn’t receive Waon session, but only 30% of the Waon therapy group. One theory is that the warmth in the infrared sauna helps blood vessels to relax, facilitating the flow of blood from the heart to other organs (Kihara 2009; Tei 2016). 

3. Reduces fatigue

If you’ve been feeling more tired than usual and rest just doesn’t seem to help, try spending some time in an infrared sauna. A small study suggests that this type of therapy reduces perceived fatigue and negative mood in people living with chronic fatigue syndrome (Soejima 2015).

How to use an infrared sauna

If it’s your first time trying an infrared sauna, here are some helpful tips to guide you: 

  • Time: The studies above involved 15 minute stints in the sauna followed by 30 minutes under a blanket (also referred to as Waon therapy), but you may be able to handle more. Think of spending time in an infrared sauna as a form of exercise. Your heart rate is increasing along with blood circulation, causing you to sweat. Time-wise, start with shorter periods and work your way up once you get used to the heat. 
  • Temperature: One benefit of an infrared sauna compared to a traditional one is it allows you to reap the same relaxing benefits at a lower temperature. Infrared saunas typically range from 100–150 degrees Fahrenheit. A bonus is the temperature is under your control. Start on the lower end for your first session, and then try increasing it as you become more familiar with the feeling. 
  • What to wear: Wear as little clothing as possible. You’ll be sweating, and anything you wear into the sauna will get soaked. This also prevents sweat from evaporating and naturally cooling the skin. Don’t forget to bring a towel, too!

Are there side effects or risks?

The dangers of using an infrared sauna are similar to regular saunas, as both types of saunas increase your body temperature significantly. However, the risk of negative effects such as dehydration and overheating is reduced in infrared saunas due to the lower ambient air temperature (Hannuksela 2001).

Who should use infrared saunas

Whether you’re looking to ease joint pain, relax, or tackle other health issues, infrared saunas could be helpful. Much like a traditional sauna, the risks are minimal. But that doesn’t mean infrared sauna bathing is for everyone, and certain people should exercise caution when using any type of sauna. 

If you have medical conditions that could be exacerbated by heat (such as high blood pressure), take medications for chronic illesses, or are pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider before heating up. Never enter a sauna if you’ve been drinking alcohol or taking other drugs (Hannuksela 2001). 

References

  1. Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S. (2001). Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American Journal of Medicine, 110(2), 118–126. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(00)00671-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11165553/
  2. Kihara, T., Miyata, M., Fukudome, T., Ikeda, Y., Shinsato, T., Kubozono, T., & Tei, C. (2009). Waon therapy improves the prognosis of patients with chronic heart failure. Journal of Cardiology, 53(2), 214–218. doi: 10.1016/j.jjcc.2008.11.005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19304125/
  3. Mero, A., Tornberg, J., Mäntykoski, M., & Puurtinen, R. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. SpringerPlus, 4, 321. doi: 10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5.
    Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26180741/
  4. Oosterveld, F. G. (2009). Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. A pilot study showing good tolerance, short-term improvement of pain and stiffness, and a trend towards long-term beneficial effects. Clinical Rheumatology, 28(1), 29–34. doi: 10.1007/s10067-008-0977-y. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18685882/
  5. Sears, M. E., Kerr, K. J., & Bray, R. I. (2012). Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. doi: 10.1155/2012/184745. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22505948/
  6. Soejima, Y., Munemoto, T., Masuda, A., Uwatoko, Y., Miyata, M., & Tei, C. (2015). Effects of Waon therapy on chronic fatigue syndrome: a pilot study. Internal Medicine, 54(3), 333–338. doi: 10.2169/internalmedicine.54.3042.
    Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25748743/
  7. Tei, C. (2016). Waon Therapy for Managing Chronic Heart Failure–Results From a Multicenter Prospective Randomized WAON-CHF Study. Japanese Circulation Society, 80(4), 827–834. doi: 10.1253/circj.CJ-16-0051.
    Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27001189/
  8. Vatansever, F. & Hamblin, M. R. (2012). Far infrared radiation (FIR): its biological effects and medical applications. Photonics & Lasers in Medicine, 4, 255–266. doi: 10.1515/plm-2012-0034. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23833705/