While sauna therapy is nothing new, infrared saunas have become somewhat of a spa trend.
As The Atlantic reports, infrared sauna therapy started in California before making its way to the East Coast. It has received recognition from celebrity health enthusiasts including Gwyneth Paltrow and Dr. Oz, and garnered attention in a range of popular publications.
So, what is an infrared sauna? And are the benefits all they’re hyped up to be? Here’s what you need to know about this lower-temperature take on the traditional sauna.
What Is an Infrared Sauna?
According to a Cleveland Clinic article comparing infrared sauna and dry sauna experiences, this newer infrared practice uses infrared lamps and electromagnetism to offer heat-therapy benefits without the high temperature you’d experience in a traditional sauna. While traditional saunas raise the overall air temperature to as high as 195 degrees Fahrenheit, infrared saunas typically top out around 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is a more comfortable experience with similar health benefits.
Are There Benefits to Infrared Sauna Therapy?
Infrared sauna benefits vary widely, but just about everyone can find some value in a sauna session. Cleveland Clinic notes that infrared sauna benefits can include:
- Improved heart health: The higher temperature causes a reaction in your body, similar to your body’s reaction to exercise. Your heart rate increases, your blood flow quickens, and you sweat. The result: increased heart health and reduced blood pressure.
- Pain relief: Studies have found that infrared sauna treatments can help with both chronic pain and exercise-related pain.
- Reduced stress: Just like a warm bath might soothe you after a stressful day, sweating out your stress in an infrared sauna can also help you to relax. Sauna usage is linked to decreased depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as better sleep.
- Enhanced immunity: And, of course, with reduced stress and better sleep comes improved immunity—and we’re not just talking immunity against the common cold. Sauna usage also helps individuals to reduce oxidative stress, which can contribute to more serious issues, such as dementia and cancer.
Are There Downsides to Infrared Saunas?
There are some limits to infrared saunas.
As both Cleveland Clinic and The Atlantic state, an infrared sauna session will not work as a “detox.” While some health practitioners (often the spas selling the treatment) often make claims otherwise, most healthcare providers report that infrared saunas cannot detox your body of heavy metals, radiation, and environmental pollutants. Still, even if you’re not getting a full detox every time you step into an infrared sauna, that hardly means you’re not getting some benefits from the experience.
Additionally, Mayo Clinic notes that researchers need to conduct further studies to verify whether infrared sauna usage can prove beneficial in treating larger, long-lasting health conditions, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart failure, and chronic headaches.
The main takeaway? Don’t expect an infrared sauna to cure all that ails you and don’t expect infrared sauna treatments to be a stand-in for overall good health practices (such as following a healthy diet, monitoring your stress levels, and exercising regularly). For pain relief, stress relief, and improved immunity, however, infrared sauna treatments can be helpful.
Tips for Trying the Infrared Sauna Experience
So, if you decide that the infrared sauna experience is something you want to try, what do you need to do first?
First, check with your healthcare provider to determine if this wellness treatment is right for you. As with any new wellness routine, your provider will be able to determine whether treatment or routine is ideal for you, based on your unique health concerns.
Next, be sure to hydrate (ahead of time, during, and after the treatment) to make up for all that sweat you’re going to lose. You might also want to choose a beverage with added electrolytes. Additionally, on the day before your session, you should consider avoiding activities that might dehydrate you, such as drinking alcohol.
For your first few sessions, start low and slow, with a low-temperature setting and a short 10-minute session.
Is the Infrared Sauna Experience Right for You?
No matter what precautions you take, infrared saunas might not be the right health trend for some people. According to Healthline, you should avoid infrared saunas if you:
- Are pregnant
- May have a negative experience with the trend based on your age (mainly children and older adults)
- Are at risk of overheating or becoming dehydrated
- Have a chronic health condition (unless cleared by your doctor)
Additionally, Healthline cautions you to watch out for negative side effects you may experience in the sauna, including discomfort, low blood pressure, light-headedness, and airway irritation.
The Bottom Line
Infrared sauna usage is trendy and, as with every wellness trend, some practitioners have made unsubstantiated claims about its benefits. However, that doesn’t mean infrared saunas are harmful or that they have no benefits at all. In fact, these lower-temp saunas can improve your overall wellbeing by reducing stress and enhancing your sleep.
Just don’t rely on infrared saunas (or any other trendy wellness activity) to support and improve your health alone. Remember that diet, exercise, and mental health care are equally critical.
Looking to create healthier habits? An Arootah coach can support you in making positive changes by identifying your challenges and helping you address them through self-accountability.