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Infrared saunas are one of the most accessible and best home sauna options available on the market. Infrared bulbs radiate silent and odorless heat that does not produce any fumes or vapor, making it a dry heat ideal for at-home use. 

But if you’re interested in investing in the best muscle recovery tools, you’ll need to understand both the benefits and risks that come with infrared sauna sessions. And if you have concerns regarding infrared sauna dangers associated with radiation, we’ll cover that, too. Spoiler alert: Infrared bulbs radiate heat but do not put you at risk for actual radiation. 

Medical disclaimer: This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For health advice, contact a licensed healthcare provider.

What Is an Infrared Sauna?

Before we get into the potential health benefits and dangers of infrared sauna use, let’s first make sure you understand how an infrared sauna works and how it differs from other types of saunas. 

RELATED: Sauna Etiquette 

An infrared sauna is an enclosed space—typically a stand-alone structure—heated by special light bulbs that emit electromagnetic radiation wavelengths. These wavelengths emit infrared light which heats objects rather than heating the air. You might also like knowing infrared light therapy elevates your body temperature rather quickly because of this radiant heat emission. 

Because of this, infrared saunas don’t typically get as hot as traditional Finnish saunas with wood-fired or electric heating elements. Infrared saunas operate at lower temperatures and range from 120 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit while traditional high-temperature Finnish saunas can range from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. 

RELATED: Steam Room vs Sauna

Potential Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas offer many of the same benefits as traditional saunas plus some unique advantages. While it’s not realistic to expect a total detox or complete pain relief, here are some potential infrared sauna benefits

  • While not limited to just infrared saunas, dry sauna use increases your body temperature, which increases the blood flow to your skin1
  • Infrared saunas can penetrate heat deeper into muscle2, fat tissue, and neuromuscular systems under your skin, which may help recovery time and soreness after resistance training. 
  • Infrared sauna use could help improve symptoms of chronic fatigue3 including perceived fatigue, anxiety, depression, and overall mood. 
  • One study found evidence suggesting that infrared saunas improve heart health4 in folks with chronic heart failure as a non-pharmacological treatment. 
  • Researchers found that infrared sauna use could improve high blood pressure status5 in folks with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Potential Infrared Sauna Dangers 

Dry sauna heat provides improved blood flow, muscle recovery, and potential heart-healthy benefits similar to moderate exercise. However, if you’re someone with a heart condition, heart disease, or hypertension the risks may outweigh dry sauna benefits

While sauna bathing in general is a fairly safe activity, if you have a chronic medical condition, heart condition, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, or have had a heart attack you should avoid the sauna6

Photo featuring the inside of a large infrared sauna

Because sauna bathing increases your heart rate and can change your blood pressure (typically by reducing it) it’s not an ideal environment if you have a heart-related health condition. In 2018, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine7 published a systematic review highlighting both positive and negative side effects of infrared sauna use. Of the 40 studies reviewed, only eight reported adverse effects. Most of these negative side effects are reported as mild to moderate. 

One of the studies discussed was a Circulation Journal8  study published in 2016 found that low blood pressure and lightheadedness were reported during a study using infrared light therapy for managing chronic heart failure. Other symptoms reported in the systematic review included:

  • Heat discomfort 
  • Low blood pressure and lightheadedness 
  • Leg pain
  • Airway irritation
  • Claustrophobia

Other Infrared Sauna Side Effects

Consider that the potential benefits from infrared sauna bathing come with limited exposure. Most of the research done supporting overall health and well-being around regular sauna bathing is done in short bouts lasting 10 or 15 minutes followed by rest. 

RELATED: How Long Should You Stay in a Sauna? 

Spending lengthy periods of time in a sauna puts you at risk for heat stroke9, which is when your core temperature rises over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s life-threatening because it creates dysfunction in the nervous system and can cause delirium and even coma.

Dehydration is another possible risk factor in an infrared (or traditional) sauna. It’s important to hydrate before and after a sauna session and avoid alcohol. Consuming alcohol10 during sauna bathing increases the risk of low blood pressure (hypotension), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and sudden death. 

What About Infrared Radiation?

If you have trepidations about using an infrared sauna due to concerns about infrared radiation, let’s debunk this myth. There are different types of infrared wavelengths, each with its own capabilities. Saunas use far-infrared wavelengths. 

According to a study from 2012 in the Photonics and Lasers in Medicine11 journal, far-infrared radiation transfers energy purely in the form of heat. This energy can be sensed by the skin and as radiant heat. On the other side of the spectrum exists near-infrared wavelengths, which is used in spectroscopy and imaging technologies. 

RELATED: How to Use a Sauna

Infrared Sauna Dangers: Final Thoughts 

Infrared saunas present dangers and risks to folks with chronic health problems, namely heart and cardiovascular disease. However, anyone is at risk for heat stroke if too much time is spent inside of a sauna. Be sure to limit your time exposure to sauna therapy and drink plenty of water to lower risks of overheating. 

Infrared Sauna Dangers: FAQ

Are there any dangers to infrared saunas?

If you have chronic heart problems or cardiovascular disease you should talk to your doctor about using an infrared sauna before testing it out. 

Is there radiation risk in infrared saunas?

Infrared saunas use far-infrared radiation which transfers energy in the form of heat, which is perceived by human skin. It quite literally feels like radiant heat, hence the term infrared radiation. Near-infrared wavelengths are used in imaging technology and are different from far-infrared radiation

Is it OK to use an infrared sauna everyday?

While most healthy and heart-stable individuals should be able to do short bouts of infrared sauna every day, talk to your doctor about infrared sauna frequency. 

References

  1. Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD; Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc; and Setor Kunutsor, MD, PhD. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. August 2018.
  2. Mero A, Tornberg J, Mäntykoski M, Puurtinen R. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus. 2015;4:321. 2015 Jul 7. 
  3. Soejima Y, Munemoto T, Masuda A, Uwatoko Y, Miyata M, Tei C. Effects of Waon therapy on chronic fatigue syndrome: a pilot study. Intern Med. 2015.
  4. Kihara T, Miyata M, Fukudome T, et al. Waon therapy improves the prognosis of patients with chronic heart failure. J Cardiol. 2009. 
  5. Umehara M, Yamaguchi A, Itakura S, et al. Repeated waon therapy improves pulmonary hypertension during exercise in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. J Cardiol. 2008. 
  6. Kluger N. Sauna: bénéfices et risques cardiovasculaires [Sauna: cardiac and vascular benefits and risks]. Presse Med. 2011 Oct;40(10):895-9. French. doi: 10.1016/j.lpm.2011.02.010. Epub 2011 Mar 17. PMID: 21414742.
  7. Joy Hussain, Marc Cohen. Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2018. 
  8. Chuwa Tei, Teruhiko Imamura, Koichiro Kinugawa, Teruo Inoue, Tohru Masuyama, Hiroshi Inoue, Hirofumi Noike, Toshihiro Muramatsu, Yasuchika Takeishi, Keijiro Saku, Kazumasa Harada, Hiroyuki Daida, Youichi Kobayashi, Nobuhisa Hagiwara, Masatoshi Nagayama, Shinichi Momomura, Kazuya Yonezawa, Hiroshi Ito, Satoshi Gojo, Makoto Akaishi, Masaaki Miyata, Mitsuru Ohishi, WAON-CHF Study Investigators. Waon Therapy for Managing Chronic Heart Failure – Results From a Multicenter Prospective Randomized WAON-CHF Study. Circulation Journal, 2016, Volume 80, Issue 4, Pages 827-834, Released on J-STAGE March 25, 2016. 
  9. Zhuang Y, Dai LF, Diao RZ. Multiple organ dysfunction due to heatstroke after sauna: case report and review of the literature. JRSM Open. 2017. 
  10. Hannuksela ML, Ellahham S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. Am J Med. 2001 Feb 1. 
  11. Vatansever F, Hamblin MR. Far infrared radiation (FIR): its biological effects and medical applications. Photonics Lasers Med. 2012. 

Further reading

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Infrared saunas are one of the most accessible and best home sauna options available on the market. Infrared bulbs radiate silent and odorless heat that does not produce any fumes or vapor, making it a dry heat ideal for at-home use. But if you’re interested in investing in the best muscle recovery tools, you’ll need to understand both the benefits and risks that come with infrared sauna sessions.  » Read more about: Infrared Sauna Dangers: Benefits Outweigh Risks For Active Folks   » Read more