In the pursuit of optimal health and wellbeing, we all like trying the latest therapies and treatments that promise everything from healing and faster weight loss to smoother skin and whiter teeth. Saunas, acupuncture, cupping, oil pulling, kinesiology, herbal medicine – with so many ‘natural’ and ‘alternative’ remedies and practices around, it sure can get confusing. In today’s guest post, my friend Claire Yates shares her insights and review of an infrared sauna, which is a much talked about alternative therapy and wellness practice.
What is an Infrared Sauna?
An infrared sauna is a dry sauna, which means it does not need any moisture or steam to create heat and is usually comprised of a wooden ‘room’, which you go inside and sit. It uses infrared light that creates radiant heat, which is absorbed by the skin surface providing a deep, penetrating heat.
How does it work & how long does it take?
The infrared light creates a heat that is transferred to the skin surface and absorbed. This heats the body directly, rather than just warming the external air. Infrared heat is easily absorbed, it penetrates the joints, muscles and tissues and raises the core temperature. This absorbed heat causes sweating and increased heart rate – similar effects to what you might experience if you have done some moderate exercise.
A beginner’s session is around 10 minutes in duration, working up to a 30-minute session. A general session is about 30 minutes and can be done daily.
What are the perceived health benefits?
The infrared sauna is said to be a wonderful adjunct to anyone wanting to detox. The heat from the sauna causes an increase in blood flow and circulation. This causes waste products to be flushed out from such parts of the body such as the kidney and liver. Infrared sauna treatments are also said to:
- Aid weight loss through burning calories and increasing metabolism
- Rejuvenate skin and reduce premature ageing
- Aid detoxification through the largest organ – the skin
- Improve immune and respiratory systems
- Relieve pain and decrease inflammation
- Aid in the elimination of heavy metals from the body
- Many of these claims however are not substantiated by research and are only anecdotal.
Researched benefits of infrared sauce practice
Some of the benefits that have been researched include:
- Sort-term improvement in pain and stiffness associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis
- Bi-weekly saunas have shown a mild reduction in blood pressure
- A study conducted over a 4 week period, showed a reduction in chronic pain (in conjunction with cognitive behavioural therapy, exercise therapy and rehabilitation)
- A small study showed, when compared to the control, patients who had depression and participated in 20 sauna sessions over a 4-week period had “statistically significant improvements in somatic complaints, hunger, and ability to relax” (Crinnion, Alternative Medicine Review)
- Saunas are traditionally used as part of many detox protocols, including for reducing heavy metals. There is evidence that some heavy metals are excreted through sweat, but according to Crinnion “there is currently no definitive evidence for increased elimination of heavy metals or other impurities in sweat during a sauna”. Although a system review conducted by Sears et al concluded that “Mercury levels normalized with repeated saunas in a case report. Sweating deserves consideration for toxic element detoxification. Research including appropriately sized trials is needed to establish safe, effective therapeutic protocols.” (2012)
Benefits to other similar treatments/products?
The infrared sauna uses lower temperatures and does not heat up the air as traditional steam saunas do, therefore there is lower humidity and lower air temperature in the sauna room, making it more comfortable to stay in the room and breath, yet you are still ‘heating’ up and sweating. The typical temperature of an infrared sauna can be anywhere between 34°C/93°F to 65 °C/150°F with humidity of 20%, while a steam sauna can range from 48°C/120°F to 82°C/180°F with humidity levels of up to 65%.
Any negatives or dangers?
- Overheating and dehydration is always a concern and should be managed by the individual. You should remain well hydrated before, during and after and keep up your electrolytes. If you are feeling unwell at all during the session, leave the room immediately.
- Individuals who have had a stroke, aortic stenosis, heart attack or have lupus erythematosus or brain tumours should avoid using a sauna.
- We would always recommend you check with your doctor before using an infrared sauna, and especially if you have a pacemaker, multiply sclerosis, diabetes, implants or suffer from serving anxiety.
How often do you need to go/use?
It is recommended that you go daily if you like, although twice per week will show benefits.
What is the cost & is it worth it?
Prices can vary between $25-$50 per half-hour session (in Australia). I do not see the cost as being something the average person could sustain for daily use! Once per week or even once every two weeks might be acceptable. I see it as being quite expensive for something just to ‘maintain’ good health. You would be happier to part with the money if it was a part of a detox program or you were trying to manage chronic pain or some other health issue.
Do you need to take anything with you?
Most clinics that have an infrared sauna will provide you with everything you need (eg. towels, drinking water, magazines and some will also have a shower). You can take your own towel or perhaps your own electrolyte drink. Wear easy fitting clothes so it is easy to get dressed after your session.
Your personal experience and verdict – would you continue utilising it?
I love the heat – so I must admit, I was always going to like being in a sauna ☺ It is a nice, dry heat that kind of sneaks up on you. Because there is no steam, you are not wet until the sweat starts dripping off you, and that takes a little while. Once you have warmed up, your body can feel quite an intense heat – even though the air in the sauna is still comfortable to breathe in and not too hot like a traditional steam sauna. I can find it quite difficult to relax, so to sit there by myself for 30 minutes in a sauna was challenging ☺
I have to be honest, by the 15-minute mark, I kept looking at the clock! I had water with me so I just kept hydrating, but you can take a magazine or book to read in there (bonus of it not being a steam sauna!). There was nice, relaxing music and by my second visit, I was learning to relax a little better. The infrared sauna I went to had the additional benefit of ‘colour therapy’ where, if you wanted, you could choose a light colour for the duration of your stay in the sauna. Colour therapy is meant to help assist or influence your sense of wellbeing, mood and emotion. I chose green which is said to ‘bring peace, rest, hope, comfort and nurturing, calmness and harmony’. I can’t say I felt any additional benefit from the colour therapy, but you never know.
After I finished my first sauna session I felt a little light-headed and a few hours after I felt very tired, like I had completed a rather big workout! I slept really well that night. I did another two sauna sessions after that – every second day and I did not feel as tired after these sessions as I did after the first. I would have to say that overall, I felt as though my skin was great after the sessions, nice and smooth and soft. I felt good and as though the ‘sweat’ was beneficial. I had a sense of ‘wellbeing’ after every session. Another thing I did notice was that some muscle pain I had after exercise seemed a little less after the sauna sessions.
Infrared sauna sessions are something I would consider keeping up with, although I would maybe just go once per week or even every second week, as I could not justify the price to go two or three times per week. However, I could see the benefit in more regular sessions, if you had a particular health condition or a program you were working on for a specific period of time.
So, have you tried an infrared sauna? We would love to hear your thoughts!