Why get a sauna?
Remember the last time you visited a health spa: you felt amazing right?
So how about getting a sauna for inside your home - a home sauna. In that case you'd feel amazing every single night. You'd also sleep better, feel better, and simply do better.
But isn't that a bit far fetched?
Not at all.
Let me give you a simple analogy: you may own a pair of kettlebells at home to get some quick daily exercise in. A few rounds of exercise and you're wiped out - without having to travel to the gym.
Quick home workouts exemplify the 80-20 principle perfectly: 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of the results.
Workout out for 2 or 3 hours won't double or triple your results compared to that quick 15-minute kettlebell session.
Home saunas accord to same principle, allowing you to get a great sweat on almost a daily basis. You won't even have to leave the house. Spend 30 minutes in an infrared sauna, and you're reborn.
And you know what?
The complete list of benefits of both traditional and infrared saunas is hard to fathom.
These benefits range from possibly slowing down aging, making your skin more supple, improving heart health, boosting gym performance, and last but not least: removing toxins from your body.
Whether you're a gulf war veteran exposed to many toxins, a soccer mom who is fond of cosmetics, a 19 year old teenager, or a grandfather who wants to stay healthy, an (infrared) sauna will benefit everyone.
Let me explain.
I'll go through all the previous examples:
As you can see, literally everyone benefits from sauna use.
And you know what?
In the last decade or so, hundreds of new sauna models have entered the international market.
Note - this article covers the what, how and why behind Infrared Saunas. If you are looking to buy an Infrared Sauna I recommend entering your email below for my Infrared Sauna Buyers guide and or skipping to the bottom of this article.
Looking to take your sauna sessions to the next level? Download my 10 practical infrared sauna laws infographic and receive my sauna buyers guide via email:
Some options are great, some terrible - and the options are endless.
You may think: "what should I buy then?" Stay tuned to find the answer.
A Hansel and Gretel Fairy tale sauna?
Literally thousands of infrared products are offered on the market today, and millions of people buying infrared light products to use at home. I've therefore decided to review the highest quality products sold, and look at the science behind all of infrared sauna benefits.
Native Americans and Australian aboriginals used sweat lodges to increase their toughness to build mental strength.
The East also has a tradition of heating the body, ranging from Turkey all the way to Japan and Korea.
Of course, it's hard to forget the leader in modern sauna use: Finland.
Finland contains more saunas than any other location on this planet, and many Fins have a habit of daily sauna use. For that reason many of the highest quality studies on saunas that i'm using in this blog post are sourced there.
But before you start fantasizing about the ultimate sauna, let's first explore what an infrared light actually is, and how such saunas work.
In the next section I'll first explore how infrared light is actually affecting your body.
Let me first explain what infrared saunas actually do. These saunas use one part of the light frequencies that are emitted by the sun. That light spectrum part is called infrared (IR) light.
In addition to IR light, the sunlight reaching the earth's atmosphere also contains ultraviolet and visible light. Ultraviolet light is what can give you sunburns. Visible light can be seen by your eyes and consists of all the colors of the rainbow.
Physiologically, infrared light has many effects on your body, such as heating your skin, affecting the water in your body, and even directly reaches your cells. Through that mechanism, IR light improves energy creation in what are called "mitochondria".
Mitochondria are the energy producing factories of your cells.
Let's explore infrared light a bit further:
Three different types of infrared light exist: near infrared (NIR), mid infrared (MIR) and far infrared (FIR)
NIR penetrates up to several inches, while MIR and FIR enter less deep.
All three types of infrared light also have their own unique benefits. The illustration below showcases these different types of light:
To be clear, infrared (IR) saunas specifically focus on this part of the light spectrum:
Now, you may think: "exactly how do IR saunas work?"
Just as traditional saunas, infrared light also heat your body--albeit in a different way. Traditional saunas heat the air, and therefore warm your body from the outside in. Infrared light penetrates into your body, and therefore heats you from the inside out.
Both types of saunas create a mild heat stress, which makes you feel amazing after a session. Using an infrared sauna is thus a bit like exercise: your heart rate increases, you'll sweat like crazy, and afterwards you'll feel the bliss.
Infrared sauna benefits extend much further than just feeling good.
I've got an entire article covering the benefits of IR saunas which you can read here - 20 Incredible Infrared Sauna Health Benefits.
Below I have listed some of the most powerful benefits:
You'll upgrade your brainpower, slow down the aging clock, have a natural means to deal with pain, get smooth(er) skin, remove decades of toxins from your body (over time), improve energy levels, boost heart health, and much more...
Let's consider three infrared sauna benefits in quick detail:
So you're not just feeling good, you're doing good. My other blog post explains 17 additional benefits in more detail.
As often is the case, I'll first explore the light spectrum with you.
View an illustration of the light spectrum below:
Observe that the light spectrum is made up of 1) ultraviolet light (UV); 2) visible light; 3) infrared light (IR).
Let's consider the difference between these different forms of light: UV light can give you a sunburn, and visible light consists of all the colors of the rainbow. Infrared light is what makes sunlight feel hot if you're standing outside.
Both UV and IR light are invisible to the human eye.
This blog post exclusively concerns itself with infrared light. I've treated the topic of ultraviolet and visible light in many previous blog posts, such as:
Also observe in the previous illustration that infrared light can be divided into three subcategories: "near infrared light" (NIR), "mid-infrared light" (MIR), and "far infrared light" (FIR).
All three parts of that light spectrum are important to the topic of infrared saunas.
Observe that the infrared part of the light spectrum is by far the biggest in size, when measured by wavelength range.
Wavelengths are measured in nanometers, which denotes a billionth of a meter.
NIR is located between 780 and 5,000 nanometers, while MIR is found between the 5,000 and circa ~25,000-40,000 nanometer wavelengths. FIR, lastly, is located from ~25,000 - 40,000 to 1,000,000 wavelengths.
So overall, infrared light takes up a huge part of the light spectrum, ranging from 780 all the way up to 1,000,000 nanometer wavelengths.
(Different classification systems for infrared wavelengths exist.[1-3] One example is categorizing infrared into "IRA", "IRB", and "IRC", while allocating wavelengths differently to all three categories as well.)
Smart cat getting infrared light at sunset...
Light also carries energy. The longer the wavelength, the lower the energy yield of any light particle or "photon".
As infrared light has very long wavelengths compared to visible and ultraviolet light, it's energy yield is thus dramatically lower.
For that reason ultraviolet light can give you a sunburn, while visible and infrared light cannot.
You may not know that infrared light exists everywhere in nature. In fact, even your human body emits infrared light (radiation), which can be partially understood as heat. Being hotter thus simply means emitting greater quantities of infrared light.
The energy producing factories of your cells - called mitochondria - generate that heat as a byproduct of energy production. Exposing yourself frequently to cold can increase your body's capacity to emit infrared heat (and thus your capacity to heat yourself).
And yet, the science regarding infrared light is far more interesting:
Infrared light does not just touch your skin and bounce off--instead, it penetrates into your skin, thus entering your body. The penetration depth for different types of infrared light differs:
You can view the penetration depth f different types of infrared light into the skin below:
These different types of infrared light also have different benefits. Let's start with exploring NIR, which:
Many additional NIR effects exist. Near infrared is actually really well researched because of the thousands of studies that currently exist on photobiomodulation and red light therapy.
I have an entire article looking at the benefits of these shorter NIR wavelengths that can be read here - 36 Powerful Red Light Therapy Benefits
MIR exposure, secondly, is a more problematic riddle:
Interesting fact: FIR clothing with ceramic nano particles also exist, that "redirects" the heat emitted by your body as FIR, and can be used as a FIR treatment.[121; 122]
Due to their location in the light spectrum, NIR - even wavelengths slightly over 1,000 nanometers - thus have similarities to red light therapy, while MIR and FIR have more likeness to a traditional saunas in that they directly heat up your skin.
The above list on IR light types is in no way exhaustive. I've just included this list to demonstrate that all parts of the infrared spectrum have unique benefits.
So let's move on, and consider how infrared light achieves these effects:
IR light enters your skin, bloodstream, and cells, thereby affecting your health. Besides heating you up, infrared saunas thus also directly adds light to your body.[8-12]
Let me explore that statement in more detail:
Once infrared light enters the cells, the electric charge in them is altered.
Your cells thus not only function on the basis of chemical processes, but also on electricity. Chemistry and electricity interact in your body, and infrared light from outside the body alters that dynamic.
Because of IR exposure, charge is builds up inside a cell, due to the transition of a liquid form of water to an "exclusion zone" (EZ) or "plasma' type of water.[28-30] EZ water is actually a fourth state of water, besides vapor, liquid, and ice.
Water: still not understood after hundreds of years of science
When infrared light builds an exclusion zone in your cells, the body may also gain a higher potential to store ultraviolet light. That structured water also allows your body to better create energy.
Well, it's been long hypothesized that ATP, or "Adenosine Tri-Phosphate" is not the main source of energy of a cell, but that it carries electric charge instead. Under that interpretation, infrared light can be hypothesized to have a far greater impact on the energy creation dynamics of a cell than previously thought.
Lastly, red and infrared light also directly affect the mitochondria in your cells. Recall that mitochondria are the energy producing factories of these cells. Both red and infrared light up-regulate one specific step of that process of mitochondrial energy production (for nerds: that step takes place in cytochrome C oxidase).[17-19]
Moreover, even the usage of oxygen by your cells and mitochondria may also be affected by infrared light. There's thus credence to the feeling of many people that IR saunas increase their energy levels.
Many additional processes in your cells are influenced by IR, such as free radical levels (which play a role in aging), inflammation (which is tied to many modern diseases), the creation new mitochondria, and their fusion into bigger ones.[20-23]
That principle of light affecting your health is called "photobiomodulation". Contrary to what many people assume, the light in your environment is thus not a neural means for vision, but a biologically active agent.
When given the choice, it's usually better to go with nature over technology. Biohackers, for instance, use technology to replicate nature - which allows them to reap the benefits of nature whilst still living modern, technologically backed lives.
Infrared saunas do have some advantages over sunlight though, in some very specific instances. One benefit of infrared saunas is that they can make you sweat really profusely, which is more difficult to accomplish by using sunlight if you're not living in or near the tropics.
It's no coincidence that infrared saunas have so many health benefits: IR light supplies up to 50% of the sun's energy that reaches the earth's surface.
The more ultraviolet light is present, the less the relative contribution of infrared light, and vice versa. On a hot summer day in Mexico, proportionally less infrared and more ultraviolet light thus reaches the earth's surface.
Remember the water I've talked about before?
Water specifically absorbs IR light at different wavelengths:
Even though the scale of NIR, MIR, and FIR is different than the one I use, notice that the water absorption spectrum is found between around 700 nanometer NIR to 15,000 nanometer wavelengths.
Sunlight that reaches the earth's surface also contains all three types of infrared light.
In fact, the water absorption peaks displayed above match the peaks at which sunlight emits most NIR, MIR, and FIR. In other words, the sunlight reaching the earth's atmosphere peaks around 1,400 and 2,000 nanometers - the same is true for water absorption spectra in your cells.
The way IR light affects your body is thus not a coincidence, nature has programmed you for that effect.
IR light's capacity to affect your body's water also one mechanism through which bodily heat is generated in the first place.
Your cells aren't the only thing affected by infrared light. A brain region called the "hypothalamus" specifically regulates temperature.[221-223]
You may recognize that brain area because I've discussed it many times before, for example, in relation the 24-hour day and night cycle in your body (circadian rhythm).
The hypothalamus - located in your forebrain - also regulates resting metabolic rate, which consists of the calories you're burning 24-7 for generating heat, even if you're sitting on the couch.
So what happens with the hypothalamus if you enter a sauna? Due to increased bodily heat - or "hyperthermia" - a hormonal cascade is activated.[224-226]
Many of the same hormones that become active during exercise do so during sauna sessions as well.
Your heart starts pumping heavier and faster, blood flow to the skin increases, and you'll sweat (if it's hot enough).
Stress hormone levels such as adrenaline increase, as well as "painkilling" hormones such as "beta-endorphins". These beta-endorphins are responsible for making you feel amazing after a sauna session.
You thus now understand where that blissful feeling comes from.
And because you understand how IR light affects your body, you can now understand why there are so many health benefits to be had from sauna use.
Looking to take your sauna sessions to the next level? Download my 10 practical infrared sauna laws infographic and receive my sauna buyers guide via email:
So let's consider the differences between infrared saunas and red light therapy.
The former uses the infrared light spectrum to heat up your body, while the latter uses red and NIR light to provide heat-free light exposure to your cells and mitochondria.
I've already said a few things regarding their relationship, but I'll explore the dynamic in full detail here.
The difference between red light therapy and saunas is that the former only emits light at certain very specific wavelengths (typically ranging from 600nm to 1050nm), while the latter emits a larger spectrum of wider wavelength light (in the far infrared light range).
Let me explain...
Recall the picture of light I've given before:
Full spectrum infrared saunas often emit all the wavelenghts between ~700 and tens of thousands of nanometers, all the way into the FIR part of the spectrum (though the large majority of this light is in the FIR spectrum, with very little light in the NIR or MIR range).
Red light therapy, on the contrary, often exclusivity uses very specific wavelengths around 660 nanometers and 880 nanometers. If a red light therapy device emits light at peaks around 660 nanometers, then some light may be emitted around 650 and 670 namometers, but not at 640 and 680, and so forth.
IR saunas thus emit light from 1000nm all the way until the tens of thousands of nanometers.
Unsurprisingly, the benefits of both modalities are also different. Let's consider the scientific evidence in favor and against both options and also look where they're similar and dissimilar:
There's thus a big overlap in benefits, although differences do exist.
Both red light therapy and saunas have an almost overwhelming list of health benefits.
Whether you should prioritize red light therapy or an infrared sauna thus depends on your circumstances and goals.
If detoxification or feeling great is your goal, opt for an infrared sauna. If improving energy recovery and how you look is your goal, buy a red light therapy device.
If you want both benefits (and why wouldn't you?!) then buy an IR sauna and a red light therapy panel! (Sunstream Saunas have made it even easier for you by combining a powerful infrared sauna free of EMF and toxic glues with their own red light therapy panel that hangs on the outside of their sauna - mention my name for a discount)
In this section I'll describe the differences between diverging styles of saunas.
As you now know, traditional dry saunas have been used for thousands of years. Infrared saunas are relatively new, however, having been mass marketed since the 1970s.
These different types of saunas also use different mechanisms to heat the body:
Traditional dry saunas use heated air at 80-85 degrees Celsius (175-185F) to warm your body, with a humidity level of 10-20%. Infrared saunas, on the contrary, often achieve maximum temperatures of mere 60 degrees Celsius (140F) combined with lower humidity levels.
Traditional and infrared saunas are also very different in how they heat the body.
Remember I wrote about the effects of infrared on the water in your body? Infrared light heats that water, because NIR, MIR, and FIR are all absorbed at different frequencies.
Infrared saunas thus heat your body from within, as well as from outside because of heating the air. Traditional saunas need to get really hot to be effective, but that's not so much the case for their infrared counterparts.
IR light has the additional benefit of releasing more toxins from fat stores. Body fat is one of the main places human beings store toxins.
Dry and steam saunas may also have a different effect on sweating patterns. Infrared saunas lead to less water weight being emitted, and thus more toxins by implication.
Both infrared and traditional saunas increase blood flow to the skin.
The end result is the well-known sweating.
Sweating lets you lose both water and toxins. Of course, make sure to always drink enough high quality water when using a sauna.
Many people underestimate how much water they're losing during a sauna visit. One hour of sauna use can make you lose up to 2 liters of water.
As a result of sweating, you'll start to lose electrolytes. Electrolytes are substances that hold an electric charge. Sodium is a main example of an electrolyte - you therefore need to recharge sodium (through salt) after sauna use.
Water and mineral losses are issues with both traditional and infrared saunas. The more you're sweating, the greater the need to restore such losses.
And because infrared saunas make you sweat intensely at much lower temperatures, you may require putting some thought into how you're going to replete them.
If you've got problems with your airways, I highly recommend opting for an infrared sauna instead of a traditional one.
The reason is that some people cannot properly tolerate the high heats of traditional saunas.
As the IR counterpart performs on lower temperatures, breathing hot air is never an issue. As always, IR is the more gentle method.
Additionally, it can be very hard to operate a traditional sauna in-home.
Traditional steam saunas build up extreme amounts of heat, and therefore need proper ventilation.
The need for ventilation entails that you can only use the sauna in your bathroom in most instances. The reason is that bathrooms commonly have ventilation in place to remove excess hot air.
One way in which traditional saunas are more favorable, however, is because they are more easily custom made for fitting a specific location. Phrased differently, if you want a 12 by 15 foot traditional sauna for your (overly large) bathroom, that's possible.
The size of carbon or ceramic panels hinder such an approach of infrared saunas, because the dimension heaters lead to a preference for building saunas with discrete measurements.
A steam room: how are you going to remove the hot air if you're opting for a traditional sauna in your home?
Yet another reason I recommend using infrared saunas because their treatment time is much lower than with traditional saunas.
60 Minutes is the longest recommended time to spend in an IR sauna.
Traditional saunas can be used for hours, however, if you keep alternating between cold water and the heat.
And because many people are already far too busy, I highly recommend getting a home sauna to cut down on treatment time even further (it saves another trip out out to your local health clinic etc)
Additionally, infrared saunas are frequently described as being more relaxing and less hard on the body than their traditional counterparts.
A sweat lodge - constructions used to be far more primitive centuries ago
Another benefit to infrared saunas is that they last longer than traditional ones.
Traditional saunas can use hot rocks, for example, to heat up a room. These hot rocks may need to be replaced every decade. Carbon or ceramic heaters in IR saunas, on the contrary, can last for decades with proper use.
As traditional saunas are also more expensive in their initial purchasing price, the calculation is easy: IR is simply less expensive. Energy costs operating an infrared sauna only amount to $0.20 per hour.
IR saunas thus have several benefits which make them much more favorable for home usage.
In most instances, infrared saunas are the clear winner. In the subsequent section, I'll consider the criteria for selecting the best model out there.
Watch this space.
I'm working on an in-depth 'Infrared Sauna Buyers Guide' that will cover everything you need to be aware of when buying IR saunas.
Be sure to join my email list to be the first to hear when this article goes live:
If you can't wait for that article, here are the key things you need to look for when buying an IR sauna:
As you can see, there are many things to look for when buying an IR sauna.
And as a IR sauna is a big investment (we're talking a few thousand dollars) you don't want to rush into a decision. That's why if you're in the market for a IR sauna, enter your email below and I'll send you my IR sauna buyers guide.
You can also email me with questions and I'll do my best to help you find the best sauna for your needs.
Download my 10 practical infrared sauna laws infographic and receive my sauna buyers guide via email:
At the time of writing I have two infrared saunas in my house. A Clearlight Sanctuary, and a SunStream Evolve 20.
What's better? I'll be recording a comparison review video in the coming weeks to find out the answer to this question. Though I am finding myself using the SunStream more than the Clearlight when I'm on my own (I'll go into the reasons why in my upcoming review), but if someone else is joining me for a sauna session then we'll go with the Clearlight (it's slightly bigger).
Either way I can tell you this about these saunas:
1. They're both great saunas
2. They both have low EMF levels
3. They both make you sweat
But one is going to be better than the other, and if you want to find out which one is the best, stay tuned for my buyers guide and upcoming reviews of my Clearlight and SunStream sauna.
If you can't wait for that and want to buy one now, you can head to www.SunStreamSaunas.com/ for more about the SunStream Saunas (tell them Alex Fergus referred you for a great deal) or HealWithHeat.com for more on the Clearlight Saunas (again, tell them AlexFergus referred you for a special price).
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is a ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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