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There are multiple types of saunas, including:
- Traditional dry saunas, which can be heated with fire, hot stones, gas, or electricity
- Steam saunas, where you can generate steam by applying water on the heating element (popular in Scandinavian or Finnish culture)
- Infrared saunas, which use invisible light within certain frequencies to penetrate and heat up the body’s tissues directly
What Is an Infrared Sauna?
The infrared sauna is a more recent invention as it can only operate with electricity. In the 1800s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg from Michigan put together what he called an “electric light bath” from light bulbs, right around the time that light bulbs (which emitted a lot of near infrared light) were invented.After he presented his invention at Chicago World Fair, a German entrepreneur saw the device, replicated the design and sold it all over the globe because of its powerful healing abilities. It was said that this device cured the gout for the King of England!
How Infrared Saunas Work
Infrared spectrums can uniquely affect other positive changes in our cells and organ systems in a way traditional heated saunas can’t. While traditional saunas heat the air or steam to heat the body, infrared saunas use invisible light just below red light frequencies to penetrate and heat up the tissues directly, to a depth of up to 1.5 inches into the skin. Although our eyes can’t see it, we can feel it as gentle, radiant heat.The mechanism by which infrared saunas work is called photobiomodulation … a big fancy word meaning a form of therapy that utilizes light.
Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas
Similar to the benefits of general sauna use listed above, these are thought to be more specific to infrared sauna use:
- Natural PAIN Relief
is one of the most compelling reasons to receive Infrared Sauna (IR) Therapy. We love to tell our clients about the pain relief properties of our sauna sessions. You can toss the pain pills and step into our healing infrared sanctuary to relieve tension and relax muscles. Infrared sauna heat works by penetrating joints, muscles and tissues, increasing circulation and speeding oxygen flow. By reducing soreness on nerve endings, infrared heat reduces muscle spasms and helps the body heal itself naturally. For years, doctors have recommended IR saunas because of proven relief from sports injury, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis and other chronic pain conditions.Infrared wavelengths penetrate the body to create heat, which creates profound therapeutic benefits. They increase blood flow to the muscles, delivering more concentrated oxygen, which creates more energy to heal.
- Heart Health & Blood Pressure
According to a review of all of the published scientific literature about these infrared saunas, the biggest researched benefit seems to be the coronary benefits, most notably in their ability to help normalize blood pressure and reduce the chance of congestive heart failure.
An increase in circulation and sweating can aid in detoxification, and in this way sauna therapy helps mobilize toxins. A systematic review in 2012 found that toxic heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are found in sweats of people who are exposed to these harmful metals. In a case report, they found that mercury levels normalized with repeated sauna treatments.
- Anti-aging, Muscle Growth, and Injury Healing
Saunas increase heat shock proteins, antioxidant enzymes, and stimulate cellular cleanup (autophagy), which can help our cells function like new. In aging mice, an increase in heat shock proteins help delay aging and improves cognitive function.
Sauna bathing can also increase several anti-aging hormones including human growth hormones and the insulin-growth factor 1. IGF-1, in particular, can really help with injury healing.
Several heat-shock proteins can even help with increasing muscle mass, even without weight training. Through photobiomodulation, infrared therapy has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect that can accelerate injury healing.
- Mood, Mental Health, and Cognitive Function
Just as when you go for a run, sauna use increases endorphins (the happiness hormone) and opoids (the body’s natural pain reliever), as well as a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain.
BDNF stimulates neurogenesis (the growth of new neuronal cells) in the brain and protects new neurons from damage. Improving BDNF levels is therefore important for cognitive function. In addition, low or abnormal levels of BDNF may be a cause of several mental and psychiatric diseases.
Infrared saunas can also reduce stress by re-balancing the stress response axis. It can help lower cortisol, and thus helps with stress-related health problems. Saunas also improve the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which can help improve cognitive performance.
- Weight Loss and Metabolic Diseases
Contrary to popular claims, heat and infrared exposure do not directly burn fat or kill fat cells. However, saunas help improve insulin sensitivity, increase lean muscles, and reduce fat by changing the hormonal environment. In addition, the saunas also reduce inflammation. Therefore, sauna therapies can prevent obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
A Japanese study found that two weeks of sauna therapy increased appetite and food intake in people of a healthy weight. However, in overweight people, far infrared sauna usage together with a low-calorie diet resulted in significant weight and body fat loss. While this study did not compare the fat loss with a group that did not use the sauna, the reduction in body fat (4.5%) in about two week’s time is considered very fast.
- Inflammation and Autoimmunity
By increasing circulation in the body, heat exposure can help reduce inflammation.
Infrared saunas, especially far infrared saunas, can help decrease inflammation more powerfully than other types of saunas through photobiomodulation. Far infrared therapy stimulates protective nitric oxide production in the blood vessels, reduces oxidative stress, and increases mitochondria function. Several studies have shown that far infrared exposure helps with numerous inflammatory diseases, including:
- cardiovascular diseases
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic pain
- chronic fatigue
- Sjögren syndrome (an immune condition marked by dry eyes/mouth)
- rheumatoid arthritis
- asthma and chronic bronchitis
- poor sleep
According to Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist with a board certification in sleep medicine, the steep drop in body temperature at night is one of the circadian cues that the body takes that it is time to sleep. This explains why a warm bath or a shower before bed can improve sleep quality. Because the sauna typically heats the body up much hotter than a warm shower, it can take the body a few hours to cool down for bed. In order to improve your sleep quality, consider using a sauna session in the afternoon or before dinner in order to allow the body to cool down by bedtime.
A Japanese study also found that far-infrared ray exposure improved sleep quality in both rats and an insomniac human subject.
- Skin Health
In order to eliminate heat, your body increases blood flow to the skin. In addition, the skin adapts to this process, making it healthier. A German study found that the skin of regular saunas users could better hold moisture and maintain a healthy skin pH. In addition, these sauna users had less sebum on their foreheads, suggesting that they were less likely to get acne.
Photobiomodulation by red and near infrared lights can help accelerate wound healing and reduce inflammation of the skin. In addition, it has been used to treat acne, actinic keratinosis, and basal cell carcinoma.
Skin problems like eczema and psoriasis involves both inflammation and a vulnerability of the skin barrier. By helping both with strengthening the skin barrier and reducing overall inflammation, infrared sauna, if tolerated, can really help with these skin issues. (If sweat significantly irritates the rash, then you may want to protect the rashes with a eczema-friendly lotion and shower right after the sauna.)
- Cellulite Reduction (Along with Other Treatments)
There are several studies that evaluated how well infrared light exposure reduced cellulite along with other treatments. One Brazilian study found that a near infrared treatment further enhanced the cellulite-reducing effects of regular treadmill exercises. Two studies found that a combination of radio-frequency, infrared light, and mechanical massage treatment significantly helped with cellulite appearance.
I dry brush after the sauna and before a shower for best results (which is good to do anyway following sweating and detoxification). Follow with a natural lotion bar and … aaahhh.
Risks & Cautions for Sauna Use
Though sauna use is generally considered safe, anyone considering sauna use should absolutely check with a doctor or medical professional first, as some people (including Tim Ferriss) have genetic conditions that can lead to overheating and health problems from sauna use.
Common sense cautions also include avoiding direct contact with heating elements to avoid burns, not using a sauna for more than the recommended amount of time, or using a sauna after alcohol use or exercise.
Anyone new to sauna use should start off gently at a lower temperature and shorter periods, and gradually increase the temperature and duration of sauna use. Take breaks or finish if you don’t feel well. Remember to hydrate and replace electrolytes accordingly during and after your sauna session.
Safe for Pregnancy?
While there are concerns that heat exposure may harm babies in utero, studies show that saunas typically do not pose problems in healthy pregnancies Because every pregnancy is different, it is best to check with your doctor or midwife first.
What is best to wear in a sauna?
The sauna is experienced best in your birthday suit, we recommend for you to wear a bathing suit and bring a towel to spread on the bench to protect the bench. Don’t even wear jewelry and glasses. Let your exposed skin sweat freely. Just be clean and dry when you enter.
Can you take a shower after sauna?
Sauna bathing is meant to be relaxing, a process of transitions between hot and cool. So after your final round in the sauna, take some time to cool down once more.Take a cool shower to close the pores in your skin, and don’t get dressed until your body has stopped sweating. And that’s how you take a sauna bath
How many times a week should you use an infrared sauna?
The optimal amount of sessions. There is no one answer for the amount of sessions per week, but infrared saunas are safe to use every day. In fact, you will see wellness improvements sooner if you use it daily. On average, most people partake in 30-45 minute sessions, 3-4 times a week.
Do you lose weight in a sauna?
Any work that your body does equates to burning calories. Sauna increases your circulation; makes you sweat and helps you shed salt and water, thereby allowing you to lose extra weight. It also helps boost metabolism so your system will be revved up and you will lose weight more quickly
Is it healthy to have a sauna every day?
Saunas flush toxins. Many – if not most – of us do not actively sweat on a daily basis. Deep sweating, however, has multiple proven health benefits. Benefits derived from a deep sweat can be achieved via regular sauna bathing.Due to the heat of a sauna, the core body temperature begins to rise.
What happens if you stay too long in a sauna?
Being in that heat for too long can cause your body temperature to rise to unsafe levels, so If you begin to feel nauseated, dizzy or otherwise unwell, leave the sauna immediately. These could be signs that your body is overheating, becoming dehydrated or exhausted.
Is it bad to have your phone in a sauna?
No, it’s not okay to take the phone into the sauna. Yes, it’ll damage the phone. The extreme heat will warp and/or melt the phone’s internal workings. … You can turn it OFF & leave it outside the sauna
Is sauna good for flu?
Some reputed benefits have not been examined, but there is evidence that saunasmay speed recovery from colds and reduce their occurrence. Some researchers suspect sauna heat reduces symptoms because it improves drainage, while others speculate that the high temperatures help weaken cold and flu viruses.
Can you drink water while in a sauna?
Your body is only going to be able to sweat out as much water as you give it. A good rule of thumb is to divide your body weight in half and drink that number of ounces in water daily. Drink, Drink, Drink at least a pint to 3 pints of water before, during and after your sauna session
Is it better to go in the sauna before or after a workout?
Use the Sauna Before, Not After, Your Workout. If you’re lucky enough to go to a gym with a sauna, you’ll probably see people relaxing in it after their workout. But the heat won’t do anything to prevent sore muscles or help you recover. Instead, the best time to use the sauna is before your workout.