Infrared Sauna Benefits

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Wellbeing Leave a Comment

Infrared saunas are a wellness trend that's heating up for all the right reasons. Not only does an infrared sauna session relax your muscles and potentially rejuvenate your skin, but it can also help melt away stress and even boost your mood, sleep, and overall health. 

Unlike steam-powered saunas, infrared models harness the power of invisible light to penetrate deep into your body, targeting issues like inflammation. 

In this article, we'll explore how infrared saunas stack up against traditional sweat lodges and reveal who stands to gain the most from regular sessions. 

Having reviewed the latest research focused on infrared saunas, I personally have a Sunlighten infrared sauna and recommend them to patients to support overall health, longevity, and support the body in processing environmental toxins. 

Whether you're a curious newcomer or a seasoned sauna enthusiast, below you'll learn how to best utilize infrared light to experience the many benefits of IR saunas, such as:

What is an Infrared Sauna?

An infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses infrared heaters to emit radiant heat, which is absorbed directly by the body's surface. 

Unlike traditional saunas that heat the air around you, infrared saunas warm your body directly, allowing for a deeper heat penetration at lower ambient temperatures. The gentle heat generated by infrared rays penetrates deep into the body, causing a “hormetic response”, or a positive stress response that contributes to improved health.

What are the benefits of an infrared sauna? This technology is designed to produce many of the same health perks of a traditional sauna, such as detoxification via sweating and improved relaxation, but at lower temperatures that some people find to be more comfortable.

Difference Between Infrared and Traditional Saunas

Traditional saunas rely on heating elements like hot rocks or steam to raise the ambient temperature, which then indirectly heats the body through convection and conduction. 

In contrast, infrared saunas emit infrared light that penetrates the skin and tissues, heating the body directly. This direct approach allows for deeper heat penetration, resulting in a more efficient and therapeutic sweating experience at lower temperatures. 

Infrared saunas usually operate at temperatures around 110-130°F, allowing for longer sessions compared to traditional saunas, which can reach higher temperatures up to 200°F by heating air or rocks.

How Infrared Saunas Work

Infrared light is a type of electromagnetic radiation that lies just beyond the visible spectrum of light, with wavelengths longer than visible light but shorter than microwaves. 

This type of light is experienced as heat by our bodies; it can penetrate deep into our tissues, even more deeply than visible light, potentially affecting cells, joints, ligaments, and organs (including our hearts) beneath the skin surface. It essentially warms the body from within, which has a number of positive effects, such as:

The heat from infrared light is believed to dilate blood vessels, improving blood flow. The infrared heat stimulates circulation, promoting oxygen-rich blood flow and aiding in muscle relaxation and pain relief.

Some research suggests infrared light may also stimulate cellular activity and regeneration, potentially supporting various healing processes.

Deep sweating induced by infrared heat can promote sweating and help detoxify and eliminate toxins from the body through the skin.

The warmth and relaxation associated with infrared exposure can also help decrease stress and muscle tension and promote overall well-being, both physically and mentally. 

The heat from sauna sessions encourages the body to release endorphins, natural “feel-good” chemicals that improve mood, enhance relaxation, and even induce sleepiness.

Who Can Benefit from Infrared Sauna Use?

Infrared sauna use can potentially benefit a wide range of people, including those seeking stress or pain relief, muscle recovery, skin health improvements, or general relaxation. 

That said, this type of sauna can be especially beneficial for people with chronic pain conditions and chronic inflammation, athletes looking to enhance recovery, people aiming to improve cardiovascular health, and those interested in detoxification practices.

Here's more about infrared sauna benefits and who can gain the most from regular sauna sessions:

Athletes and Fitness Enthusiasts

Infrared saunas aid in muscle recovery by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to tissues. They also help reduce muscle soreness post-exercise, promoting faster recovery times and helping to support physical or athletic performance.

In addition, studies have shown that regular sauna bathing preserves muscle mass and may help in preventing sarcopenic obesity—a state of low muscle mass and higher body fat associated with chronic disease.

Longevity and Anti-Aging 

Regular sauna bathing increases cardiovascular health and the health of the blood vessels. In addition to positive outcomes being dependent on frequency, longer duration of use is also associated with more favorable outcomes. In one study it was found that men had 7% lower risk of sudden cardiac death when sauna sessions were 11 minutes or less. Comparatively, those who maintained sessions of 19 minutes or more saw a 52% lower risk of sudden cardiac death.

Cardiovascular Benefits Based on Frequency of Sauna Use*

2-3 times per week4-7 times per week
22% lower risk for sudden cardiac death63% lower risk for sudden cardiac death
23% lower fatal coronary heart disease48% lower fatal coronary heart disease
27% lower fatal cardiovascular disease50% lower fatal cardiovascular disease
*Outcomes are compared to men sauna bathing once per week. Subjects were male.

When it comes to the science on cardiovascular health and longevity, the studies are primarily done on men. Despite the gap in data, studies consistently show that regular sauna use is associated with lower inflammation, decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's), and increased growth hormone.

Additionally, new research using a mouse model is showing promising results for postmenopausal women in supporting insulin regulation and reducing midsection adiposity, commonly described as belly fat.

Those Seeking Support for Weight Management

Regular sessions in an infrared sauna can potentially support weight loss efforts, particularly when combined with a healthy diet and exercise, through increased calorie burning. The heat stimulates metabolic processes and promotes sweating, which expels water weight and toxins. 

While saunas are not a magic bullet for weight loss, combined with an overall healthy lifestyle, they can contribute to a holistic weight management strategy.

Those Interested in Skin Health

The deep-penetrating heat of infrared saunas can help promote collagen production, potentially improving skin tone, texture, and elasticity. Enhanced blood flow also helps deliver vital nutrients to the skin's surface, resulting in a more rejuvenated appearance and reduced dryness and signs of aging, such as wrinkles and fine lines.

People in Need of Stress Reduction and Relaxation

The soothing warmth of an infrared sauna induces relaxation by reducing levels of cortisol, the primary “stress hormone.” Regular sauna use can help alleviate tension, promote better sleep patterns, and enhance overall mental well-being by fostering a sense of calm and tranquility.

Sauna bathing has also been shown to improve parasympathetic nervous system activity (rest and digest) and balance it with the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze) response. This produces a more favorable heart rate variability (HRV). A higher HRV indicates greater autonomic nervous system health, which is involved in maintaining a healthy blood pressure, among other important health markers.

Those With Chronic Pain and Tension

Infrared saunas provide natural pain relief for many people suffering from chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, or muscle spasms. The heat penetrates deeply into joints and muscles, easing stiffness, boosting circulation, and promoting relaxation, which can alleviate pain and improve mobility. 

Saunas work best for pain relief when combined with other strategies, such as stretching, exercise, and possibly physical therapy or massages.

Menopausal Symptom Relief

Menopausal women can benefit significantly from infrared saunas due to their ability to regulate body temperature and support hormone balance

Regular sauna sessions may help alleviate menopause symptoms like hot flashes, improve sleep quality, and reduce symptoms of hormonal imbalance during this transitional phase of life. IR sauna use is also supportive of cognitive function and heart health, including healthy blood pressure, which is particularly beneficial for aging adults.

More studies are needed, but emerging research suggests that regular sauna use may improve insulin and blood sugar in women and age related obesity.

How to Use an Infrared Sauna

To maximize the benefits of an infrared sauna:

  • Session length: Start with 15-20 minute sessions and gradually increase to 30-45 minutes as tolerated.
  • Frequency: Aim for 2-3 sessions per week to maintain consistent benefits, adjusting based on your goals and tolerance.
  • Temperature: Set the sauna to a comfortable range of 110-130°F, adjusting based on your personal preference and tolerance.
  • Hydration: Drink water before, during, and after each session to stay hydrated and support your body's natural detoxification process. I typically drink my LMNT electrolytes during my sauna sessions so that I am replacing electrolytes I am losing, while also hydrating. 
  • Contrast therapy: For even greater benefits, try doing both hot and cold therapy using infrared sauna sessions along with cold showers, cold plunges, or swimming in cold water. Cold therapy has many of the same benefits as saunas, including helping to lower inflammation, pain, and stress.
  • Relaxation enhancers: Enhance the sauna experience with aromatherapy, meditation, or soothing music to further promote relaxation and stress relief.

Potential Side Effects and Safety Considerations

While infrared sauna use is generally safe for most adults, it's still recommended to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new wellness regimen, including the use of infrared saunas.

Most people won't experience any serious side effects from infrared sauna use; however, there are certain precautions to keep in mind and potential side effects to be aware of, including:

  • Dehydration: Sweating heavily during sauna sessions can potentially lead to dehydration, especially if you haven't consumed much water that day. Ensure adequate hydration before, during, and after each session to limit this risk. Don't drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before sauna use since this might exacerbate dehydration and make it harder for your body to regulate your internal temperature.
  • Overheating: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause overheating, dizziness, or fainting among some people. Monitor your body's response and exit the sauna if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Skin Sensitivity: Some people experience skin sensitivity, flushing, redness, or irritation from using a sauna. To lower the risk of this, use a towel to sit on and avoid prolonged contact with sauna surfaces. Limit sessions to 15 minutes at first to test your reaction and allow your skin to adjust before increasing the duration.

Who Shouldn't Use Infrared Saunas?

Certain people should avoid using infrared saunas due to a higher risk of experiencing side effects such as dizziness or dehydration. This includes anyone with:

  • A history of heat intolerance or sensitivity to infrared light.
  • Heart conditions.
  • Uncontrolled hypertension.
  • Pregnant women.

If you have any type of serious medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before using an infrared sauna to make sure it's safe.

Key Takeaways on Infrared Sauna Benefits

  • Infrared saunas offer many impressive health benefits for skin health, pain relief, relaxation, and more, making them a valuable addition to any wellness routine. 
  • Infrared saunas offer unique benefits, including enhanced detoxification, relaxation, and rejuvenation, compared to traditional saunas.
  • Whether you seek stress relief, skin rejuvenation, or support for specific health conditions like injuries or menopausal symptoms, regular use of an infrared sauna can likely provide holistic benefits for your mind, body, and spirit.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.