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What is an Infrared Sauna?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated May 17, 2024
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An infrared sauna heats by using infrared radiant heat, or electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than visible light. It differs from a traditional steam sauna because it heats the user directly, while a steam sauna heats indirectly by first warming the air. An infrared sauna penetrates the body’s tissue, and causes a deep heating, which is reportedly responsible for its associated health benefits.

Although it’s only been sold in the United States since 1981, the infrared sauna technology has been in use since the early 1900s. German physicians first used it as a whole body therapy. In Japan, the first infrared heaters were patented in the late 1960s, and used exclusively by medical practitioners. Later, they were released to the public for personal use. Today, infrared heating is gaining popularity around the world for its supposed therapeutic benefits.

The claims of health benefits of infrared sauna use are vast, but most have not been proven by medical or scientific evidence. However, many alternative health practitioners advocate the use of infrared saunas for these purposes. Some of the suggested benefits include detoxification, enhancement of the immune system, stress reduction, weight loss or control, cellulite reduction, pain relief or control, and even skin cleansing.

Some scientific studies have been performed on the infrared sauna treatments, and the results were positive. A study appearing in the Journal of Cardiac Failure reported that the treatment may be an effective adjunctive treatment in patients with congestive heart failure. Another study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology improves the risk for heart disease in some patients who undergo regular sauna treatments.

Other studies, such as one published in Psychosomatic Medicine, found that mildly depressed patients with appetite loss exhibited a marked improvement in mood and appetite levels after four weeks of treatments. Another study, appearing in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, reported that patients experiencing chronic pain showed a drop in pain score, pain behavior, anger, and depression after infrared sauna treatments. However, more research is needed to examine the long term effects of these treatments.

Although an infrared sauna may be helpful for some people, it is not recommended that you try to self-treat any disease or disorder without speaking to a qualified medical professional first. Persons suffering from adrenal suppression, multiple sclerosis, hyperthyroidism, or hemophilia should not enter an infrared sauna. Also, women who are pregnant or nursing, children under the age of five, people with artificial joints or silicone implants, women on their menstrual cycle, and anyone on prescription medication should never undergo infrared therapy.

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