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When you hear the word sauna, what goes through your mind? Perhaps a small, scorching room lined with wooden benches centered around a pile of very hot rocks. Or maybe you think of steam blasting all around you in a similarly close-quartered space filled with strangers in towels.
Sauna is actually a healing tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years. Immersing oneself in a high-temperature sauna environment causes the body to sweat, which even in primitive times was recognized as an effective way to cleanse the body and eliminate waste via the skin.
The routine use of a sauna is one of the most effective means by which to detoxify the body, rejuvenate its cellular system, and promote a vibrant, disease-free life.
Near, Mid, and Far: The 3 Types of Infrared Sauna
The use of heat therapy really isn’t new in the realm of the healing arts, but technological advances that capitalize on infrared energy have made it possible to generate heat in just the right spots with pinpointed precision, hence the advent of the infrared sauna.
There are three distinct types of infrared wavelengths that generate energy: near infrared, mid infrared, and far infrared. Because they penetrate the skin and cells at varying depths, each type of infrared provides different therapeutic benefits depending on its use.
#1. Near infrared
Also referred to as low level light therapy, uses special LEDs to permeate the outer surface of the skin and promote cell health and skin rejuvenation. LEDs are effective because they can trigger a natural photo-biochemical reaction (similar to how plants use chlorophyll to convert sunlight into plant tissue).
#2. Mid infrared
This type of sauna has been shown to help aid in pain relief and weight loss.
#3. Far infrared
By far the most common type used in commercial infrared saunas, far infrared saunas help pull toxins from the body and lower blood pressure.
Each type of infrared sauna comes with its own unique set of health benefits, and one isn’t necessarily better or worse than another. However, exposing yourself to all three types offers a wider range of comprehensive health benefits. This is why many healing practitioners now encourage their patients to use or invest in a 3-in-1 full-spectrum infrared sauna.
Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional Saunas: What’s the Difference?
The most noteworthy differences between an infrared sauna and a traditional sauna have to do with temperature and heating method. A traditional sauna uses convection heat, much like the stove in your kitchen, to warm the body from the outside. It typically does so at higher temperatures around 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius).
Many people find traditional saunas to be too hot and drying, making them intolerable to sit in for longer than just a few minutes.
An infrared sauna, on the other hand, can provide health benefits at much lower temperatures ranging between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (49 to 60 degrees Celsius). This is due to the fact that radiating heat is more evenly distributed and penetrates more deeply into the skin, gently warming the body, rather than “charring” it with blasts of higher-temperature heat.
This is an important distinction because infrared heat is much more effective at drawing out toxins from the deep tissue areas where they’re hiding, allowing them to be more effectively and efficiently expelled from the body.
Despite the lower temperature thresholds, infrared heat also causes the body to sweat much more profusely than it otherwise would with convection heat.
The Science Behind Infrared Sauna Benefits
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that infrared saunas are helping people detoxify their bodies, increase their energy levels, and even overcome chronic disease. But what does the science say? In a 2009 scientific review, a Canadian researcher found that:
- At least four separate studies support the use of far infrared saunas in treating patients with cardiovascular disease.
- At least five studies support the use of far infrared saunas in the treatment of coronary risk factors.
- At least one study supports the use of far infrared saunas in treating chronic pain.
Another researcher from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona, put out a paper several years ago highlighting the benefits of infrared sauna use as a way to trim body fat and eliminate toxic xenobiotics (foreign chemicals) from the body.
A 1981 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that regular use of an infrared sauna exerts a weight-loss effect on the body. This is due to the fact that infrared radiation raises core body temperature, mimicking the cardiovascular exertion brought about by aerobic exercises such as running.
There is also copious emerging research demonstrating infrared sauna benefits in the treatment of musculoskeletal problems, rheumatoid arthritis, joint stiffness, muscle spasms, edema, soft tissue injury, sciatica, eczema, pelvic infection, pediatric pneumonia, and even cancer.
The Effect of Infrared Saunas on Cancer Cells
For cancer specifically, infrared sauna treatments are exceptionally promising because of the selective toxicity they have on cells. In a nutshell, the hyperthermic effects of infrared radiation are only harmful to malignant cells, as was explained to me by Dr. Irvin Sahni in The Truth About Cancer’s The Quest for the Cures Continues docu-series interview. Dr. Sahni told us that normal healthy cells are essentially immune to infrared radiation, while cancer cells are hyper-thermically challenged:
…by exposing your body to that heat, you’re selectively killing or eradicating those less viable cells, those cancer cells, without hurting your normal cells. And so a far infrared sauna is useful because it can help you sweat, excrete toxins, and in theory, eliminate cancer cells which can’t survive the heat.”
Another study published in the Journal of Cancer Science and Therapy found that after just 30 days of infrared treatment, tumor-infected mice saw reductions in their cancerous masses of up to 86% − even with low-temperature infrared exposures of as little as 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Celsius).
And if that isn’t enough, another study out of Japan found that infrared-induced, whole-body hyperthermia helped strongly inhibit the growth and spread of breast cancer cells in mice, without causing any harmful side effects.
How to Choose the Right Infrared Sauna for You
Between this internal heating mechanism and the sweat it produces, infrared saunas offer a one-two punch for powerful detoxification and cellular maintenance and regeneration. As long as you’re continually replenishing your body with both clean hydration and electrolytes, the sky’s the limit: the more you heat your core and sweat, the better off you’ll be health-wise.
Having a sauna at home is a great tool for health − if you have the means − for detoxification, relaxation, pain relief, weight loss, cardiovascular, and even anti-aging benefits. If space is a concern, there are portable options available.
The 3 most important factors to look for when purchasing an infrared sauna are:
- Even heat output − no “hot spots” near the heating element. You should also opt for radiant (rather than reflected) heating technology, as radiant heat is more evenly distributed, efficient, and effective.
- High emissivity rate − the test of an infrared heater is its “radiant efficiency” − basically its ability to produce high levels of infrared heat. Look for a sauna with a high emissivity rating and large heating panels that stay relatively cool on their surface. These types of heating panels produce the longer infrared waves that will most effectively penetrate your skin and cells, allowing for the greatest toxic release and greater amounts of sweat.
- Low (or no) EMF pollution − obviously you don’t want to expose yourself to unnecessary UV or electromagnetic radiation in the process of detoxifying your body.
If you’re considering a sauna for your home, I recommend the Sunlighten line of full-spectrum infrared saunas. Sunlighten saunas are custom-designed and backed by dozens of clinical studies showing that they effectively deliver all three types of infrared wavelengths (near, mid, and far) at the proper amounts for achieving your desired health goals.
As far as I’m aware, there’s no other brand on the market that offers a three-in-one system capable of delivering an optimal balance of all three infrared wavelengths. Sunlighten saunas also have high emissivity − upwards of 99% − which simply means that they’re extremely efficient in infrared heat output.
They’re also extremely low in harmful EMF emissions. The company claims its Signature far infrared line “Ultra Low EMF Technology” produces “virtually no EMFs” at all, and it has the third-party test results to back this. After looking through the test results myself, I have to say that I’m thoroughly impressed with this particular sauna brand. If you’re looking to invest in your wellness, consider this top-of-the-line sauna.
If you are dealing with a chronic condition or specific disease situation, be sure to consult with your health practitioner before using an infrared sauna.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2017. It has been updated and republished in May 2021.
Sauna is a healing tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years.
There are 3 types of infrared sauna:
- Near infrared
- Mid infrared
- Far infrared
Infrared saunas can provide health benefits at much lower temperatures than traditional saunas.
3 factors to look for when purchasing an infrared sauna:
- Even heat output
- High emissivity rate
- Low (or no) EMF pollution