Saunas have been used for thousands of years to heal ailments and detox the body. The health benefits of saunas are well known and pretty mind-blowing.
When most of us think sauna, we’re thinking of a wooden box with electrical heat. But there’s another type of sauna that delivers all the benefits of traditional heat therapy, along with light therapy or phototherapy. It’s called a near-infrared sauna, and it delivers an amazing combination of health benefits.
First, a quick review of the types of saunas
There are three main types of saunas you can choose from.
- Traditional saunas are heated through electric or wood burning heat. They can be dry or wet. Wet saunas introduce steam through steam generators or by throwing water on hot rocks. Traditional saunas are very, very hot, and put most people’s heat endurance to the test.
- Far infrared saunas use heating elements that mainly emit light in the far-infrared range. This type of far-infrared light does offer some light therapy, but it doesn’t penetrate the body as well as near-infrared light does. Additionally, far-infrared saunas typically emit harmful levels of EMFs, though some manufacturers are working to reduce the EMFs in their product.
- Near infrared lamp saunas combine heat therapy and light therapy. The light from near-infrared saunas can penetrate the body up to 9 inches, according to NASA. Additionally, NIR saunas generally emit very low levels of EMFs. Because of the spectrum of light, NIR saunas allow the air to stay cooler while still heating the body.
Why do we need to detox?
Our environment is much more toxic than ever before– between petroleum-like compounds such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuels to flame retardants to phthalates and PCBs, it’s estimated that we’re exposed thousands of more toxins than our grandparents.
Chemicals are big business, an industry valued at $750 billion, and as of 2011, there were 84,000 “legal” chemicals used in the U.S., although many of them haven’t been tested thoroughly for human safety.
Concerned about this sharp rise in chemical exposure, the Center for Disease Control started testing Americans every two years to access what they called their “body burden”. In 1999, they found 27 dangerous chemicals, today, the number is at 219 and growing (Source.)
Ideally, our bodies eliminate these toxins through the main eliminative channels– urinary tract, the bowel, lungs, skin, and mucosal linings in your nose, eyes and ears. However, if the influx of toxins is too great, the body will store these chemicals and heavy metals into fatty tissue (including the brain) as a form of self-protection. It’s important to support our bodies detox pathways so that we can safely removed these toxins. In enters the near infrared sauna…
Why is sweating so powerful?
Our skin is our largest detox organ and designed to eliminate toxins safely. While you can certainly lose electrolytes from saunas, you are able to replenish these easily with some coconut water, homemade bone broth or a DIY electrolyte drink. Plus, saunas can actually help improve your body’s ability to hold onto electrolytes.
As people, we don’t sweat much due to climate controlled cars, offices, and houses. Yes, exercise can make you sweat but it doesn’t cause the profound toxin removal that passive sweating does.
During aerobic exercise, your heart rate is increased but the blood flow to vital organs is lowered. A sauna increases heart rate and blood flow to vital organs, allowing for the excretion of toxins from those organs.
Many toxins prefer to dump through sweat
- Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury have been shown in studies to be excreted through the skin as well or better than they are excreted in urine.
- A Canadian study found that the concentration of phytates (chemicals in toys, fragrances, cosmetics, etc) was twice as high in sweat than in urine or blood.
- Another study found BPA in 80% of the subjects’ sweat, while finding no detectable levels in their blood or urine. This seems to point to sweat being the best method for excreting the toxin.
Our skin will erupt when the toxic load gets too high, which is why we see diaper rash, eczema, PUPPS, acne and other skin conditions), and yet we can help it detoxify through sweat. That’s where saunas come in. All saunas have an ability to help the body detox, promote brain function, and heart health, but near infrared saunas deliver some amazing and unique benefits that we’ll explore below.
9 reasons why near infrared saunas are best
1. Lower EMF
Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) are given off by cell phones, wifi, and other electric devices. EMFs can interrupt normal cell function and cause symptoms such as:
- Chronic headaches
- Excessive fatigue
- Feeling of stress or ‘wired’
- Trouble sleeping soundly through the night
- Tingling, burning or prickling skin sensations
- A buzzing or static feeling in brain
- Ringing ears
We are exposed to 100 times more EMFs that our grandparents, and some studies show negative health consequences. As a result, many European countries limit or even ban EMFs usage in various places like schools.
Far infrared sauna give off a lot of EMFs due to carbon panels, while near infrared sauna give off far less. Near infrared sauna are beneficial without the potential for side effects that far infrared sauna have. Some manufacturers are working to reduce the EMFs in their far infrared products but the other benefits of near infrared sauna are so abundant that reducing EMFs isn’t enough to compete with NIR saunas!
2. Extreme healing abilities
A number of studies show that near infrared sauna can drastically improve tissue and wound healing, even wounds to the eyes! In fact, one study found that mice blinded by chemicals regained their sight after NIR therapy. Other studies show Near-Infrared Light Therapy (NILT) can effectively treat traumatic brain injury patients.
Infrared sauna also improve skin healing by improving collagen and elastin production. (Great for preventing wrinkles 🙂
Not only will your everyday wear and tear heal well with infrared sauna, but people with chronic diseases can benefit from infrared light therapy From Lyme disease to cancer (source) to fibromyalgia. The increased body temperature is thought to impair tumor growth and immobilize and kill spirochetes (and possibly other pathogens).
3. Quick athletic recovery
Near-infrared light has been shown to increase human growth hormone which is crucial for muscle recovery, insulin regulation, stronger bones and lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Saunas also increase blood flow to skeletal muscles, which helps them stay fueled while removing toxins and metabolic byproducts.
4. Feel no pain
Sauna has been shown to reduce joint and muscle pain. One randomized, controlled trial found that near infrared therapy reduced low back pain by 50% in 6 weeks. A sauna’s ability to increase the release of anti-inflammatory compounds like noradrenaline, adrenaline, cortisol, and growth hormones help the body to release endorphins, our natural pain killers. NIR light also helps stimulate circulation and collagen production, which help rebuild joints and muscles.
5. Super strength
Near-infrared sauna use can help you build muscle. The extra release of human growth hormone is one reason for improved muscle growth. Heat acclimation from sauna increases heat shock proteins, which act to transport repair proteins. These in turn reduce the amount of protein degradation, while increasing protein synthesis and muscle growth. One study showed a 30% increase in muscle growth in animals after heat therapy.
6. Fat and cellulite reduction
Regular sauna use can reduce overall body fat, which in and of itself is pretty powerful. But near infrared light has been shown to go above and beyond that to also decrease cellulite. (source) One advantage to NIR heat lamps is that they can be targeted at specific areas of the body as needed, such as cellulite in the belly area. Other studies have found NIR light to be effective in controlling cellulite combined with other therapies.
Additionally, NIR sauna has been shown to improve metabolism by stimulating the mitochondria to produce more ATP (cell energy).
7. Chromotherapy and phototherapy
Near infrared light contains some of the warm colors of visible light (red, orange, yellow) which have their own therapeutic abilities (called chromotherapy). These warming colors can help the lower digestive tract work better. Yellow light is also thought to activate the the lymphatic and immune systems. Orange light is said to help balance the lower body (kidneys, spine, digestive tract). Red light is thought to promote vitality and help the lungs, bones, heart, and muscles.
Near infrared sauna have the added benefit of phototherapy since the body has near infrared photoreceptors but not far infrared photoreceptors. Phototherapy has been shown to be incredibly helpful in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), psoriasis and a number of other ailments.
8. Less expensive to own and run
We can’t ignore the obvious, which is that near infrared sauna are just plain less expensive to own and operate. Who doesn’t want to save a few bucks? NIR saunas are generally less expensive because they are more “portable” (you can even build in a shower!) and use less electricity than far infrared saunas because they run at a lower temperature. They can also be easily and inexpensively made at home with infrared light bulbs from the hardware store.
9. Rotating benefits
Near infrared sauna concentrate the light from one wall of the sauna, which is one reason it can penetrate so deeply, but because of this, it’s important to rotate your body every 5 minutes to get the best results. Rotating helps evenly heat your body as well as assist in more even sweating, which helps relieve toxic stress better. Rotating also helps ensure total body circulation–blood flow is optimized everywhere versus just one side of the body. (Rotating every 5 minutes also makes the time sitting in the sauna go faster!)
So, you decide… Are near infrared saunas better?
It’s pretty clear that near infrared saunas are incredible for overall health and vitality, with a special benefit of light therapy and skin healing (including the treatment of cellulite.) They also are a great alternative for those who are on a budget or who can’t do a home remodel to accommodate a traditional wooden sauna.
However, any form of sauna is better than no sauna at all. In fact, overall, saunas have some pretty incredible benefits. Here are just a few biggies.
Some other sauna benefits…
10. Never get sick (well, pretty much)
Saunas use can improve immune function. Saunas increase circulation, improve the lymphatic system, and increase white blood cell counts, making you an all around germ fighting machine! Finnish and German studies show that saunas can reduce the incidence of cold and flu by about 30%. Take that, flu season!
11. Protect your brain
A new study out of Finland, where it’s not unusual for homes to have personal saunas, found that men who used their sauna 4-7 times a week for at least 15 minutes had a 66% reduction in dementia and a 65% reduction in Alzheimer’s disease when compared with those who only used their saunas once a week. WOAH! So if you want to stay mentally sharp, get into your sauna regularly!
12. Live longer
And finally, a landmark new study showed a significant decrease in mortality (which is to say, an increase in longevity) associated with regular sauna use. A significant decrease in cardiovascular disease and fatal heart attacks were among the many benefits observed. Regular sauna use FTW!
Where to find a near infrared sauna
My favorite near infrared sauna is handmade in the U.S. by a company called SaunaSpace. I love their sauna because it uses the most natural and pure materials with no nasty glues, formaldehyde-treated wood, or pesticide-rich conventional cotton. I also love that it’s small and “portable” so you can use in a closet, bathroom or really in any room!
You can find my full review of our SaunaSpace sauna here.
You can also try making your own, just be sure to use near infrared light bulbs.
How about you?
Have you ever tried a near infrared sauna? What was your experience?