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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 14, 2017

Are Infrared Saunas Beneficial?

By Mark Sisson
34 Comments

feature_saunaLast month, I installed an infrared sauna in my house. A company offered it to me to try out, and I was willing to give it a go, knowing a little about them already. It also inspired me to dig into the research—to test it personally but also to see what studies had demonstrated in terms of benefits. I’ll say I’ve been pleased with what I’ve found from both angles.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been following a new bedtime ritual: a half hour in the sauna, a cold plunge in the pool, bed. The reasoning is that after warming up my tissues in the sauna, I drop them back down to prepare for sleep. So far, it’s working. I wasn’t exactly starting from a deficit—my sleep has been consistently good ever since I changed how I consume alcohol—but I’m really happy with the new setup.

Why infrared?

A traditional sauna heats the air around you. An infrared sauna uses infrared light to penetrate your skin and warm you directly without affecting the ambient temperature. This makes them great for home use.

Okay, but do they actually work? What good is heating your skin with infrared light?

I’ve covered the benefits of traditional saunas before—they’re great and many of them apply to infrared saunas—but today I’ll discuss the unique advantages of infrared saunas.

Heart Health

Perhaps the most robust evidence for the benefits of infrared saunas concern their effects on various measures and determinants of heart health. For decades, the Japanese have used an infrared sauna protocol called Waon therapy to treat heart disease and heart failure patients.

In patients with an elevated risk for heart disease, Waon therapy (spending 15 minutes a day for two weeks in the infrared sauna) reduced urinary levels of a prostaglandin linked to oxidative stress. It also reduced blood pressure.

In another group of men with an elevated risk for heart disease, the same protocol also improved endothelial function—how well the arteries hold against stress.

In men recovering from heart failure, the same protocol boosted their endothelial function and improved how well the heart performed its duties.

In people with heart failure, Waon therapy also increased exercise tolerance by improving endothelial function.

Infrared sauna therapy has also:

Pain

Proponents make big claims about the ability of infrared saunas to reduce pain of all kinds—chronic, arthritic, (as you’ll see later) fibromyalgic, post-workout. Any truth?

For people with chronic pain, adding infrared sauna therapy to a grab-bag of exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, and rehab was better at reducing pain than the grab-bag alone.

In another study of both rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis suffers, infrared sauna therapy reduced stiffness, pain, and other clinical symptoms of the respective diseases.

Later on, you’ll see that infrared saunas can improve fibromyalgia symptoms.

Kidney Disease

Clinicians aren’t sending kidney disease patients down to the local infrared sauna spot, but they are using localized infrared radiation.

In hemodialysis patients, infrared therapy improved blood flow and reduced the incidence of arteriovenous fistula (AVF) malfunctions (AVFs are artificial connections between arteries and veins often surgically created in dialysis patients).

Another study in hemodialysis patients found that infrared therapy accelerated maturation of AVFs after surgical creation.

Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia

Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are terrible to experience. What’s worse, the two—crushing, unending fatigue and constant, unjustified pain—often go together. Luckily, it seems that infrared saunas might be able to help.

In one study, researchers placed CF patients on Waon therapy (15 minutes a day in the sauna) for five days a week, 4 weeks. They didn’t report many changes during the sessions, but after four weeks they all showed improvements in depression, mood, fatigue, anxiety, and performance. An earlier study had similar results, with some patients even able to discontinue medication.

A single session of Waon infrared therapy was enough reduce fibromyalgia-related pain by 11-70% in 13 female patients with fibromyalgia.

Pre-Gaming

By pre-gaming, I’m not talking about drinking cheap plastic bottle vodka with your friends before hitting the bars. I mean preparing your body for certain stressful situations. Evidence suggests that infrared saunas can improve your resilience and performance in the face of several different kinds of stressors.

Decompression stress: Pretreatment with infrared sauna can help free divers prepare for deep dives. Those who hung out in an infrared sauna for a half hour before diving were more resilient in the face of decompression stress.

UV stress: Pretreatment with infrared light can help sunbathers improve their resistance to the damaging effects of UV radiation. This is probably an evolutionary adaptation to ancestral sun exposure patterns—early morning sunlight, rich in infrared wavelengths, preparing us for the hotter, more UV-rich midday sun.

Training stress: Rugby players who exposed themselves to infrared lights (with prior consent, of course) before training showed enhanced performance and accelerated recovery. Infrared light applied before lifting weights may also reduce post-exercise strength loss. Applied during activity, it increases time to fatigue.

Nursing stress: Breastfeeding mothers who used infrared saunas enjoyed increased milk production. Many of the subjects were having trouble producing enough milk, and infrared application allowed about half to successfully nurse until weaning.

Speculative (But Plausible) Benefits

Folks make a lot of big claims online. Sometimes they cite literature, sometimes not. And many times the literature they do cite isn’t really relevant. But not always. I’ve sifted through them to pull out what look to be the most plausible yet speculative benefits.

Mitochondria: Near-infrared light—which penetrates human tissue— triggers mitochondria to produce more ATP.

Cancer: Near-infrared light may be able to target cancer cells.

Any way to replicate this without a device?

It won’t equal the power of a targeted infrared sauna, but the morning sun is rich in infrared light. Get up in time to bask in it.

The one I have comes from Clearlight, and I’ve been pleased with it. There are less expensive options, too, like the dome tents.

All in all, infrared saunas seem very promising. I certainly enjoy mine, and the scientific literature is quite persuasive and expansive—especially for an “alternative” therapy like infrared saunas. For those who have the means and the need for help with some of the conditions infrared may treat or a desire to see how it affects their recovery and resilience to stressors, I can heartily recommend either buying one or signing up for a few trips to the local infrared sauna spot.

Anyone else an infrared sauna devotee? I’d be interested in hearing from people who have been doing it for a long time—what benefits have you noticed?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

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34 Comments on "Are Infrared Saunas Beneficial?"

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HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
2 months 10 days ago
Wow … color me jealous Mark! I have read some very favorable information about the benefits of infrared saunas, would love to have one in the convenience of my home. I do have access to a conventional Finnish sauna, not as effective as an infrared sauna but still good therapy. Your routine of the hot followed by the cold is engendering the process of hormesis, which is considered a key health strategy by the life extension and life enhancement crowd. A member of our family is fighting pancreatic cancer and part of her extensive regimen includes sessions in an infrared… Read more »
Cody
Cody
2 months 9 days ago

I think this article tipped the scales for me – have been considering installing one. But, not all products are created equal, without plugging a specific brand, any guidelines when shopping for one?

BeLikeGrok
BeLikeGrok
2 months 9 days ago

Look for one that shields the user from electric fields. Most do not. Clearlight does.

You’ll also need to decide if you want full spectrum (more $$) or just far spectrum. Most studies are just on far spectrum, I believe.

Shary
Shary
2 months 9 days ago

Check the “Clearlight” website. This is the brand Mark installed (as is mentioned in the article).

Since these are obviously an expensive addition to one’s home, it might be an excellent idea to try a few sessions at the local infrared spa to see if it will accomplish whatever you’re looking to accomplish. (They might not do much for the average healthy individual or for.) I’d be interested to hear what benefits Mark has noticed.

Cody
Cody
2 months 9 days ago

Thanx for the replies – much appreciated.

Tim Ferriss
1 month 26 days ago

Check out infraredsaunacanada.ca. They also use the same low/no EMF heater tech as Clearlight but “maybe” better quality and a little less expensive. Nice people to talk to. These folks are gentle Canadians and not high pressure used cars sales guys like most of the U.S. Sauna companies.

Kyle Sullivan
2 months 9 days ago

I have access to an infrared sauna but am planning to avoid it in the next 6 months before my wife and I try to conceive.

I like the ‘benefits’ but I am uncertain if the heat would be harmful for reproduction; I know the sauna has different temperature settings, but normally it’s around 145 degrees. Any way to get the benefits without the harmful side?

Tamber Weston
7 days 18 minutes ago

Yes, Dr. Mercola recommends that men keep an ice pack over the genitals to protect the testicles during infrared exposure.

Elizabeth
2 months 9 days ago

I’ve been intrigued by these for awhile now. I tried one at a massage studio and liked it. Have also heard it does wonders for your skin. I remember hearing years ago on a podcast (don’t remember which one) that someone actually analyzed sweat and found people were releasing way more toxins in the infrared sauna than in a traditional one. I know someone who says it was very beneficial in dealing with the toxic levels of mercury she had built up.

Matt B
Matt B
2 months 8 days ago

I have read similar things regarding the benefits of infra red saunas for assisting the detox process. As someone who had struggled with mercury related health issues myself this sounds promising albeit some more rigorous scientific studies are needed.

Marilee
Marilee
2 months 9 days ago

Can anyone comment on the quality/effectiveness/safety of infrared blankets? I don’t have space for a sauna.

Alisa
Alisa
2 months 9 days ago

I have a biomat and love it.
http://www.biomat.com

Marilee
Marilee
2 months 8 days ago

Thanks for the link and suggestion.

Mike Torres
2 months 9 days ago

Many of the dome tents sold on Amazon are high EMF, so hard to really recommend getting one of those without researching the individual unit. The one I ordered – which is supposedly very low EMF – is Therasage 360, but shipments are delayed due to popularity.

Jack
Jack
2 months 9 days ago
For those considering an infrared sauna, you may want to consider a hybrid sauna. A hybrid sauna has both an electric heater with rocks, and infrared panels. Only works in obe mode at a time. I start by turning on the regular sauna to heat it up. Once it is hot, my spouse, of Finnish descent, who prefers a traditional sauna, gets in and throws water on the rocks for steam. When she is done and the sauna is still hot, I flip the sauna to infrared mode and get in. I get the benefits of traditional sauna heat along… Read more »
Jack
Jack
2 months 9 days ago

Oops. Previous comment should read ‘ one’ mode at a time, not obe.

2Rae
2Rae
2 months 9 days ago

Funny, I read “one” anyway…… the brain makes the adjustment automatically. No worries.

Lucy
Lucy
2 months 8 days ago

..I was like…an Out of Body Experience? Way cool! Alas, my brain isn’t working properly… :\

ValerieH
ValerieH
2 months 9 days ago
I’ve tried to research this online and all the articles I could find were from sauna companies and sales websites. The winter of 2013 seemed to never end. I felt like it would never be warm again. I bought a used, stand alone sauna that was from Craigslist. Someone purchased a storage locker from a failed spa and was selling off all the items. All the wires were cut between the walls and roof but my husband was able to splice it back together. I don’t know if the heating elements are ceramic or infrared. I’m guessing ceramic. I have… Read more »
Marge
Marge
2 months 9 days ago
I had never heard of an infrared sauna before. This intrigues me, because we use a soapstone masonry heater to heat our house (we also have oil heat by baseboard for the ultra-cold – below 20 – weather), and I know the stone radiates infrared. We all love to warm up at the masonry heater! We leave the far corners of the house pretty cool. One Christmas, a visiting relative gifted us all with a horrible norovirus. One by one, we woke in the middle of the night to violent vomiting and diarrhea, followed by exhaustion and weakness. We all… Read more »
Marge
Marge
2 months 9 days ago

I found this interesting article addressing the medical uses of far infrared. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3699878/

Catherine
Catherine
2 months 9 days ago
We have done a lot of research on this. There is a spectrum of IR. Near IR has a deeper healing penetration into the tissues. Clearlight hasNIR panels as well as FAR. This was a very expensive option so we bought 4 Rubylux 258W bulbs and fitted them into reptile aquarium lamps. We clip these on to ladder back chairs and sit in amongst for 15mins, gently rotating at cost of around £150. My partner also wrote the following into a blog yesterday. Incandescent lamps (in your home) offer %IR benefits that the ‘eco’ bulbs don’t and such blue light… Read more »
Jeanette W.
Jeanette W.
2 months 6 days ago

Rosacea question — I recently bought a Ruby Lux red light to use on my face for rosacea. I’ve read very positive things about it, but I haven’t tried it yet. Has anyone tried this?

Ella
1 month 26 days ago

Catherine – I’m interest in Near vs FAR. Please share link to your partner’s blog if it sheds light on this issue. Pun fully intended. Thanks!

Catherine
Catherine
2 months 9 days ago

Oops that should be 250W

Matthew
Matthew
2 months 9 days ago

I’ve been doing infrared sauna’s now for about 3 months (Sunlighten brand). Three times per week for half hour. It’s made a noticeable improvement on my back pain. I’d estimate a 50% reduction in pain, some days I barely feel any back discomfort, which is pretty much unheard of the last 20 years of my life. I’ve been trying it per my Functional Medicine Doctors suggestion for detox. I’m not clear what it’s done on that end, but I feel really great after my saunas. And I know that pain is reduced, so encouraged!

Matthew
Matthew
2 months 9 days ago

Oh, and I’d add that I’m now seriously considering purchasing my own unit. I feel that encouraged by it. (I’m using a local spa’s right now, they have a monthly membership).

steve
steve
2 months 9 days ago

“Reduces blood pressure” = a bad effect for some people. Reducing blood pressure isn’t a universal good for “everyone”, and is a reason for some people to avoid saunas. Hypotension, (overly low blood pressure) isn’t as rare as the Internet ALWAYS assumes.

Otherwise, terrific article (nothing personal on my blood pressure rant, Mark)

Matt B
Matt B
2 months 8 days ago

Very timely post as I’ve been looking at trying one. I have an appointment this weekend so will report back!

Jonathon EagleStar
Jonathon EagleStar
2 months 8 days ago

Are the heat lamps you often see in the bathroom at the hotel, or warming the food awaiting pickup, at all useful? I’ll move up to one of the tents, at some point, but am a bit strapped for cash, at the moment and would like to reap what benefits I can.

Yvonne
Yvonne
2 months 7 days ago

My husband and I (late 50’s) have been using a far infrared sauna for about 7 years, almost every night. It’s extremely relaxing, we can stretch out in it and we don’t get colds as much. We just got a new one–Clearlight, which is spacious and very comfortable. Its become a great habit for us.

TAMI
TAMI
2 months 1 day ago
Thanks for this post. We are seriously considering purchasing an infrared sauna, but it would be a huge investment for us. I have seen the ones that Dr. Mercola sells and wonder if you think those are the same high quality and worth purchasing…or any other thoughts. We looked at the ones that you suggested. If we are going to spend this much money we do want to be sure that we are getting the best we can get at the price we are willing to pay. So if we can get a different brand with the same quality but… Read more »
karen
1 month 26 days ago

i have one for years and LOVE it and so do all of my clients. Great for recovery, skin, mood, pain and heart health (endurance building). It is a sanctuary and the end of the day and a great start to the beginning of the day, since I don’t live in Cali!

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