Infrared saunas are touted as a great way to enjoy the benefits of a sauna while using less energy. Despite the many health benefits which have been linked to infrared sauna therapy, few have been supported by conclusive evidence. Those considering infrared saunas as an option for health treatments should consult a doctor first.
An infrared sauna is not the same as a steam sauna. According to AltMed, a website on complementary and alternative medicine from the Creighton University Medical Center, an infrared sauna is heated using incandescent infrared heat lamps. Dr. Mehmet Oz from The Oprah Winfrey Show explains that the infrared energy produced by these saunas is the same as that which comes from the sun. Therefore, users are able to experience the beneficial effects of infrared radiation without exposing themselves to harmful UV radiation from the sun.
The infrared energy that is created by the heat lamps in an infrared sauna is typically classified as near infrared and middle infrared energy. However, there are also saunas that are specifically categorized as far infrared saunas for their ability to produce this type of energy. According to the journal Canadian Family Physician, far infrared saunas, also known as FIRSs, are approved by the Canadian Standards Association.
Numerous health benefits have been linked to infrared sauna use. Canadian Family Physician website reports that there is a fair amount of evidence associating infrared sauna use to improvements in congestive heart failure and blood pressure. Furthermore, the journal explains that some evidence exists that infrared saunas may help to ease chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pain. A study reported in the journal Clinical Rheumatology explained that the use of infrared saunas helped to decrease pain and stiffness for patients with rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. Dr. Oz also reports that infrared saunas can cause the body to sweat out toxins, burn calories and increase blood circulation.
While many health benefits have been linked to infrared saunas, the evidence is not conclusive in most cases. For example, the benefits reported by the Canadian Family Physician are categorized as having either "limited moderate," "fair" or "weak" evidence to support them. Other health benefit claims previously linked to infrared saunas have also been reported, such as cholesterol reduction. Furthermore, the Federal Trade Commission has forced at least one company to refund customers who purchased their infrared saunas due to incorrect claims that it could treat or prevent a range of conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers, herpes and asthma.
If your skin becomes clammy or you begin to feel tired or nauseous when using a sauna, exit the sauna immediately to avoid heat exhaustion. Anyone who may be experiencing a heat stroke, which is usually signaled when a person stops sweating in high heat conditions, should also leave the sauna.
Creighton University Medical School's AltMed website explains that individuals with a history of multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, hyperthyroidism, systemic lupus erythematous or adrenal suppression should not use an infrared sauna. Furthermore, those who are pregnant, nursing or experiencing their menstrual flow should not use a sauna. Those with artificial joints, metal pins and silicone implants should also avoid using these machines. The effects of some prescription drugs may be altered due to the high heat in a sauna.