Sauna suits are waterproof tracksuits designed to hold in heat and make you sweat. And given this excessive fluid loss, it's possible you've considered trying sauna suits for weight loss.
So, what are sauna suits used for, exactly? Some athletes (like wrestlers) may use them to sweat out excess water and "cut weight" before a match, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Non-athletes may likewise turn to these sweat suits to lose weight, per the American Council on Exercise.
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However, it's crucial to be aware of the health hazards associated with wearing a sauna suit to lose weight — you should only use these products with the guidance of a medical professional. While sauna suits, shirts or vests do work when it comes to short-term water weight loss, the risks overshadow the potential benefits of a sauna suit.
With that precaution in mind, here's everything you need to know about sauna suits and weight loss, including what a sauna suit does to your body, whether sauna suits can burn fat and if you should try these products at all.
Talk to your doctor before trying a sweat suit to lose weight. They can help you determine if it's safe for you and whether the benefits of a sauna suit outweigh the risks.
Do Sauna Suits Help You Lose Weight?
Sweating vests or suits do work when it comes to rapid weight loss.
But fast weight loss isn't safe or recommended, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's typically the result of shedding water weight or burning lean tissue instead of fat, neither of which are good for your overall wellbeing.
What's more, using sweat suits for rapid weight loss is short-lived, as water weight can re-accumulate once you hydrate.
How much water weight you can lose wearing a sauna suit depends on factors like your initial hydration level and how your body naturally retains water, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
So if you're wondering how long you have to stay in a sauna suit to lose 2 or 5 pounds, for example, there's no clear answer. And regardless, this weight loss is only temporary.
Instead, focus on building sustainable weight-loss habits like eating nutritious foods and participating in physical activity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How Much Weight Can You Lose in a Sauna?
Using a sauna can have a similar dehydrating effect as you sweat out water weight. But there's no clear answer for how much water weight you can lose in a sauna, as it depends on factors like your hydration levels, per the NASM.
Do Sauna Suits Burn Fat?
As previously noted, sauna suits primarily help you shed water weight. But does wearing a sauna suit burn any fat?
The short answer is no, according to the Mayo Clinic. Rapid weight loss is primarily due to losing fluids, not fat.
And while wearing a sauna suit may help you burn more calories by temporarily increasing your heart rate, this extra calorie burn is negligible and you shouldn't bank on it for weight loss.
So while sweat vests seem to really work in the short term, it's always best to focus on developing safer, more sustainable weight-loss habits instead.
Sauna Suit Risks
If you want to use a plastic suit for weight loss, there are some serious safety considerations to keep in mind. Here are the risks associated with using a workout sweat suit to lose weight:
1. Dangerous Dehydration
In 1997, the CDC released a notice regarding three collegiate wrestlers who died while attempting to rapidly lose weight in sauna suits to qualify for competition. The deaths were determined to be a direct result of dehydration through the sweating and hypothermia that occurred while wearing sauna sweat suits.
The wrestlers restricted their food and fluid intake during this time and were doing high-intensity exercise in hot environments, which further contributed to the harmful effects of the suits.
Per the CDC, vigorous exercise accompanied by dehydration increases body temperature, which is exacerbated by the use of sauna suits that don't allow for heat loss or sweat evaporation. This causes dehydration and other heat-related issues, such as elevated sodium and urea.
The takeaway: Workouts in a sauna suit can do more harm than good.
2. Electrolyte Imbalance
- Feeling thirsty
- Dry mouth
- Urinating and sweating less than usual
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry skin
- Feeling tired
Severe dehydration can be life-threatening, per the NLM. Seek medical care immediately if you experience confusion, fainting, rapid breathing or heart rate, shock or lack of urination.
3. Unsustainable Weight Loss
There's no good reason why you should use a sauna suit, given the potential for extreme dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Yet people still turn to plastic sweat suits for their ability to induce rapid weight loss.
But remember, this type of weight loss is typically only the result of losing fluids, meaning it isn't sustainable or safe, per the Mayo Clinic.
In other words, sweat suits do help you lose weight, but only temporarily, and in a way that can potentially harm your health.
Instead of relying on a sweat bag, trash bag or sweating jacket to lose weight, try more sustainable strategies, like eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly, per the Mayo Clinic.
Sauna Suit Benefits
Remember: Using sauna suits for weight loss is not safe, sustainable or recommended. But in controlled settings, it's possible that sauna suits offer certain benefits.
1. May Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
A small March 2016 study in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found that training with a sauna suit may improve cardiovascular health. The researchers concluded that regular, moderate-intensity exercise training wearing a sauna suit increased cardiorespiratory fitness.
The 12 participants in the study also experienced significant improvements in body fat percentage, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol and maximal oxygen uptake.
Another December 2017 article in the International Journal of Research in Exercise physiology showed similar results: After an eight-week study on 45 people, the participants who exercised wearing a sauna suit showed significantly greater improvements in V̇O2 max, body mass index, body fat percentage, blood glucose, fat oxidation and resting metabolic rate.
The study concluded that heat stress induced by a sauna suit might be beneficial for those who have overweight or obesity.
However, it's important to note that both of these studies were small, and participants experienced these sauna vest benefits under medical supervision. So while these results may suggest that sweat suits do work to improve heart health, it's still not safe or recommended to try these suits on your own.
2. Can Trap Moisture to Soothe Eczema
There's no reason why you should wear a sweat suit for weight loss. However, your doctor may recommend you try a sauna suit for other reasons, like treating eczema.
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, plastic suits can be an effective tool to seal in moisture and medication if you have severe eczema. This typically involves taking a medicated bath, then applying wet wraps to the affected area and holding in the moisture by wearing a sauna suit under your clothes.
Your doctor may recommend trying this technique overnight, which is really the only case where you can sleep in your sauna suit safely. However, make sure to discuss the treatment with your doctor before you try it.
- Mayo Clinic: "Why Do Doctors Recommend a Slow Rate of Weight Loss? What's Wrong With Fast Weight Loss?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Hyperthermia and Dehydration-Related Deaths Associated With Intentional Rapid Weight Loss in Three Collegiate Wrestlers -- North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan, November-December 1997"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Dehydration"
- International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology: "Effects of Exercise Training With a Sauna Suit on Cardiovascular Health: A Proof-of-Concept Study"
- International Journal of Research in Exercise: "Health-Related Benefits of Exercise Training With a Sauna Suit: A Randomized, Controlled Trial"
- American Council on Exercise: "ACE-SPONSORED RESEARCH: The Performance Benefits of Training with a Sauna Suit"
- Johns Hopkins University: "Yes, drinking more water may help you lose weight"
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Eczema"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "How to Lose Water Weight Effectively"
- American Heart Association: "Getting Active to Control High Blood Pressure"