What Is a Far Infrared Sauna?

Woman relaxing in sauna
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Far infrared saunas have become popular in gyms, spas, and other wellness settings around the world. Many people find that infrared saunas provide a more comfortable experience than traditional saunas since the surrounding air stays cool and dry. Far infrared saunas may provide certain health benefits, but these claims are not always backed by strong scientific evidence.

Regardless, you may find that an infrared sauna can be an enjoyable and relaxing experience, and at the very least, you'll probably benefit from short-term stress relief while getting a healthy dose of self-care.

What Is Far Infrared?

Far infrared saunas heat the body directly rather than heating the air around your body. These rooms are often described as infrared heat therapy rooms because heating elements reflect heat in the form of light that is emitted directly onto the body.

In a far infrared sauna, about 20% of the heat goes to heating the air and the other 80% heats your body. This radiant heat penetrates the skin more deeply than traditional saunas.

Because the air around your body is not heated, infrared saunas are often more tolerable than traditional dry or wet saunas. The temperatures in far infrared saunas are typically much lower.

Types of Infrared Saunas

Far infrared is the most common type of infrared sauna, but full-spectrum saunas are also available. These range from near, mid, to far-infrared wavelengths. Each type of energy warms your body without heating the air around you and is said to provide a different benefit.

However, many of the health benefits attributed to different types of infrared saunas are manufacturer claims and are not always supported by research, particularly any weight-loss claims.

  • Near-infrared combines heat and light therapy, also known as phototherapy, which is absorbed just below the surface of the skin to promote healing and revitalization. It is believed to be best for wound healing and increased immune function.
  • Mid-infrared uses a slightly longer wavelength than near-infrared to penetrate deeper into the body’s tissue to increase circulation, release oxygen, and reach injured areas. This range is said to promote muscle relaxation.
  • Far infrared is the longest wavelength, emitting light in the far-infrared range. Some research suggests this type of wavelength can eliminate toxins, stimulate metabolism, and offer cardiovascular benefits.

A far infrared sauna keeps the surrounding air cooler as heat energy penetrates the body to raise its core temperature. A traditional sauna is heated by electric or wood-burning heat to warm the rocks, walls, and surrounding air.

Potential Benefits

There are myriad health benefits associated with far infrared saunas and saunas in general. However, scientific studies investigating sauna use are often small in scale. Some widely cited studies are decades old, while recent studies are often conducted by the same group of researchers.

A large review of sauna studies published in 2018 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine detailed the potential health benefits of dry saunas. "Regular dry sauna bathing has potential health benefits," the authors wrote. "More data of higher quality is needed on the frequency and extent of adverse side effects. Further study is also needed to determine the optimal frequency and duration of distinct types of sauna bathing for targeted health effects and the specific clinical populations who are most likely to benefit."

While not all of the health claims about saunas are supported by high-quality scientific evidence, it doesn't mean that you won't experience the benefits. Here's a closer look at some of the research.

Far infrared saunas may provide pain relief, stress reduction, beauty benefits, and other advantages that can help those with medical conditions. However, there is not enough strong evidence to know for sure if the treatments are effective.

Better Skin

Claims about skin benefits, cellulite reduction, and other beauty benefits are commonly associated with far-infrared sauna use. While these benefits are supported by a wealth of anecdotal evidence, the science to back them is lacking.

Blood Pressure

Both far infrared and other types of sauna are said to improve blood flow and circulation. Emerging research shows a link between sauna and decreased blood pressure in patients with hypertension. but evidence on the general population is still lacking.

For instance, a 2009 review suggested that far infrared sauna use was associated with beneficial effects on systolic hypertension, but noted that most studies are limited by several factors including a small sample size.

Detoxification

It is widely believed that sweating helps rid the body of toxins, though many health experts would point out that toxins are eliminated from the body through the liver, intestines, and kidneys. However, a 2012 review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that certain chemicals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury) are actually prominent in sweat. These findings suggest there is possibly some merit to the sweat-to-detox theory.

Another study published in the same journal showed that induced sweating appears to be a potential method for the elimination of BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical contaminant that has been associated with adverse effects on human health.

Heart Health

The research on reduced blood pressure, weight loss, and stress relief associated with far infrared saunas led some researchers to investigate the potential heart health benefits as well.

A study investigating the health benefits of sauna use conducted by researchers in Finland found that more frequent sauna use was associated with a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke. Men in the study averaged 14 minutes per visit to a 175-degree sauna. The men who visited the sauna four to seven times each week had the lowest mortality rates.

Another study investigated the relationship between the regular use of far infrared saunas by men with coronary risk factors. Researchers concluded that the treatment provided improvements and suggested a therapeutic role for sauna treatment in patients with risk factors for atherosclerosis, an inflammatory disease of the arteries.

Managing Medical Conditions

Since far infrared saunas are more accessible to those who cannot tolerate extreme heat, they may offer pain relief and other benefits to people with certain medical conditions.

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome: A small study conducted on women with chronic fatigue syndrome who were treated with Waon therapy experienced less pain after the treatment, as well as improved mood, and reduced anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Waon therapy is a form of thermal therapy using a far infrared sauna.
  • Type 2 diabetes: There is some evidence that far infrared sauna use may provide benefit to people with type 2 diabetes by reducing blood pressure and waist circumference, according to a 2009 study. The author also notes that people are more likely to stick to a plan to use an infrared sauna than they are to a plan that includes traditional lifestyle interventions.
  • Chronic respiratory conditions: A large study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that frequent sauna baths may be associated with a reduced risk of acute and chronic respiratory conditions in middle-aged men. Those conditions included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, or pneumonia.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Another study investigated the use of far infrared saunas in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Researchers concluded that infrared treatment has statistically significant short-term beneficial effects and no adverse health effects.

Pain Relief

One of the most commonly cited health benefits of infrared saunas is improved muscle recovery after exercise. Anecdotal reports suggest a decrease in pain and inflammation after intense exercise when a workout is followed by a session in the sauna.

There is some evidence to support this benefit: A small study conducted in Finland on ten men found that far infrared sauna use helps to speed recovery from strength and endurance training sessions.

Stress Relief

This is another area where anecdotal claims are substantial but scientific evidence is lacking. However, anyone who has used a sauna can attest to the fact that time spent in a quiet space away from an electronic device is rejuvenating. This can encourage mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing—restorative body processes that are backed by substantial science.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is one of the primary benefits cited by many people who use or sell far infrared saunas. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to back up any weight loss or calorie-burning claims.

A 2009 review on the cardiovascular benefits of far infrared saunas helps put the calorie-burn theory into perspective: "The cardiovascular demand imparted by thermoregulatory homeostasis is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace. As such, FIRSs might be of particular benefit to those who are sedentary due to various medical conditions like osteoarthritis or cardiovascular or respiratory problems."

Another key factor regarding the use of far infrared saunas to lose weight is the confusion between water loss and fat loss. Sweating causes water loss, so it is no surprise that people often weigh a little less after a sauna session. But any weight loss experienced from water loss is likely to be regained.

Weight loss is likely to occur when using a far-infrared sauna due to water weight lost through excessive sweating. However, water loss is not sustainable weight loss and should not be confused with fat loss.

Risks and Side Effects

Most researchers investigating the health benefits of far infrared saunas note that few side effects are associated with their use. However, to stay safe, there are some factors to keep in mind.

  • Dehydration: It's possible to become dehydrated if you don't drink enough water. Be sure to drink plenty of water before and after your session to stay hydrated.
  • Lightheadedness: Even if you hydrate properly, lightheadedness may occur. It's recommended to move slowly both in the sauna and as you move out to prevent falling or collapsing.
  • Overheating: If you are not used to using any type of sauna, there is a risk of overheating. That's why it's important to keep sessions short when you begin. Use the lowest heat setting, if possible.

If you start to experience any of these side effects, exit the sauna immediately. Drink plenty of water and cool off with a cold plunge shower. Drape a cold washcloth over your head to bring your core temperature down. If your heart is pounding or racing and you still feel dizzy or lightheaded, seek emergency medical attention.

Who Should Avoid Far Infrared

Certain people should exercise caution when using any type of sauna, including a far infrared sauna. These include:

  • People with certain medical conditions: Even though far infrared sauna sessions may provide benefits to people with medical conditions, particularly high blood pressure and heart conditions, you should speak to your health care provider before using it for enjoyment or as treatment.
  • People who are taking certain medications: Talk to your doctor about using a sauna if you're taking diuretics, barbiturates, or beta-blockers, since they may hinder your body's ability to produce enough sweat to regulate your core temperature. Those taking medications that cause drowsiness should also seek medical advice before using a sauna.
  • People who are under the influence of substances: You should not use any type of sauna while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • People who are pregnant: If you're pregnant or think that you might be pregnant, you should avoid steam rooms or saunas until you receive personalized advice from your health care provider.

People with health concerns should always talk to their health care provider before trying a far infrared sauna.

How to Prepare

You can usually access a far infrared sauna at your local health club, gym, spa, or wellness center. Some are located in the doctor's office or you can purchase one for home use. You'll use the infrared sauna the same way that you would use a traditional sauna, except that the temperature most likely won't be as high.

Before you try an infrared sauna for the first time, follow these steps to stay safe and make the most out of your session:

  • Drink plenty of water beforehand: Hydrate before the session to avoid lightheadedness.
  • Shower before you go: Just as you would shower before entering a public pool to prevent the spread of bacteria, it's a good idea to shower before using a shared sauna.
  • Choose a safe temperature: When using a sauna for the first time, it's smart to use the lowest temperature setting (if possible).
  • Schedule a shorter session: Those new to infrared saunas should start with shorter sessions at a lower temperature.
  • Move slowly during and after: Be sure to give your body time to adjust after use. Moving too quickly from the sauna room can result in lightheadedness.
  • Hydrate afterward: Remember that you will lose water during the sauna, so it's important to replenish that water so that your body can recover effectively.

To make your far infrared sauna experience more enjoyable, you might bring your own portable Bluetooth speaker or play music on your phone, just be sure the sauna your using allows it—some places may play their own music. Towels are usually provided, but you may bring your own if you think you'll sweat a lot or plan to take another shower afterward. And of course, you can also bring a friend along so you have someone to chat with during your session.

What to Expect

If you're ready to try a far infrared sauna but still have a few lingering questions, here's a rundown of what you can expect.

  • How warm will it be? Most far infrared saunas will have temperatures ranging from 100˚F to 150˚F.
  • How long will it last? Beginners should start with 10–15 minute sessions and build from there. Experienced sauna-goers will stay anywhere from 20–45 minutes.
  • What should you wear? Wear loose, breathable clothing that you don't mind sweating in such as a t-shirt and baggy shorts. You can also wear a bathing suit. Be sure to bring a change of clothes, too.
  • How often can you go? For your first few visits, it's a good idea to stick to just one visit per week.

As you get comfortable with the treatment, gradually increase the time, temperature, or frequency of visits.

A Word From Verywell

Far infrared sauna benefits are widely touted by health experts, medical professionals, and those in the sauna industry. While you are likely to experience some enjoyment from the experience, there is no guarantee that the treatment will promote weight loss or provide relief from a medical condition.

If you are interested in using far infrared technology for improved wellness or medical purposes, talk to your health care provider about including the sessions as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Remember, while there are many purported benefits to far-infrared saunas, further research is still needed to substantiate many of these claims. Despite this, infrared saunas appear to be generally safe and can be an enjoyable way to relax and unwind by yourself or with a loved one.

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15 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Beever, R. (2010). Do Far-infrared Saunas Have Cardiovascular Benefits in People with Type 2 Diabetes? Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 34(2), 113–118. doi:10.1016/s1499-2671(10)42007-9

  • Beever R. (2009). Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: summary of published evidence. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien55(7), 691–696. PMID: 19602651

  • Crinnion WJ. (2011). Sauna as a valuable clinical tool for cardiovascular, autoimmune, toxicant-induced and other chronic health problems. Environmental Medicine.

  • Dean, W. (1981). Effect of sweating. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 246(6), 623–623

  • Imamura, M., Biro, S., & Kihara, T. (2002). Repeated thermal therapy improves impaired vascular endothelial function in patients with coronary risk factors. ACC Current Journal Review, 11(2), 32. doi:10.1016/s1062-1458(02)00539-1

  • Joy Hussain and Marc Cohen, “Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2018, Article ID 1857413, 30 pages, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/1857413

  • Kunutsor, S. K., Laukkanen, T., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2017). Sauna bathing reduces the risk of respiratory diseases: a long-term prospective cohort study. European Journal of Epidemiology, 32(12), 1107–1111. doi:10.1007/s10654-017-0311-6

  • Laukkanen, J. A., Laukkanen, T., & Kunutsor, S. K. (2018). Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 93(8), 1111–1121. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.04.008

  • Laukkanen, T., Khan, H., Zaccardi, F., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2015). Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(4), 542. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187

  • Margaret E. Sears, Kathleen J. Kerr, and Riina I. Bray, “Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2012, Article ID 184745, 10 pages, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/184745.

  • Mero, A., Tornberg, J., Mäntykoski, M., & Puurtinen, R. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. SpringerPlus4, 321. doi:10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5

  • Oosterveld, F. G. J., Rasker, J. J., Floors, M., Landkroon, R., van Rennes, B., Zwijnenberg, J., … Koel, G. J. (2008). Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Clinical Rheumatology, 28(1), 29–34. doi:10.1007/s10067-008-0977-y

  • Shui, S., Wang, X., Chiang, J. Y., & Zheng, L. (2015). Far-infrared therapy for cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic health problems: A systematic review. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 240(10), 1257–1265. doi:10.1177/1535370215573391

  • Soejima, Y., Munemoto, T., Masuda, A., Uwatoko, Y., Miyata, M., & Tei, C. (2015). Effects of Waon Therapy on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Pilot Study. Internal Medicine, 54(3), 333–338. doi:10.2169/internalmedicine.54.3042

  • Stephen J. Genuis, Sanjay Beesoon, Detlef Birkholz, and Rebecca A. Lobo, “Human Excretion of Bisphenol A: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2012, Article ID 185731, 10 pages, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/185731.