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Advantages of Infrared Sauna
Written by Bob Morgan   

Infrared sauna may offer a cooler, healthier way to sweat.

woman in saunaSaunas – in one form or another – have been used for centuries by cultures around the globe to attain body purification, relaxation and rejuvenation. It is not always clear what people mean when they refer to saunas. We are often asked if we offer “dry” or “steam” saunas. They are actually two distinct things: saunas and steam rooms. Steam rooms are run at lower temperatures but with 100 percent humidity, and are usually made of ceramic tile. Saunas are usually wooden and are used dry, at considerably higher air temperatures with the option of creating bursts of steam by sprinkling water onto a pile of hot stones.

The Age of Infrared

In the mid-eighties, a new kind of sauna arrived in North America: “far-infrared” (FIR) or “infrared” saunas were first imported from Japan and South Korea. These smaller plug-in units remained in relative obscurity until the internet boom of the 1990s brought them to the public’s attention. Now, the marketplace is teeming with them. Most brands are made in China and distributed in North America by US and Canadian companies under their own brand names.

There are several key distinctions between FIR and traditional saunas. The most notable differences seem counter-intuitive: the FIR units are used at lower temperatures, yet they often induce heavier sweating than in the hotter traditional ones. How can that be? The answer lies in the faster speed and higher efficiency with which infrared energy warms the body as compared to heated air. Sweating is triggered as a defense mechanism to keep us from overheating, and the level of this response corresponds with the rate of body heating. That rate is simply higher with most FIR saunas than with traditional ones.

How it Works

Infrared energy is simply natural “heat energy” – a form of non-visible light that is radiated from any and all objects. It is converted to heat upon absorption. Our bodies radiate far-infrared. The sun is often cited in FIR sauna literature as a primary example of an energy radiator. Energy is radiated from the sun in waves of varying frequencies that, in total, comprise the “spectrum.” Infrared is the area of the spectrum with frequencies that are “just below red light” – which is the literal meaning of “infrared.”

All saunas are a mix of heated air and infrared energy, but the FIR sauna flips the ratio strongly towards the FIR side of the balance. That means the minimal air temperature required to induce sweating – the typical temperature range of the sauna, the other side of the balance – is lower with FIR saunas. A key advantage of FIR saunas is the lower temperatures, but because the body heating is faster, the detoxification benefits can be higher as the sweat rate is often higher.

The better FIR sauna heaters are ceramic-based – the original, tried and true technology. Those that are carbon-based are promoted as newer and, therefore, superior, but they are largely synthetic and do not emit nearly as much infrared energy per area as the ceramics do. With carbon heating, the sauna’s air temperature needs to be closer to the traditional sauna’s, minimizing one of the primary advantages of the FIR sauna.

The Benefits of FIR

When the body is heated in a sauna, blood flow increases markedly – up to two to three times. This can increase the rates of delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells, as well as the removal of waste materials. Heat in general, and infrared specifically (because of the blood flow increase), has a long history of therapeutic use for pain and stiffness. Infrared sauna has become particularly interesting for its proven detoxification capacities.

FIR saunas are not medical devices per se, but they are increasingly used as adjunctive aids to other therapeutic modalities for a host of health issues, from lyme disease to autism, chemical exposure, metal toxicity, and cancer. For any health issues, one must, of course, work with one’s personal physician to determine if FIR sauna use is appropriate.

Bob Morgan -

Bob Morgan is the owner and founder of Heavenly Heat Saunas founded in 1987