If you don’t have a lot of experience with saunas, you’re probably most familiar with the traditional kind or a steam room and you may be wary of the infrared variety. Is the radiation dangerous?
An infrared sauna is potentially dangerous or harmful if you have a fever or specific medical conditions like Multiple Sclerosis or heart disease. Infrared saunas are generally considered safe as long as you follow basic safety precautions, including adhering to recommended usage times and frequencies, wearing eye protection, and staying hydrated.
Keep reading to learn more about why infrared saunas may be harmful and the situations in which you should avoid them.
Reasons why infrared sauna can be dangerous
Infrared waves are absorbed through natural exposure to the sun. This heat causes several reactions in the body that may produce increased blood flow, relief from pain, and better sleep quality. Unlike a traditional sauna that heats the air around the user, infrared works by heating your core temperature via electrically powered infrared heat lamps that penetrate the skin.
Scientific research has uncovered some data that suggests there may be potential risks to using infrared saunas. Many of these studies have been done using much more intense exposure to infrared waves than is common to those used in the saunas found in spas and homes. Most researchers agree that more studies are needed.
The most commonly reported harmful effects to consider before beginning infrared sauna use include:
- Risk of overheating or dehydration
- Mild respiratory symptoms
- EMF exposure
- Lowered sperm count
However, the infrared spectrum includes near, mid, and far wavelengths. Each of these comes with its own pros and cons. Newer saunas tend to use far or full spectrum, which is generally considered safe to use.
The lower temperatures experienced in an infrared sauna (an average of 40-50° less than a traditional sauna) and its shorter heating time may make it better for some.
Risk of overheating or dehydration
Even healthy people can experience dehydration or overheating, especially when exposed to the extreme heat of a sauna.
The easiest way to combat dehydration is to drink the equivalent of 3-4 bottles of water on sauna day and avoid alcohol consumption for at least 24 hours.
If you have a fever, you should avoid visiting the sauna until it passes, as this will exacerbate the risk of dehydration.
Mild respiratory symptoms
Infrared saunas produce a dry heat environment.
If you tend to get irritated by dry air, some mild discomfort could be experienced, although this is not likely to be serious.
Overall, studies have shown that most sufferers of asthma, COPD, and even acute respiratory illness find time in the sauna to be helpful to their condition.
Saunas are incredibly relaxing but can also make you feel worse if used incorrectly.
Depending on your experience in the sauna, you should start with 5-minute sessions, working your way up to 15 and then 30 minutes over the next few weeks. Three is the average number of times you will probably want to visit the sauna in a week, but you shouldn’t exceed 4 visits in a week.
As with any new addition to your health routine, talk to your doctor and start out slowly.
Learn more about how long you should stay in the sauna in this article.
Electric and magnetic fields are energy fields produced when electricity is used. There are government regulations detailing restrictions and safety procedures regarding these magnetic fields, as they can be harmful at high levels.
Most manufacturers report the measurement of EMFs in their infrared saunas to be equivalent to those produced by small home appliances. At this level, the radiation is generally considered harmless.
Given the limited amount of time most people spend in the sauna, EMF exposure is unlikely to be a serious concern.
Lowered sperm count
Sperm are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and prefer an environment 3-4 degrees below body temp. This means that the extreme heat of a spa could negatively affect your sperm count in fairly dramatic ways.
Since heat can be detrimental to sperm count, those looking to conceive may want to pause infrared sauna visits during this time.
For what it’s worth, you should also avoid spending time in hot baths or jacuzzis and wear loose-fitting boxers.
Is infrared heat harmful to the human body?
Infrared heat or infrared radiation (radiant heat) is a wavelength of energy not visible to the human eye. If you were to view it on a thermal image, it would begin to appear from the red edge of the spectrum.
Not only is infrared radiation absorbed through the skin when exposed to the sun, but the body also emits this energy. While infrared heat is capable of causing damage, it is generally not considered harmful at low levels.
Several studies have even touted the benefits of using infrared heat for healing and wellness. Infrared heat is also used in hospital nurseries to warm newborns.
Do infrared saunas give off radiation?
Radiation gets a bad rap, but it’s not all nuclear fallout and radiation poisoning.
Radiation is not necessarily a bad thing. There are two ends to the radiation spectrum, non-ionizing and ionizing. Infrared radiation, like the kind used in infrared saunas, is non-ionizing and classified in the safe range.
In fact, while it’s not a significant amount, even human bodies give off infrared radiation.
Are infrared saunas carcinogenic?
Infrared light doesn’t directly cause cancer.
Infrared radiation alone is not capable of producing a sunburn. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are much more commonly linked to the potential for developing skin cancer.
In fact, some forms of infrared radiation may actually help prevent the absorption of harmful UV radiation.
Can an infrared sauna damage your eyes?
You know that both looking directly at the sun and extreme heat can hurt your eyes and an infrared sauna is a little bit of both. Is the same true?
The likelihood of eye damage resulting from an infrared sauna depends on the specific type of radiation the sauna employs. Near-infrared radiation (NIR) has shown a link to the development of cataracts. Some infrared saunas use only NIR, some use the full spectrum (near, mid, and far), while many use only far infrared radiation.
Make sure to research the specifications of – and recommended safety equipment for – the sauna you intend to use.
Do you need goggles for the infrared sauna?
If you use an infrared sauna that emits near-infrared or full-spectrum infrared light, it is advisable to use eye protection.
This affordable eye protection can help block, blue, red, infrared, and UV light.
Can the infrared sauna damage your skin?
With all the heat and radiation, you may wonder if your time in an infrared sauna can cause skin damage.
There has been some evidence to show that high levels of near-infrared radiation may cause some skin damage. However, it is important to remember that infrared saunas generally use a very low-level light therapy and wouldn’t fall into the levels used in these studies.
Make sure to notice any differences in your skin’s texture or appearance after using the infrared sauna and visit a qualified professional for assessment if you have any concerns.
Using an infrared sauna safely
Humans have been using heat to detoxify and revitalize themselves for thousands of years. Health benefits range from easing sore muscles to lowering blood pressure.
When preparing for your infrared sauna experience, you should ensure that you’re properly hydrated since overheating is the biggest safety concern in the sauna. You should also leave your phone (and any metal jewelry) outside for the same reason. After your session, you should allow yourself time to cool down. After everything, take a shower to rinse off the sweat caused by the detoxification process.
You should also consult your health club’s rules or your user’s manual regarding any other potential health or safety precautions you should take.
What to do before an infrared sauna session?
Before an infrared sauna session, you should take certain steps to ensure a safe and relaxing experience.
Following these tips can help make your infrared sauna sessions safe and enjoyable:
- Cool down slowly
- Shower after
Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.
The goal of a good sauna session is to sweat, so dehydration is a concern if you haven’t properly prepared.
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your time in the sauna. Staying away from alcohol immediately before your session is also recommended.
If you find yourself feeling dizzy during your session, exit immediately.
As you’re certainly aware, saunas are very hot. However, it may not occur to you that they are so hot they can heat your metal jewelry enough to burn you.
Additionally, phones and mobile devices can be damaged by the heat inside an infrared sauna, even if the humidity is not a concern.
Take advantage of the time to disconnect from the digital and relax.
Cool down slowly
Just like when exercising, your core temperature and heart rate increase in an infrared sauna.
After leaving the sauna, allow yourself to cool down just like you would after a workout. Give yourself 15-20 minutes, then take a relaxing shower.
Your blood pressure may also be affected, so returning to activity slowly is advised.
Detoxing is one of the greatest benefits of an infrared sauna session.
Taking the time to shower after getting out of an infrared sauna ensures that the toxins are fully removed from your skin (along with the sweat, of course).
Overall, a shower will help complete that refreshed, relaxed feeling.
How long is it safe to be in an infrared sauna?
The time limits for an infrared sauna are related to maximizing the positive effects of the sauna while minimizing any potential negative effects.
Newbies may want to limit their use to 5-10 minutes. Experienced users can safely use the infrared sauna for up to 30 minutes.
As always, if you begin to feel dehydrated, dizzy, or nauseous, you should exit the sauna immediately.
When should you avoid the infrared sauna?
While most medical reports agree that infrared saunas are generally safe, they do warn some users to be aware of potential dangers.
You should avoid the infrared sauna if you:
- Have open wounds – While infrared saunas may stimulate cell and tissue growth, it is recommended to allow wounds to heal before using a public infrared sauna.
- Suffer from heart disease – All saunas, including infrared saunas, can increase blood flow and oxygen consumption. It’s always a good idea to check with your primary care provider before using an infrared sauna if you have any cardiac-related issues.
- Are pregnant – Women who are pregnant have a more difficult time cooling off and are at an increased risk of dehydration. Additionally, exposure to heat above 102°F has been linked to possible birth defects.
- Have a neurological disorder – Neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s may cause sufferers to have trouble registering when they are too hot, therefore, the use of any sauna is not recommended.
- Are on medication – Both prescription and over-the-counter medications may impair the body’s ability to cool down. Some medications may cause increased susceptibility to heatstroke. These may include but aren’t limited to things like antihistamines, decongestants, beta-blockers, or ADHD stimulants.