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Infrared sauna had been my wishlist for a while – and this summer I decided to pull the trigger.
I recently got to speak with the New York Times about my infrared sauna ritual for “Saunas are hot” article by Alexandra Zissu. Saunas are hot for a good reason!
So far, a high-quality walk-in, 3-person infrared sauna has been one of the best investments I’ve made into my wellbeing.
I’ve never had smoother skin or slept better. Those are just the external benefits. My infrared sauna is also a beautiful ritual during which I get 30-60 minutes just to myself, allowing my nervous system and mind to unwind. Some of my best creative ideas come during my sauna sessions!
After a lot of research I went with Sunlighten Signature III in Cedar, and I’m very happy with my choice.
We assembled it in my office and now the whole place smells like you’re in a magical forest.
So what’s the infrared sauna hype all about?
Here’s some of my personal research that inspired me to buy an at-home infrared sauna. The list of sources is at the bottom of this post.
This article is created to help you the right choice when buying an infrared sauna. If you end up going with Sunlighten, make sure you mention Breakfast Criminals for a discount.
What is an infrared sauna and how does it work?
An infrared sauna is a more modern, gentle version of the traditional sauna. While traditional saunas use hot rocks or steam to produce heat in a room, infrared saunas use infrared heaters to create their heat. This method allows infrared heaters to raise your body temperature directly compared to traditional saunas that raise your temperature indirectly. In infrared saunas, only 20 percent of the energy goes into heating the air, which means up to 80 percent of the heat directly warms your body. Although this sounds like a lot of direct heat, don’t be intimated! Using an infrared sauna is often compared to lying in the sun on a warm day.
Which is better – infrared sauna or traditional sauna?
Infrared saunas are more gentle than the traditional sauna. While traditional saunas can run upwards of 200°F, infrared heat runs about 110°F to 150°F (my Sunlighten Signature III heats up to 150F). This lower heat allows users to stay in infrared saunas longer, while remaining comfortable. On average, people should only stay in traditional saunas for only 15 to 20 minutes. However, in infrared saunas, most individuals are able to stay comfortable for up to an hour. The lower heat in infrared saunas also helps lower the risk of becoming dehydrated or experiencing difficulty breathing due to the heat.
Infrared saunas are also said to be more effective at detoxifying the bodies compared to their traditional counterparts, due to their ability to heat the skin tissue rather than just the surface of the skin. “As infrared heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air, users develop a more vigorous sweat at a lower temperature than they would in traditional saunas,” says Dr. Richard Beever, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of British Columbia. Their direct heat allows infrared saunas to increase the core body temperatures by 2-3 degrees. “By raising the body’s core temperature, infrared saunas can produce a sweat composed of 20 percent toxins versus only 3 percent toxins with a traditional sauna,” Katie Kaps told Byrdie.
Are infrared saunas really good for you?
Yes! Infrared saunas have many health benefits, both physical and mental. Studies about infrared saunas specifically are still sparse, but there’s plenty of evidence showing the benefits of infrared saunas. According to the New York Times, near infrared is said to help as therapy for heart patients, as well as help heal skin ailments from acne to psoriasis to surgical scars.
If we zoom out and look at traditional saunas, there have been a myriad of studies that have shown the following benefits: improve insomnia, inflammation, pain, blood pressure and brain function.
Possible infrared sauna health benefits
- Better Skin: One of the most noticeable benefits of infrared saunas is the post-sauna glow! Infrared has been found to promote collagen production which, along with better circulation, helps improve skin texture and roughness. “They help improve skin tone and reduce signs of aging by stimulating better circulation, blood flow, and increased collagen production — all of which improve the look of your skin. The increased circulation, elimination of toxins, and flushing out of cellular debris enhance overall skin health, giving it a more radiant appearance,” Dr. Frank Lipman, holistic doctor and founder of Be Well, told The Cut.
- Improved Circulation: The deep, direct heat into the body helps stimulate blood flow similar to that produced after a cardio workout. This increased blood flow and circulation can aid in reducing inflammation, pain relief, workout recovery, and much more.
- Pain Relief: One small study found infrared saunas to be effective in relieving chronic lower back pain. The participants who received infrared therapy showed a 50% decline in pain levels after six weeks. Another study done in 2010 also provided evidence supporting the use of infrared in helping relieve chronic pain. The study consisted of 46 patients with chronic pain. 22 of the patients, along with other inpatient treatment, had daily, 15-minute infrared sauna sessions. At the end of the four week sessions, the participants showed diminished pain behaviors and lower anger scores. Two years following the study, those who received the sauna sessions were more likely to have returned to work.
- Cardiovascular Benefits: A study in China suggests that infrared therapy could be beneficial in those with cardiovascular disease by helping improve inadequate circulation. Another small study concluded that infrared saunas were associated with short-term improvements with cardiac functioning.
- Post-workout Recovery: A small, 10 person study found infrared saunas to be beneficial in recovery following strength training. The study concluded that “FIRS [far-infrared sauna] bathing appears favorable for the neuromuscular system to recover from maximal endurance performance. FIRS bathing is a very light loading for the body and provides a comfortable and relaxing experience.”
- Help Chronic Fatigue: A small case detailed how infrared saunas sessions helped improve two women’s severe, chronic fatigue. Both women participated in 30, 15-minute sauna sessions followed by resting under a blanket. Following their sessions, both women reported improvements in their fatigue along with pain and sleep disturbances.
- Relaxation: Infrared saunas are great not only for your physical health but also your mental health. The warmth from the sauna is comfortable and relaxing for both the mind and the body. Take advantage of your alone time with no distractions to meditate and reflect! You’ll come out with a clearer, more relaxed state of mind.
- Better Sleep: Most people find they sleep better after infrared sauna sessions due to a more relaxed mind and body
How to choose the right infrared sauna
If you’re ready to get the real deal infrared sauna, make sure you:
- Do your research to use a trustworthy brand that uses clean materials and safe heating methods.
- Research EMF levels. Each sauna brand will have varying EMF levels, so it’s important to do your research before purchasing. Reputable brands should have the EMF levels for their saunas readily available on their site.
- Size up. We got a 3-seater for 2 people, and anything smaller would mean Eric and I are elbowing each other the whole time… not very relaxing.
- Get clear on the configuration you want. Some things I didn’t think through and ended up adding on later are: anti-bacterial bamboo carbon towels and wraps, a back rest, and ART (acoustic resonance therapy), which takes the sound experience in my sauna to the next level.
- Be prepared to wait a few weeks to a few months – since it’s a larger item, it takes a while to deliver.
- In preparation for your sauna delivery, make sure you have a dedicated outlet for your sauna specified by the manufacturer.
Far infrared vs near infrared sauna
Far infrared, mid-infrared, and near-infrared refer to where the light falls on the visible light spectrum. All three types of infrared are beneficial. That said, they each have different, unique benefits.
Near-infrared (NIR): Near-infrared is the shortest of infrared wavelengths and falls lowest on the light spectrum. This type of infrared wavelength is most effective at penetrating the skin’s surface. This deep penetration into the skin’s surface helps promote skin renewal and overall skin health. Near-infrared is also responsible for pain relief and immunity.
Mid-infrared (MIR): Mid-infrared have longer wavelengths than near-infrared, however, they are shorter than far-infrared wavelengths. Mid-infrared wavelengths can go deep into the body’s soft tissue, which is where inflammation occurs. Because of their ability to penetrate deep into the soft tissue, benefits of using mid-infrared include pain relief, improved circulation, and reduced inflammation.
Far infrared (FIR): Far infrared has the longest wavelength, which allows this infrared to go deepest into the body. Because of this, far-infrared wavelengths help increase the body’s core temperature and promotes detoxification through sweating, decreased blood pressure, relaxation, and possibly weight loss.
EMFs, electromagnetic fields, occur both naturally (such as light from the sun) or artificially (smartphones, LED lights, microwaves, and much more) and exist on a spectrum, each with its own wavelength and frequency (source). There are two types of EMF, ionizing and non-ionizing. Infrared heat (radiation) falls under the non-ionizing category, which consists of EMFs with longer wavelengths and lower frequencies. Non-ionizing EMF is considered low-level and harmless to people. Infrared saunas use infrared heaters, which emit waves similar to those produced by the sun.
The levels of EMF in infrared saunas can vary based on the brand, so if you are concerned about EMF, it would be beneficial to research using or buying one. Infrared sauna brands like Sunlighten have saunas with low EMF levels, and even have a model with EMF-cancelling technology.
Stationary infrared sauna vs portable/sleeping bag sauna
A stationary infrared sauna is a larger investment in terms of space and money. You can always start with a portable individual sauna (most infrared sauna brands offer one) – it’s not the same experience, but it’s a great start! You can start even simpler, and just get an infrared heating pad – that’s what I used for a few years before investing in a real sauna.
How to use an infrared sauna
- Stay hydrated: Make sure you are hydrated before you use the infrared sauna, as you will be exposed to higher temperatures and can expect to sweat a lot. Bring plenty of water with you during your session – you can even use a hydration multiplier electrolyte powder to make sure you don’t get dizzy.
- Choose the right temperature: Temperatures for an infrared sauna range from 110°F to 150°F. If you’re a beginner, start at the lower end (around 120F) for your first couple of sessions before gradually increasing the temperature each time.
- What to wear: Wear what makes you comfortable! Some people prefer to wear swimsuits and towels, while others prefer to go naked. I’m in the second camp.
- Bring plenty of towels. Prepare to sweat!
Should I use infrared sauna in the morning or in the evening?
No specific time of the day is better to use the infrared sauna, it all comes down to personal preference and what you hope to get out of using the sauna. If you’re looking to sleep better and need a little help switching off in the evening, you would benefit by using the sauna at night to fully relax and relieve their stress before bed.
I find that using sauna in the morning, followed by a cold shower is a super energizing way to start the day.
No matter the time of day you decide to use your sauna, you’ll still get all the benefits.
How long does it take to install an infrared sauna?
My partner and I installed the sauna using basic tools and it took about 2 hours to unpack and install everything.
How long does it take for an infrared sauna to heat up?
The sauna heats up at an average of 1F degree per minute, so I usually allow 45-60 minutes for my sauna to heat up before I start my session.
How many times a week should you use an infrared sauna?
Infrared saunas are safe to use daily. However, it is recommended that first-time users start with 10-15 minutes a few times per week and work their way up to 20-30 minute sessions.
On average, most people use infrared saunas three to four times a week for 30-45 minutes. I use mine a few times a week and prefer longer sessions, up to 60 minutes with this Sauna playlist.
Will infrared saunas help me lose weight?
The evidence for infrared saunas and weight loss is currently limited and varied. Dr. Lipman told The Cut there is evidence that infrared saunas can help the body burn up to 600 calories and increase metabolic rate due to their ability to penetrate the skin at a deep level and increase your core temp. This increase in temperature increases blood flow and heart rate, which resembles the effects of walking at a moderate pace. A recent study done by Binghamton University found that participants who used an infrared sauna 5 times a week for 30 minutes lost an average of 4% of body fat over 8 weeks. However, other studies done on the subject have shown no benefits.
While infrared saunas may not have a direct impact on weight loss, it could play an indirect role. Poor sleep, stress, and high cortisol levels can hinder weight loss. Using infrared saunas can aid in decreasing stress levels along with helping you sleep better, which could result in lower cortisol levels. Improving these conditions could indirectly aid in weight loss and have other long-term health benefits. Saunas can also indirectly contribute to weight loss by helping you get back into the gym quicker thanks to their pain-relieving benefits.
Can you bring your phone in an infrared sauna?
It is not recommended to bring your phone in infrared saunas, as the heat can damage electronics. I usually hook up my phone to the sauna speakers via bluetooth, and leave it outside the sauna.
5 tips to maximize your infrared sauna sessions
- No electronics: Take advantage of your time in the sauna to disconnect from your phone. Use the time to meditate, relax, and unwind with no distractions (this isn’t always the case for me personally).
- Hydrate: It’s important to make sure you hydrate before and after using an infrared sauna since you are likely to continue to keep sweating even after your session is done!
- Wear loose clothing following your session: Because you will continue to sweat after your session, it is a good idea to wear loose, more comfortable clothing.
- Allow time to cool down: Following a sauna session, it is important to relax and let your body cool down to its core temperature.
- Wash away the toxins: Following your session, you’ll want to rinse off to make sure all the toxins you’ve just sweat out wash away. To get even more out of your session, try taking a cold shower. A cold shower helps constrict your pores that opened during your sauna and increases blood circulation, which can further reduce inflammation. Plus, it’s super invigorating and energizing!
If you’re not in a position to buy a sauna, make sure you choose the right one, and that you have the right space to place it (at least one foot away from walls).
If you’re not in a position to buy a sauna, if you have an opportunity to experience one – do it! It’s magic. I used to go to one in New York City that was part of a workout studio.
If you’re not ready to invest you can always start with getting a sleeping bag/portable one, or even an infrared heating pad.
If you decide to look at Sunlighten infrared saunas, mention Breakfast Criminals to get $100 off and $99 shipping (normally $598)!