I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about whether or not I still love sauna therapy and use mine regularly, or if it’s like an abandoned piece of exercise equipment gathering dust. The answer is I absolutely love my sauna, and I’ve updated this post with research that explains why.
Remember that time I shared a silly pic of my head popping out of a portable sauna? I’ve since upgraded to a full-spectrum infrared sauna, and in this post I’m going to share with you the reason I decided to put one in my home and use it nearly every day.
The short version: I am able to burn 500 calories, read a chapter to my littles (they like to visit), take my stress levels down 10 notches, support detoxification, activate heat-shock proteins associated with longevity, and think more clearly in just 30 minutes a day . . . all while sitting down. I feel AMAZING when I get out, and can’t wait to do it all over again.
- What is an infrared sauna?
- 10 Science-Back Sauna Benefits for Health & Well-Being
- 1. Increases Metabolism
- 2. Detoxifies Heavy Metals, BPA, PCB’s and other toxins
- 3. Gorgeous, Youthful Skin
- 4. Optimizes Your Biological Age
- 5. Relaxation & Stress Reduction
- 6. Soothes Sore Muscles
- 7. Benefits Cognitive Function
- 8. Supports Cardiovascular Health
- 9. Supports Immune Function
- 10. Increases Slow Wave Sleep
- Want to own a sauna?
The long version: There’s a lot of science supporting the physiological benefits of saunas, and that’s what we’re about to dive into. But first, you might be wondering…
What is an infrared sauna? ^
Infrared light, which we experience as heat, is the invisible part of the sun’s spectrum. Although we can’t see it, we can feel it in the warmth of sunshine on our skin. The far infrared wavelength – which is what I’ll be focusing on in this post – is highly beneficial, penetrating deeply into tissues to induce a detoxifying sweat.
It’s so safe it’s used to keep babies warm in the NICU, and our bodies radiate it naturally. (1) The warmth of a hug? Infrared heat. The gooey feeling you get when you hold hands? Not necessarily caused by infrared heat, but your hands do in fact emit about 8-10 microns of infrared.
Traditional wet and dry saunas use heated air to warm the body, which means they typically have to be uncomfortably hot to reach therapeutic levels. Infrared saunas, on the other hand, penetrate into tissues directly, causing the body to sweat at a more comfortable ambient temperature.
10 Science-Back Sauna Benefits for Health & Well-Being ^
But why is it so important to sweat? Here are nine reasons:
1. Increases Metabolism ^
Sauna therapy is sometimes called passive cardio because it raises your heart rate in a way that is similar to exercise, or as this Harvard article puts it, “the high temperatures can drive heart rates to levels often achieved by moderate-intensity physical exercise.”
A 30 minute session burns about 600 calories, says this article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, while this study published in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes found that patients receiving far-infrared sauna therapy showed “a trend toward decreased waist circumference.”
Does the time of day a sauna is used affect fat metabolism? Yep. A two-phase study conducted at Binghamton University says yes. When participants used an infrared sauna an average of three times a week, they lost up to 4% body fat in sixteen weeks. One unexpected result was that participants who used the sauna later in the day lost more weight, so they set up a second study to learn more.
In the follow up study, they found that people who used the sauna after 3pm lost the same amount as those in the first study, but in half the time.
They attribute the difference in weight loss results to lowered evening cortisol (which is how things should be if our hormones are balanced), and slightly increased levels of human growth hormone (HGH).
2. Detoxifies Heavy Metals, BPA, PCB’s and other toxins ^
Some people say that detoxing is silly because are bodies are perfectly capable of detoxing without help. While I agree that our bodies are amazing and we have powerful innate detox capabilities, the reality is that:
- The average person carries about 700 pollutants in their bodies at any given moment. Even babies are affected – a recent study found more than 200 chemicals in newborn cord blood alone. (2) (3)
- Companies are not required to study the long-term health effects of the majority of chemicals they produce, so most don’t. (3)
- An estimated 30-50% of the American population (myself included) has the MTHFR genetic mutation, which may impair detoxification
Expecting our bodies to manage those factors – in addition to naturally occurring heavy metals like lead and mercury – is like expecting a housekeeper to keep things spotless with a band of uninvited monkeys living in the house.
Our detoxification systems need support, and there are many ways to go about that. Dry brushing is one of my favorites, and the other is sauna therapy because:
- Sweat is therapeutic. In fact, it’s a major detoxification pathway. (4) More on that below.
- It requires very little effort on my part. All I need to do is take 20-40 minutes of time to sit and relax. One of my kids often joins me for about 15 minutes so that we can read a chapter from their current book, then I read my own book or just breathe in the aroma of warm cedar around me.
What’s in a drop of sweat?
According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, who holds a PhD in biomedical science, sweat contains both hydrophyllic (water soluble) and lipophilic (fat soluble) components, making it an elimination pathway for a variety of toxins such as:
- Xenobiotics such as BPA (often absorbed through store receipts), PCB’s, and phthalates
- Arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury
(Source: Sauna Use And Building Resilience to Stress – Also, here are some studies you can check out if you want to learn more : 4, 5, 6, 7)
One important note: Sweating also depletes electrolytes, so you’ll need to replace calcium, magnesium and potassium. I use my Coconut Lime Electrolyte Drink Recipe or just water with a generous pinch of sea salt. According to Dr. Patrick, kale is also a concentrated form of electrolytes, so you can put some in a smoothie after you sauna to replenish electrolytes as well.
3. Gorgeous, Youthful Skin ^
One of the most unexpected – and welcome – changes I noticed when I began using a sauna regularly is how much more refreshed and “glowy” I looked after a few months of use.
Far infrared wavelengths increase the production of collagen (which makes skin supple) and elastin (which makes it elastic), and also improves the delivery of nutrients to the skin via increased blood flow. (8)
4. Optimizes Your Biological Age ^
We have two ages: Our chronological age (the actual time we’ve been alive) and our biological age (the rate at which we’re aging on a cellular level).
Most of us have all had the experience of being surprised to find out that someone is far younger than we had imagined — for instance, when an individual we thought was in their late 50s turns out to actually be in their mid-40s,” Dr. Terry Grossman, founder and medical director of the Grossman Wellness Center in Denver, explained for Everyday Health. “And, by the same token, we will occasionally discover that someone is considerably older than we had guessed. The reason for these discrepancies is often because their biological ages are different than their chronological ages.” (9)
So what makes our biological age older (or younger) than our chronological age? One big factor is the kind of stress in our lives.
Hormesis – The Good Kind of Stress
According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, “Almost all the primary causes of aging have stress at their root. Inflammation is a prime example and in fact it’s been identified as one of the key drivers of the aging process . . . . However somewhat paradoxically, stress isn’t always bad. Short term stress can result in a reduction in long term chronic stress – in other words we can build resilience. This is because short-term exposure to stress can strengthen the cellular response mechanisms in the body to stress. This is called hormetic stress.”(10)
Exercise is a type of hormetic stress, as is cold stress and – you guessed it – heat stress. Sitting in a sauna creates heat stress, which causes the body to increase its production of heat shock proteins, which help repair damaged proteins and protect DNA.
Normally we produce fewer heat shock proteins as we age. However, some people have genetic mutations that cause them to maintain higher production. For example, Centenarians (people who live to be at least 100), tend to have an increased expression of heat shock proteins. (11)
It’s not just humans, either. In another study, researchers found that exposing C. elegans worms to sauna-like conditions – thus producing heat shock proteins – extended their lifespan by about 30%. (12)
For those of us who don’t naturally make high levels of heat shock proteins, sauna therapy can stimulate production. (13)
Also, the “longevity gene” – FOX03 – is also activated by heat. (14) Just like with heat shock proteins, people with a higher expression of FOX03 genes are more likely to live to 100. (15)
5. Relaxation & Stress Reduction ^
Regular sauna use has significant emotional health benefits for people living with chronic stress, too.
Unlike short-term stressful experiences – which produce a rise in cortisol and a physical response followed by a reduction in cortisol after the event – chronic stress often causes our bodies stay in “high alert” stage for hours, days and even sometimes months without a reset.
Since our bodies often can’t distinguish life-threatening situations (like running away from tiger) from non-critical situations (like running late to a non-essential appointment), they react to everything just in case. That’s a problem because:
When you repeatedly experience the mobilization or fight-or-flight stress response in your daily life, it can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can shut down your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, raise blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, speed up the aging process and leave you vulnerable to many mental and physical health problems.” (16)
Fortunately, it’s not necessary to renounce civilization and move into a yurt to reclaim relaxation. When your body gets stuck in stress mode you can manually reset it. Exercise is one way to do it – sauna therapy is another.
When you expose your body to heat stress, your cortisol level (an indicator of stress) will typically stay the same or even rise. However, when you remove the stress by stepping out of the sauna, it typically drops to a new baseline that is lower than before. Your body thinks the “tiger” is gone and has reset, leaving you feeling relaxed.
In addition to helping with stress, sauna therapy stimulates the release of “feel good” endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which is why I feel AMAZING when I finish a session. (17) (18)
6. Soothes Sore Muscles ^
This is my husband’s favorite benefit. Soothing infrared heat penetrates into sore muscles and joints, increasing the flow of nutrients (glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen) to the area while removing lactic acid and other metabolic byproducts.
7. Benefits Cognitive Function ^
- Creates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) and protects existing neurons from damage (19)
- Significantly increases norepinephrine levels, a hormone that supports focus and attention. (20)
8. Supports Cardiovascular Health ^
As I mentioned earlier, infrared sauna therapy is sometimes called “passive cardio” because, as this Harvard article puts it, “the high temperatures can drive heart rates to levels often achieved by moderate-intensity physical exercise.”
“The cardiovascular effects of sauna have been well documented in the past. It lowers blood pressure, and there is every reason to believe that its effects are good for blood vessels,” says Dr. Lee of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (21)
9. Supports Immune Function ^
According to Mark Timmerman, M.D. of the North American Sauna Society, “During a sauna session, white blood cells increase in the bloodstream, suggesting an elevation of the body’s natural defense against illness.”
10. Increases Slow Wave Sleep ^
According to this study, sauna bathing increases slow wave sleep, which is commonly referred to as deep sleep.
Warming up in my sauna. I recommend wearing a towel usually, but if you are going to post a photo on the internet cotton clothes are a good option, too 🙂
Want to own a sauna? ^
Remember that silly sauna pic I mentioned at the beginning? That was my first go at in-home sauna bathing. It served a purpose, but had some limitations.
Find out why I chose it in this article along with how to get hundreds of dollars off your order, plus a free ergonomic backrest and aromatherapy cup.
Also, when I travel I take my Heat Healer Low-EMF Infrared Sauna Blanket with me. It’s a great option for people who don’t have room for a big sauna, and/or want a more affordable option.
Click here for my full Heat Healer review.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
1. World Health Organization. Warming Unit, Radiant, Infant.
2. Thornton, Joseph et. al. (2002) Biomonitoring of Industrial Pollutants: Health and Policy Implications of the Chemical Body Burden.
3. Goodman, Sarah (2009) Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Newborn Umbilical Blood.
4. Sears, Margaret E. et. al. (2012) Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review.
5. Cohn, JR and Emmet, EA (1978) The excretion of trace minerals in human sweat.
6. Genuis, Stephen J. et. al. (2012) Human Excretion of Bisphenol A: Blood, Urine and Sweat (BUS) Study.
7. Crinnion, W (2007) Components of Practical Clinical Detox Programs – Sauna as a Therapeutic Tool.
8. Hee Lee, Ju et. al. (2006) Effects of Infrared Radiation on Skin Photo-Aging and Pigmentation.
9. Castillo, Stephanie (2015) Human Body’s Chronological and Biological Age May Differ: Why Your Breast Tissues Are Older Than The Rest of You.
10. Patrick, Rhonda (2016) Sauna Use and Building Resilience To Stress.
11. Ambra, R et. al. (2004) Characterization of the hsp70 response in lymphoblasts from aged and centenarian subjects and differential effects of in vitro zinc supplementation.
12. Sagi, Dror and Kim, Stuart K. (2012) An Engineering Approach To Extending Lifespan in C. Elegans.
13. Torigoe, T. et. al. (2009) Heat shock proteins and immunity: application of hyperthermia for immunomodulation.
14. Konopka, AR et. al. (2010) Molecular adaptations to aerobic exercise skeletal training in skeletal muscle of older women.
15. Flachsbart, Friederike et. al. (2009) Association of FOXO3A variation with human longevity confirmed in German centenarians.
16. Segal, Jeanne et. al. Stress Symptoms, Signs and Causes.
17. Geddes, Linda (2011) Saunas could heal your mood and your heart.
18. Kilpi, Eero (2015) Health Benefits of Sauna.
19. Piepmeier, Aaron T and Etnier, Jennifer L. (2015) Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) as a potential mechanism of the effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance.
20. Laatikainen, K et. al. (1988) Response of plasma endorphins, prolactin and catecholamines in women to intense heat in a sauna.
21. Merz, Beverly (2015) Sauna use linked to longer life, fewer fatal heart problems.
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Is it safe to use an infrared sauna while pregnant or nursing?
According to this study, “Although sauna bathing causes various acute, transient cardiovascular and hormonal changes, it is well tolerated by most healthy adults and children. Sauna bathing does not influence fertility and is safe during the uncomplicated pregnancies of healthy women . . . .Contraindications to sauna bathing include unstable angina pectoris, recent myocardial infarction, and severe aortic stenosis. Sauna bathing is safe, however, for most people with coronary heart disease with stable angina pectoris or old myocardial infarction.”
I would LOVE to read what sauna you decided on. But the link takes me back to this one. Can you share? 🙂 Thanks.
Me too, would love to know the sauna you decided on. Thanks and especially for this entire post.
So sorry, it should be working now! https://mommypotamus.com/infrared-sauna-review/
Is it safe to use an infrared sauna while pregnant?
This is so cool!!
Question – how young would you feel comfortable letting one of your kiddos sit in there with you? You mention that this tech is used in NICUs – would you sit in this with one of your babies?
Thanks for all your great info!!!
The infrared heaters used in the NICU are not as hot as a sauna – they’re meant to help babies maintain body heat rather than raise it above normal levels. I wouldn’t bring a baby into a sauna because babies aren’t able to communicate when they need to get out – and really they’re still mastering the task of maintaining homeostasis – but my three-year-old joins me for a snuggle when he feels like it. I’m comfortable with that because he can communicate with me and hop out whenever he wants to. My older kids are the same way. They often bring me a book to read, but are very good about listening to their bodies and will sometimes “pause” the story early so that they can get out and grab some electrolyte -rich water.
That makes perfect sense! Thanks much!!
What do you think of the portable types? I notice you don’t put your head in there, would that be an issue? Not having your whole body exposed?
I do think there’s a significant benefit to having full body heat vs. the portable models where your head sticks out – both for the sinuses and also effectively raising core body temperature quickly. Another reason I upgraded is that I found the chair to be uncomfortable – somehow it along with the overall shape of the sauna caused me to hunch over.
Which one did you buy? The link above didn’t get me there. Thanks!
Have you ever experienced cold sores erupting after a sauna session? The last several times I used an infrared sauna I have had huge outbreaks of cold sores, starting the very next day.
That’s probably due to the detox effect. I would consider it a good side effect…
How long do you wait to shower (that is, really cleanse). I know you’re suppose to lightly shower off the perspiration directly afterwards. But how much longer should you wait to cleanse?
In your research have you read of any problems using the sauna with mechanical heart valves? I had heart surgery nearly four months ago. I was previously using a similar sauna twice a week and experienced many health benefits (especially with my joints, and weight loss). My husband is concerned about my new heart valves being effected by it now though.
Planet Beach Spray &a Spa’s offer some incredible infrared sauna treatments. You should definitely check out their Hotworx Saunas!
I was considering sauna treatments until I read #9 in your article. While I am working to strengthen my immune system, I have a high white blood count already due to leukemia (CLL), so how would this work for someone with health issues like mine?
What type of Sauna do u use and where can it be purchased?
Why far and not near, which people say is safer.??
The link to which sauna you chose and why just keeps taking me back to the sauna benefits article. I cannot seem to find it.
I am having this trouble also. Let me know if you find it please.
So sorry! The link should be working now: https://mommypotamus.com/infrared-sauna-review/
I, too, am unable to get the information as to which sauna was selected. Am considering one, but would like a direction as to where to start.
So sorry! The link should be working now: https://mommypotamus.com/infrared-sauna-review/
I have been dying to try this! But alas, I’m still breastfeeding, so it’s not a good idea to do it yet – or so I hear (too many toxins potentially released).
I live in England and would like to purchase your second edition e-book? I usually buy through Amazon but noticed it is not available on there. Please could you advise how I purchase?
This is such a well-researched article. While most people know the benefits of sauna therapy for the cardiovascular system and immune system, not many know about the abilities to detoxify the body of harmful heavy elements. It is good that you mentioned the need for hydration too as that is a very important aspect of sauna therapy. The body should be kept hydrated after all the water loss due to sweating.
This article is full of false information . It’s a deceptive strategy to get people to by FIR Infared Saunas . Here is a copy of what Dr Rhonda Patrick said about dry Saunas vs Infared Saunas.
” I’ve been searching everywhere for information on (FIR) Infrared Saunas – I can’t tell if its fad or effective/comparable results to steam saunas. Most of the research showing benefits of sauna use on the heart and brain are using traditional hot saunas that can reach a temp of 180F. The FIR saunas do not get this hot. the key is heat stress and perhaps staying in the FIR sauna longer may get you more heat stress. Personally, I prefer traditional saunas over FIR saunas.”
Hi Don, what specifically do you disagree with? I’m aware that Dr. Patrick prefers traditional saunas, but I mentioned her work because I respect her very much and her research on heat shock proteins and other sauna benefits applies to both FIR and traditional saunas. The other sources I cited are all from reputable sources such as PubMed and Scientific American.
I love infrared saunas! It’s also important to shower right afterward to prevent the reabsorption of any toxins that you sweat out. 🙂
Would you consider far infrared saunas safe while breastfeeding?
Great question – I discuss the research I’ve come across on that subject here: https://mommypotamus.com/infrared-sauna-tips/
Thank you for posting this. I have a Infrared sauna myself and I am enjoying it so much and feel the benefits. If I compare it with a traditional sauna it is more gentle and deeper at the same time. When I invite my friends to use, at first they are sceptical. But after the first time they are begging to come back
Hi Heather! Nice post 🙂 You mentioned that infrared sauna had some positive effects on your skin. Have you noticed any benefits for acne or scars maybe?
I have noticed an overall improvement in my skin tone and texture but I don’t have any scars except for one on my hand. I don’t really notice it much so can’t speak to that issue unfortunately.
Hi Heather- we are looking to purchase a infrared sauna and today I went and used one in infrared sauna spa. I did enjoy it. My question is I don’t know if I should get an infrared sauna or go with a Joovv red light therapy device. In all of my research I haven’t been able to find any side by side comparisons. And of course I can’t find any spa’s around me that offer the Joovv. And from what I understand you have used both.
That’s a great question, Cheryl. Sauna therapy and red light therapy work using different – yet interdependent – mechanisms that make them complementary with each other.
Red light therapy is like eating a nourishing diet that builds the body up, but instead of metabolizing food your body metabolizes light to create the ATP needed to restore, repair, energize, and maintain your body.
Sauna therapy uses a mechanism called hormesis – aka beneficial stress – to stimulate a “cellular cleanup mode” called autophagy. Basically, imagine a bunch of little Pac Man guys going throughout the body and eating up cellular trash and debris that’s been lying around.
Our bodies need ATP to do the cleanup, and interestingly the more cleanup our bodies do (through frequent hormetic stress like exercise, sauna therapy and intermittent fasting) the more robust our ATP function becomes, so as you can see they truly are interdependent.
If you’re wondering about near-infrared saunas, here’s what you need to know: The lamps/heaters that deliver radiant heat to the body (which is the point of sauna therapy) usually contain on a very small amount of the wavelengths that break the cytochrome c oxidase bond and free up the body to make more ATP. Near-infrared saunas are beneficial, but not in the same way as light therapy.
I also heard about Infrared sauna therapy. But I dunno their benefits unless I saw your post. Thanks for that. But, Nowadays people in my country talk about infrarelief infrared led therapy pad. I heard about therapy but therapy pad which is different. So make a post on that also mam.
Thank you for your article! I see that it is focused on infrared saunas… do these same benefits apply to steam saunas?
I’m not sure exactly what you mean by steam sauna. If you’re thinking of steam rooms found in gyms, the answer is probably not. If you’re thinking of traditional Finnish saunas which often have a steam component (due to water being poured over hot rocks), the answer is that there are a lot of shared benefits but they are not quite the same.
How much time is it recommended to spend in the infrared sauna for the first time?
very good post, thanks for sharing.
I really appreciate your efforts. Keep sharing such an informative stuff. Really amazing.
Really informative read Heather! Studies have shown that saunas can even increase red blood count and beta-endorphins. This helps improve mood and circulation.
Thanks Heather, very helpful. Do you have any concerns about exposure to EMR / EMF when using an infrared sauna and could children use them safely?
Anthony W Arndt
Hi, Heather. I’m Tony. I’ve been dealing w/ Chronic Lyme Decease for over 18 months. It’s wearing me out. This past week I had to coat my roof, and sweated my butt off for 2 days. Thought I’d pay for it but actually. It made me feel better. Hence, I did more research, for detox. It got me here. And this is VERY HELPFUL Thank you!
I want to buy an infrared sauna. I have genital herpes. Will the heat trigger herpes outbreak?
Hi Kay, I’m not sure. The sauna company I use recommends talking with a doctor prior to using a sauna if any of the following criteria exist:
Under 12 years old
What company do you recommend buying the sauna from?
This is the one I use and love.