Article at a Glance
- Infrared therapy has numerous benefits for the body, from improving cardiovascular health to reducing pain.
- Near Infrared therapy works via heating the body and enhancing the production of ATP.
- Saunas come in many forms, including far-infrared, near-infrared or a combination of infrared spectrums.
Saunas are all the rage these days, and you may have heard there are several different types of saunas with different benefits. Want to know what are the differences between the types of saunas and which one is best for you? Read on!
What is Infrared Therapy?
Let’s start off by explaining the difference between traditional and infrared (IR) saunas. If you’ve ever personally compared an infrared sauna to a dry sauna you will know there is a distinct difference in how they feel. Traditional saunas heat the air around you, whilst infrared saunas work on heating you from the inside, which is why they’re able to operate at much cooler temperatures.
Infrared is a spectrum of light, and infrared rays are emitted by the sun and are part of the light spectrum that humans can’t see. Infrared light covers the spectrum of 700-100,000 nanometers (nm) with near infrared (NIR) covering 700nm to around 1400nm and far infrared (FIR) 3000-100,000 nm [R].
Currently, the use of infrared therapies mainly pertains to saunas but has recently been popularised in devices such as the Vielight, which applies infrared light directly to the brain. The use of light spectrums to alter physiology is known as photobiomodulation.
How Does Infrared Therapy Work?
Infrared therapy works via heating the body as well as penetrating the tissues to varying degrees, causing a host of physiological effects.
By providing a mild heat stressor to the body, sauna use prompts the body to produce heat-shock proteins. These heat-shock proteins are able to offset some of the effect of oxidative stress within the body, by scavenging free radicals and supporting the body’s antioxidant levels [R].
In addition to the benefits from heat, there are a number of ways both types of infrared can positively affect physiology, including:
- Supporting the immune system by increasing levels of white blood cells [R, R]
- Reducing levels of inflammation as measured by C-Reactive Protein [R]
- Improving muscle regrowth following injury [R]
- Improving athletic recovery by enhancing blood flow to the muscle [R]
- Lowering the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease [R]
- Improving detoxification via sweating [R]
- Promoting feelings of relaxation and pleasure as beta-endorphins are released [R]
Now, let’s get into the specifics of both NIR and FIR therapy.
NIR is the type of infrared light nearest to the visible light spectrum (our vision stops at 700nm) [R]. Most of the sun’s infrared spectrum is composed of NIR light.
As was mentioned earlier, IR light heats the body from the inside out, with NIR penetrating up to 5mm beneath the skin. The lower the light spectrum (closer to 700nm), the deeper the penetration [R].
The 810-830nm NIR range has been studied extensively for its effects on ATP production, the molecule necessary for our cells to function. This range stimulates cytochrome c oxidase (CCO) activity, which is the last part of the electron transport chain through which our cells make ATP.
Most of the benefits of NIR stem from this ability to stimulate cellular ATP production:
- NIR helps stimulate collagen production and circulation, helping to rebuild damaged joints and cartilage [R].
- NIR, alone or combined with red light, has been shown to be effective at improving the skin’s appearance by removing signs of aging and to speed-up wound healing [R, R, R].
- By assisting our body in producing more ATP, NIR use reduces both pain and inflammation while enhancing muscle recovery [R].
- NIR exposure is speculated to have a role in improving retinopathy (eye damage) via its ATP-stimulating effects [R].
Far infrared is mainly absorbed by the water within our bodies and for that reason penetrates only 0.1mm beneath the skin [R]. Though being absorbed by the body’s water, FIR light can cause alterations to the body’s protein structures.
FIR’s benefits include:
- Reducing arrhythmias in those with chronic heart failure, and also improving markers of blood vessel health in those with heart attack risk factors [R,R].
- Reducing pain and stiffness in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis [R].
- Improving the quality of life in study participants with Type II diabetes [R].
What Sauna is Best For Me, and is it Safe?
Nowadays, there are full spectrum infrared saunas that include both NIR and FIR wavelengths, giving you the best of both infrared worlds. Infrared saunas heat up much quicker than traditional saunas, require less set up, and are cheaper to run. There are also many small, one-person options for infrared saunas, mainly offering either FIR or NIR.
The decision of which type of sauna you should use depends on what you are trying to improve, so take a look at the benefits outlined above and see which is more in line with your health goals.
And even though sauna use has been proven effective in improving cardiovascular health it is still important to consult with your health care practitioner if sauna use is suited for you, especially if you are known to have [R]:
- Low or high blood pressure
- Recently suffered a heart attack
- A pacemaker
- Any medications
- Alcohol in your system
It’s rare that you come across a therapy that improves your cardiovascular health, your skin, helps repair injured tissue and even helps increase energy. But that’s exactly what infrared therapy can do for you. As always, get clearance by a medical practitioner if you have health concerns.
If you’ve decided to use a sauna, you could consider purchasing one for your home. If this isn’t an option, check our directory for a list of sauna providers in your area.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. Information is provided for educational purposes. You should consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website.