SITTING IN A confined space as sweat pools in your knee folds and edges down every limb doesn’t sound at all appealing. Most of us choose to beeline directly for the showers after a workout, refusing to make eye contact with anyone until we’ve washed, changed, and doused our bodies in an entire bottle of deodorant. But if saunas have been known for being an incubator of heat, infrared saunas should be considered the nicer sibling. By using infrared lamps that use electromagnetic radiation to warm your body directly, these saunas penetrate human tissue far more easily, leading you to reap the benefits without all that steam.
For those well-versed in the infrared sauna experience, theirs is a deep commitment. Supporters champion benefits such as improved recovery, greater relaxation, enhanced sleep, and a glowing complexion. In fact, so popular are infrared saunas now that you’re just as likely to find one at your gym as you are a spa resort. Still, knowing what a session entails can be a tall order. Thankfully, we’ve taken out the guesswork to share the benefits and risks associated with an infrared sauna, and how best to prepare for your first experience.
What is an infrared sauna?
Using infrared lamps, infrared saunas work by warming your body directly. Unlike a traditional sauna, they don’t heat the air around you, meaning they can operate at a lower temperature. According to manufacturers, in an infrared sauna only 20 per cent of the heat goes to heating the air, while the other 80 per cent is used to directly heat your body.
What are the benefits of infrared saunas?
While the benefits of traditional saunas have long been known, research is still catching up when it comes to infrared saunas. For the most part though, these benefits are much the same and include better sleep, improved relaxation, detoxification, weight loss, relief from sore muscles and joint pain, improved skin and better circulation.
Hitting a sauna after an intense workout might not seem all that appealing, but it can prove instrumental to your post-workout recovery routine. An infrared sauna not only enhances normal training responses but can also help with muscle relaxation and recovery. Research has shown that sauna use post-exercise can lead to improvements in maximum oxygen uptake and lactate threshold, without placing stress on the body.
Boosts brain health
According to research published in 2019, sauna use helped participants to reduce their risk of certain mental health disorders. This was further compounded by a 2020 study that found people who used saunas nine to 12 times a month reported a 53 per cent lower chance of dementia over the next decade, compared to those who went to a sauna zero to four times a month.
It’s not just your muscles that will thank you for the sauna experience—your skin will, too. Using an infrared sauna can help with skin cell turnover, while sweating can also lead to better circulation and enhanced collagen production. It’s also been known to help clear your pores of bacteria, leading many to report an enhanced complexion post-session.
Are infrared saunas safe?
As far as negative effects are concerned, there are no findings associated with infrared saunas. However, like any sauna, there are risks in terms of safety and cautions to be made aware of. Primarily, these apply to the possibilities of overheating and dehydration. Risks are also posed to those who are pregnant, have heart disease or are on medication or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
As always, if you have any health conditions including high blood pressure or heart problems, you should consult your doctor before a session.
Tips for your first infrared sauna experience
Unless you’ve built an infrared sauna at home, it’s likely you’ll do one at a health club, recovery centre or spa, with instructions to come from staff. But for those who are new to the experience and find the prospect of sweating it out somewhat daunting, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Make sure you’re well hydrated before going into the sauna and that you have water on you during the session. If you’re particularly sensitive to heat, it’s recommended that you take a water bottle into the sauna with you and sip on it throughout.
Start at a low temperature
Yes, we get it, the whole point of a sauna is to experience bodily heat, but when starting out it’s important to build tolerance and gradually make your way to the higher end of the temperature scale. Most would recommend beginners start out lower and remain at that temperature for a few sessions. You can then increase temperature as you grow accustomed to the process.
Keep it short and sweet
While most infrared sauna experiences will have you book a timeframe, for those first starting out 10 to 15 minutes is a good length of time. You can also take breaks throughout the session, stepping out of the sauna if the heat gets too much before going back in again. Each session, you can then look to increase the length of time spent inside.
While you can technically wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable in the sauna (some opt to go naked after all), we’d advise a bathing suit or activewear.