Infrared saunas used electromagnetic energy to directly heat the human body, without using steam and without the electricity and maintenance requirements of traditional saunas. While the infrared versions do produce the same basic effects as traditional saunas, they are also said to provide more effective body cleansing, weight loss and healing. While infrared saunas are not inherently dangerous, they should be used with care by the elderly, those who are pregnant and those with implants.
An infrared sauna is a custom sauna, installed in both resorts and homes, that uses infrared waves to heat the human body directly instead of steam. The most popular kind of infrared saunas are versions available for installation in homes, since they require less set-up and maintenance than traditional saunas. The air within an infrared sauna is not heated; the electromagnetic rays affect only the body, leaving the air unchanged. These saunas were created in Japan in the 1960s but have recently experienced a rise in popularity due to the claims of extensive health benefits.
Infrared rays are light rays that travel on very long wavelengths, different enough from normal light that we cannot see them unless aided by some type of spectrum analysis device. This electromagnetic energy can be used to excite molecules at a distance, heating the object the energy is directed at in a process known as far infrared radiation. This is the process used in infrared saunas, which direct these rays at objects inside the sauna at very low levels, enough to heat without causing damage.
There are many claimed benefits from using infrared saunas, the most infamous of which are prolonged life and custom detoxification. The makers of the saunas theorize that the infrared beams can heat and expunge toxins throughout the body, whereas steam only reaches the skin and outer blood veins. Some believe the infrared approach is healthier, better at reducing weight, and can treat conditions such as burns, cuts, joint pain and bronchitis. Scientists dispute these claims, and a conclusion has not been reached.
Infrared saunas do provide the same basic benefits of the sauna, and at lower temperatures than steam saunas, which can be too hot for some people. These traditional benefits are given without the humid air, electricity requirements and mildew problems of the older systems. Infrared saunas are usually built with the same design as traditional versions, including the wooden layers and framework, although the structures tend to last longer since they are not exposed to the same harsh environment.
If infrared saunas are used correctly, they do not pose dangers to the human body. They do not cause skin cancer or tanning. However, complications can arise. The elderly can suffer dehydration in the heated environment, and those who are pregnant are advised to avoid infrared saunas. Those taking medications that make the body vulnerable to heat or those with fevers or a hemophilia condition should also avoid the infrared sauna. Since the rays heat the entire body, people with any sort of implants should get a doctor's permission before using the sauna.