Maybe it’s the word “infrared” or the way saunas are known for thoroughly heating the body, but I often have customers who ask me questions about whether or not far infrared saunas are safe. In a word: yes; infrared saunas are safe for most people. Using an infrared sauna is really no more dangerous than going for a jog on a hot summer’s day.
That is to say, any risks of far infrared saunas have nothing to do with the actual IR rays that are generated. Sure, your core body temperature will see a significant rise, but that’s safe and healthy, not to mention the whole point of using an infrared sauna in the first place. Still, misconceptions have a way of persisting. In the interest of making sure that your far infrared sauna experience is as comfortable, refreshing, and relaxing as can be, I’d like to review some of the safety measures, tips, and cautions that you should know before you step in a sauna, as well as some best practices for using an infrared sauna.
Bear with me here, because some of these risks and tips might seem straightforward, but it’s still very important to understand the basics of infrared sauna safety.
- Children: Keep small children out of infrared saunas, and, really, out of all saunas. Before puberty, the bodies of children just can’t regulate their internal temperatures the way adults can through sweat production. Small children are also far more likely to hurt themselves by touching the heater. As children get older, brief and always supervised sessions are okay, but never ever bring a child who can’t communicate how they are feeling into a sauna. Experts suggest that adolescents and supervised children spend 15 minutes or less inside saunas, or avoid using a sauna at all.
- Pregnant women: Experts recommend that pregnant women limit sauna use. Raising your body temperature to 100 degrees or higher greatly increases risk of fetal complications or birth defects, especially during the first trimester, according to the Organization of Teratology Information Services. Most studies about pregnancy and saunas seem to focus on the first trimester, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says to skip saunas, and even excessively hot baths, during all three trimesters. I’m inclined to agree with that–it’s common sense not to take unnecessary risks with your child.
- Elderly: With the elderly, whether or not they’re able to use an infrared sauna should really be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Many folks are able to use saunas–both infrared and traditional steam saunas–right up into their eighties. This is commonplace in Finland, of course, where use of traditional steam saunas is a major part of the fabric of life. As I mentioned above, the only risks that are inherent to infrared saunas are those that are also inherent to sweating outside on a very hot day. If the elderly folks in your life become uncomfortable when they start sweating, or if they’re at risk of getting heat stroke or dehydration, it’s probably best to limit their time in the sauna.
- Pets: Keep your pets out of saunas. As with children, pets don’t have the ability to sweat in the way that human adults can. Your pets also can’t verbalize when they begin to feel extreme discomfort, and they, like children, are at a great risk of accidentally making contact with the very hot parts of your sauna. Your dogs and cats also have fur, which makes the conditions even hotter for them. It’s best to let your beloved animal companions keep you company right outside the sauna door.
Raising your core body temperature and having a good, prolonged intensive sweat is how you reap the many benefits that far infrared saunas have to offer, such as weight loss, joint pain relief, clearer skin, and lower blood pressure. However, as I mentioned above, there may also be some risks to having a raised body temperature, whether you are in a controlled setting like a sauna, or in the outdoors, exercising.
These risks can be best examined if we break sauna users into two groups: everyone, and those with special circumstances. Let’s take a look at the chart below:
Avoid Sauna Use Completely If You Have:
- Suffered a stroke (the sort caused by bleeding in the brain)
- Severe aortic stenosis
- Recently suffered a heart attack
- Unstable angina pectoris
- Brain tumors
- Been prescribed a steroid that interferes with blood circulation
Consult a Doctor If You Have:
- Very high blood pressure
- Very low blood pressure
- Multiple sclerosis
- Silicone implants
My general advice to folks is that if you have any reason whatsoever to doubt that a far infrared sauna is a safe and healthy therapy option for you and your body, go ahead and consult your doctor. I’m happy to tell you through this site or over the phone about the experience I’ve accrued in my years involved with far infrared saunas, but only a doctor can give medical advice.
Sauna Safety Tips
As with most things in life, there is a right way and wrong way to use a far infrared sauna. We’ve already discussed some of the risks and conditions that users should be aware of when they plan their far infrared sauna therapy. Now let’s take a look at some ways you can enhance your wellness and safety when using an infrared sauna.
- Clean and healthy habits: This is the number one way you can enhance your infrared sauna experience and ensure you are able to enjoy the many benefits. Eating right and exercising will keep many toxins out of your body in the first place, which means that when you use an infrared sauna, only the deepest and most damaging toxins will need to be purged, and you’ll need fewer sessions to feel better.
- Hydration: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I can’t possibly say it enough. Drink a full 16 to 20 ounces of water before you enter the sauna, take bottled water into the sauna with you (don’t let it spill on the infrared heaters), and drink more water after you exit the sauna to replace what you lost through sweating. Avoid sugary drinks the day of, as well as sodas, coffee, fruit juice with added sugar, and alcohol, as these tend to dehydrate, rather than hydrate, your body. I know in my case, I was dependent on coffee and would sometimes drink too much soda or alcohol, but after a few weeks of using a sauna, my body began craving more clean, cold water to replace the liquids it was losing through sweat. This has made it much easier to stick to healthier drinks, and to stay hydrated.
- Shower before: Showering beforehand can result in a faster and heavier sweat, which leads to a more productive experience. A warm shower just before going into the sauna raises your body’s core temperature and also begins to stimulate your body’s circulation, giving you a ‘head start’ on your sauna session. It also removes dirt, dry skin, and any other residue that might get in the way of a good sweat.
- Shower after: After my sauna, while my body temperature is still a bit raised, my soft tissue a bit malleable, and my metabolism primed, I like to take a very hot shower. I do this every time I use an infrared sauna, particularly if it’s late at night. It cleanses the sweat, and any toxins that have been brought to the surface of my skin, and it soothes my muscles. I’ve gotten some of the best sleep in my life right after a hot shower I’ve taken right post-sauna. Just avoid any soaps or lotions with too many chemicals. Your pores will be wider than usual and you wouldn’t want to clog them.
- Wear little clothing: Don’t let too much clothing get in the way of the infrared light that heats your body. If you’ve gone ahead and gotten a far infrared sauna for your own home, I’d suggest wearing no clothes at all. If not, try to wear loose fitting clothes that are breathable (cotton is a good choice). Loose or no clothing allows your body to sweat more freely (and is just more comfortable when your body temperature is raised).
I hate to admit it, but I was actually a bit hesitant the first time I ever used an infrared sauna. I’d been in traditional steam saunas before, and the stuffiness created by the incredibly high levels of humidity just wasn’t for me. I also didn’t know much about the technology, and I certainly didn’t know how safe they were. However, as I’ve said time and time again, using one changed my life. After my first time, I went right out and started talking to experts about the safety aspects. I learned all that I could, and next time I went into the sauna, the only thing on my mind was the health benefits.
That’s really how it should be for most people. For most adults, there’s no more risk to using a far infrared sauna than there is in spending a hot day outside at a picnic. Put aside any misconceptions you may have and give it a whirl. I truly believe that you’ll enjoy the weight loss, clear skin, pain relief, and detoxification so much that your misconceptions about sauna safety will immediately disappear.