I was a good student in college, but like many students I didn’t always find in-depth research thrilling. When I became interested in infrared saunas, though, I found myself doing a great deal of research on my own time about something called electromagnetic fields, or EMF, because it seemed important to know about the health risks.
There is a debate over the dangers of electromagnetic fields, which are emitted by electrical objects like infrared saunas, and I wanted to do my due diligence and review potential risks for sauna users. I learned that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) doesn’t consider EMF a proven health hazard, but I also found worrying research suggesting that it might be wise to avoid high-level exposure to EMF, not just in saunas but in our everyday lives.
What Is EMF?
My expertise is in the health and fitness side of the sauna industry, which involves a bit of science but nothing near the in-depth stuff that physicists who study and write about EMF deal with. So I sat down with a physics professor friend to get the basics. He told me that the simplest way to conceive of EMF is to think of invisible energy pulses, and to picture them radiating out from any object that has an electric current flowing inside it. Televisions, computers, microwaves, you name it: if they use electricity, they all emit electromagnetic fields.
My friend is a professor, so of course he wanted to elaborate further, and he added that electromagnetic fields can affect any object–including people–within their field. Most common electrical objects give off such low levels of EMF that they pose no risk to humans. However, larger objects with more electricity running through them, such as power lines, may present a health hazard for people who are exposed to them over long stretches of time.
One last thing: EMF is referred to by some as EMR, or electromagnetic radiation. Now, for our purposes, these are the same thing, so I’ll be referring to electromagnetic fields as EMF throughout.
EMF Around the House
As I was describing my conversation with my friend, were you dying to know exactly how strong the EMF emitted by various household objects is? I know I was. My friend, unfortunately, didn’t know off the top of his head. That meant I had to do some research of my own.
What I found was that the strength of an electromagnetic field varies massively based on the size and the strength of the item that is emitting it. Later on, I’ll talk more about how much EMF infrared saunas tend to emit, but before I do, take a look at this chart of how much EMF is emitted by common household objects. You’ll notice that how close you are to an object determines the strength of the EMF that is reaching you.
The Risks of EMF
The next step was to learn about the actual risks associated with EMF. This involved reading quite a few scientific journal articles.
Some of the most significant research conducted on exposure to EMF was reported in an article titled California EMF Risk Evaluation June 2002, which is still cited by many experts in the field today. This article drew from two significant research efforts. The first, which took place in 2001, was ELF Electromagnetic Fields and the Risk of Cancer. Researchers in that study found that high average exposures to EMF could double the risk of leukemia in kids under 15. In a 2002 study, An Evaluation of the Possible Risks from Electric and Magnetic Fields from Power Lines, Internal Wiring, Electrical Occupations and Appliances, researchers found that heavy and prolonged exposure to EMF could lead to increased risk of adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, miscarriage, and, once again, childhood leukemia.
At this point you might be thinking, “But wait, don’t a lot of the appliances we use every day give off EMF?” And they do, but the keywords here are heavy and prolonged. What was discovered in both studies was that the exposure had to be heavy and prolonged. Your microwave giving off one mG of EMF while it cooks a burrito for two minutes, for example, doesn’t rank as heavy and prolonged.
However, I don’t want to discount the severity of the findings of these studies. My big takeaway was that the less EMF one could be exposed to while using an infrared sauna, the better. As I’d learned earlier though, it is impossible for infrared saunas to emit zero EMF, because they are electrical devices with wiring and currents. Fortunately, there are varieties of infrared sauna that emit barely any EMF at all.
Infrared Saunas and Safe EMF Levels
Infrared saunas are large, they surround you with electrical components, and in order to use them, you must sit inside them for a period of time. If you’ve followed to this point, you know that that can be a recipe for dangerous exposure to EMF. Thankfully though, there is infrared sauna technology that keeps EMF in the super-low range of .2 to .3 mG. To put that in perspective, the Environmental Protection Agency has previously proposed a safety standard of 3 mG, with anything below 3 mG being deemed as safe. This clear cut numerical guideline makes it easy to shop for a safe infrared sauna: simply ask the sauna salesman for the exact number. Numbers don’t lie.
You can never be too cautious, and with that in mind, I suggest that if you’re choosing an infrared sauna for your home that you think about buying a milligauss or Tri-Field EMF meter to test its EMF levels. Hopefully most salesmen out there aren’t actively lying about their saunas’ EMF levels, but I’d hate for anyone to be deceived. And an EMF meter isn’t a bad thing to have around when you’re purchasing large electronics.
Choosing a Low-EMF Sauna
The two primary materials used in infrared saunas to produce infrared rays are carbon and ceramic. These materials, when heated, produce infrared rays that raise the body’s core temperature, speed up the metabolism, and bring on all the other health benefits of saunas. Carbon heaters are a relatively new invention, and while they have some good qualities, they also generate high EMF levels–up to 80 mG, which is well over the suggested guidelines. Traditional ceramic heaters, on the other hand, have a much lower EMF than carbon heaters, but it’s still possible to go lower.
According to testing done by Vitatech Electromagnetics, a third party research group, infrared saunas that have heaters made of a combination of carbon and ceramic emit the smallest amount of EMF, emitting as little as .2 mG. The reason for this is that these heaters use layers of carbon and ceramic compounds on top of each other. When arranged like this, positive and negative charges in the electromagnetic fields produced by each type of material actually cancel each other out, causing the EMF to drop to almost nothing.
In the end, the results of my extensive scientific odyssey were clear. Due to what I learned about EMF, I decided to stick entirely to infrared saunas that use only combination ceramic and carbon heaters, which cut down EMF to miniscule levels. I also encourage everyone I talk to about this to do their own tests with the equipment I mentioned earlier. I know once I’d done them myself, I began to have new peace of mind about EMF risks whenever I was using infrared saunas–and that sort of comfort is invaluable.