Infrared saunas are hot, and this is not just because of all the bulbs emanating heat. Yes, they are the flavor of the season and there is much debate happening to decide which of the three kinds of infrared rays—near, mid or far—is the best kind.
In traditional saunas, which was popular around the globe from historical times, there were rooms that would be heated up and men and women would enter to benefit from the sweating it caused. This has undergone many variations till in the 1960s, infrared saunas came into being.
In infrared (IR) saunas, the infrared rays are used to heat the body directly instead of heating the room. Therefore, you tend to sweat even though the temperature inside the sauna is cooler.
Infrared is a spectrum of light that the human eye cannot detect. The rays are emitted by the sun in the spectrum of 700-100,000 nanometers (nm). The range from 700 nm to around 1400 nm is called near infrared and 3,000-100,000 nm is called far infrared. The range in between is called mid-infrared.
In a near infrared sauna, heat of up to 400 degrees is generated by the use of light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs are more effective for the purposes of saunas as they generate it in the range of 700-800 nm.
There are claims that near infrared saunas are great for health, right from detoxification due to the sweating to being beneficial for cardiac health and several other conditions. So we decided to explore a bit and review some products.
Since SaunaSpace claims that it has developed bespoke near infrared sauna after a lot of research and we read rave reviews about its products online, we decided to dig a little deeper. It asserts that near infrared radiation is the best as it penetrates the skin deeper and provides many health benefits.
The beautiful design and the features were alluring. The product descriptions and the images looked as if it was indeed a dream come true. But our research threw up facts that soured the dream and turned it into a nightmare, crashing all myths about the benefits.
Before we review their products and assess the merit of their claims, let’s first look closely at this very popular near infrared sauna brand and what they offer.
SaunaSpace was started in 2008 when the founder, Brian Richards, experienced the benefits of near infrared sauna therapy that he underwent for acne, insomnia and adrenal fatigue. Since he was unable to find one easily, he put together his own and soon, his ideas expanded to become the independent enterprise that it is today, with a team of 10 who work in two locations totaling an area of 3,500 square feet.
Knowing that it is not just a matter of connecting wires but that there are risks to be considered such as chemical off-gassing, non-native electric fields and magnetic fields that could potentially harm the users, he has put in the research needed to develop a product that is safe, uses natural materials and is aesthetically designed. The products have definitely won several followers and customers who have only superlative terms to describe their experiences. It has been endorsed by a cross-spectrum of people, from entrepreneurs, doctors to sports people and, of course, the common man.
SaunaSpace products profess to offer safe, comfortable and beautiful saunas that have a sleek and minimalistic design. There are two variants:
- Illuminati (formerly called Pocket Sauna)
It also has light panels that promise full body photomodulation and mitochondrial stimulation. These two come in two varieties:
- Tungsten (formerly 4-Light Panel)
- Photon (Single Light Panel)
And it has designed a ThermaLight near infrared incandescent bulb.
Currently available is the second generation design, claimed to be an upgraded version of the earlier Faraday model. It comes with a stainless-steel 5G-rated RF shielding system for better EMF protection along with a new grounding mat for better earthing.
It is said to have been subjected to third-party testing for up to 40 GHz and offers 69x effective shielding protection.
Featuring ThermaLight technology, it promises 89 mW/cm2 irradiance that benefits the entire body.
This is a near infrared incandescent bulb designed by SaunaSpace, made by artisans using the traditional mouth-blown technique. It has a custom-made tungsten filament covered by red-stained hard glass offering two to four times greater irradiance than competing products, or sothe company claims.
The portable sauna from SaunaSpace is sleek and minimalistic, made with handmade and hand-tailored components that come with a promise of a lifetime of service.
The complete package includes:
- Stools: Solid wood portable stools that are durable, with three-dimensional contouring for a rotation protocol of quarter turn every five minutes.
- Enclosure: Made of dual-layer covers created using hypoallergenic natural materials such as basswood and organic cotton, it provides insulation to retain heat and ensure full-body sweat and detoxing. It is easy to install anywhere indoors. When not in use, it can be packed and stowed away anywhere.
- Access for All: A curtained entrance seems a well-thought-out design as it allows a wheelchair to be wheeled in, thus ensuring accessibility.
- Panel Clamps: The panel clamps are custom-made and the pole design is such that you can align the lamp panel to a suitable height with 18-30 inches of clearance.
- Door Lamp: The door lamp is made safe with a grill that lets you close to the light without fear of burning your skin through accidental touch.
- Light Control: The light controls allow deciding how many lights you want to switch on for the right temperature.
SaunaSpace also offers two varieties of stand-alone light panels, one that accommodates four lights and one that has a single light. This can be fitted anywhere easily, making every room a potential sauna. They come with light guards that make them safe, and panel clamps to let you adjust the height as per your need. The bulbs used are their own ThermaLight that they claim offers improved near infrared radiation promising greater effectiveness.
Electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation is the radiation emitted by electrically powered devices. Even the electrical wires powering the electrical appliances generate EMF. Since only the lamp panel has wiring and the lamps do not emit much EMF near infrared saunas are safer. In case of SaunaSpace, this is further enhanced by their using the Faraday design with an RF shield that protects the user from any possible radiation.
SaunaSpace makes it attractive to purchase their products by allowing you to pay over 6, 12 or 24 months at competitive interest rates as low as 0 percent affordable monthly plans. In fine print, they add that the interest would range from 0 to 29.99% APR depending on credit approvals.
They also have a provision to allow you to try the products for up to 100 days and return it if it does not match up to your expectations. They offer to replace or refund provided the products are returned without damage and with all the packing materials as well.
The images, the descriptions and the reviews by users will make it sound like not buying the near infrared sauna is a crime. There is much research being quoted to suggest that near infrared is the best type of light for enjoying a host of health benefits too, not just by SaunaSpace but by all those who offer these products.
This is hardly surprising, but this reiterates the need for vigilance on part of the buyer. For starters, deeper search revealed that all the claims are not to be believed, and that there is no substantial research to prove unequivocally that these saunas do actually impart the benefits the manufacturers quote selectively. Yes, they may help in destressing, in relaxing and improving your mood. But do they actually detoxify you? Certainly not.
A Harvard study categorically states that skin is not a medium for eliminating toxins from the body and no amount of sweating is going to change that. In fact, its function is to act as a barrier preventing the entry of toxins. So whether you sweat mildly or perspiration flows down in rivulets, the toxins that got in will remain put. Kidneys are meant to throw out the toxins, and you need enough water to flush the system. Infrared saunas, in fact, can cause overheating and dehydrate you, which is harmful.
Health Canada has clearly advised Canadians against using infrared saunas for treating medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or autism. They are not to be used even for weight loss, pain relief, cancer prevention or anti-aging, since there is no clinical evidence proving their effectiveness in promoting these benefits. It has cautioned businesses against advertising or selling these devices making any false health claims. Non-compliance would entail penalty.
There are several health conditions that are not conducive to exposure to the sauna heat. If you are pregnant, if you have a skin condition, genetic disorders, diabetic, certain coronary conditions, it is better to consult your physician. Here is a list that you can tick off to make sure you are safe:
- If you are recovering from a heart attack
- If you are suffering from aortic stenosis
- If you have had a stroke due to bleeding in the brain
- If you suffer from lupus erythematosus
- If you have a brain tumor
- If you suffer from angina pectoris
- If you have multiple sclerosis
- If you are diabetic
- If you have had any implants
- If you have a pacemaker fitted in
That’s not all, the moment you feel any discomfort or pain consult a physician. Do not expose yourself to near infrared radiation if you are under heavy medication, are under the influence of alcohol or drugs as that has contraindications.
Next let’s look at how it compares to the original sauna and the purposes they serve.
First is the claim about infrared itself. The manufacturers make it sound as if it is exclusive to their model, emitted by some magical material they have discovered. In reality, any energy input used to generate heat will also produce IR radiation as a by-product. And given the high temperatures of the traditional saunas, the IR is also higher in these saunas. Needless to say, they are therefore more effective in serving the purpose than a few strategically placed bulbs.
Secondly, traditional saunas also serve the need for socialization, a practice still prevalent in Finland. In the modern infrared saunas, a maximum of four people can be accommodated depending on the design. And portable ones are meant only for one. Therefore, they do not really provide the psychological advantage they claim. Of course, now the designs are being changed to accommodate music players and other forms of entertainment. But that is not so in a portable sauna like the one on offer by SaunaSpace.
Thirdly, a traditional sauna is tailor made to suit the taste and needs of the individuals using it. The balance between humidity and temperature is determined by what the person is comfortable with. In the near infrared sauna from SaunaSpace, you can at the most fiddle with the number of bulbs given to achieve the desired effect and be satisfied with the results.
Aromatherapy is a feature that traditional saunas could provide as an added feature because of the way the heat was produced. Of course, the traditional sauna is more expensive as it requires experts who know how to design and construct it. Ventilation needs to be proper since, unlike popular belief, it is not just dry heat but steam. But it is a fine art that needs to be appreciated.
Near infrared saunas, on the other hand, are mass produced. Even a ‘bespoke, artisan-made’ sauna such as the one offered by SaunaSpace has only one design. And this design is cast in stone. So it cannot change as per your mood or needs.
Fourth, in a traditional sauna, stones are heated to make the temperatures go up to 70°C and 110°C, which in turn makes the person hot and sweat. Water is then poured to generate steam such that the humidity is around 5% to 15%. After an exposure of around 30 minutes, the bather may step out to take a cold shower or submerge in cold water. This process is repeated several times, and this is what causes blood circulation to improve, muscle function to strengthen, the immune system to be stimulated and endorphins to be released. Near infrared saunas, on the other hand, heat up the body directly, and the temperature hardly ever gets so high. It is also dry heat, creating the possibility of overheating and dehydration.
Finnish societies do not even accept infrared ‘contraptions’ as saunas because of these fundamental differences.
Third-party testing and RF shield are two misleading terms that mean nothing when it comes to EMF in the saunas. Even tin foil can reduce RF by 50%, but that has no bearing on the EMF itself.
In the light of these revelations, let us reconsider the near infrared saunas again. Are they really that great a buy? Especially when they are priced $5,499.99 (Faraday) and $2,999.99 (Luminati)?
We think not. Even if they are cheaper than a bespoke sauna would be and it serves a limited purpose of being relaxing, it conforms neither to science nor tradition.
Investing in a sauna is a once in a lifetime investment. Even if a product like the one from SaunaSpace comes with a 100-day trial offer, APRs and return policy, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. There is no doubt that sitting by yourself in an aesthetically designed area enjoying some heat can be beneficial. But if you are doing it believing you are somehow going to overcome more serious health conditions, then reconsider the investment.
The rotary stool sounds cool as it slowly takes you around so that all parts of your body can be exposed to the heat. But thinking about it, it seems a bit like the earth’s rotation, where one part gets all the sunlight while the other is in the dark. One part of your body is heating up while the other is away, cooling down. That can’t have the desired effect in a uniform manner as a traditional sauna, or even a far infrared one, would provide.
Also, it is better to evaluate other sauna options that can truly make you sweat better than the near infrared ones. Where the EMF levels are concerned, do your own testing or research thoroughly instead of falling for the claims by the manufacturers.
While the internet is flooded with research reports on the benefits of saunas, there is much conflict between the benefits and risks of near and far infrared saunas. Taking them with a pinch of salt and doing your own independent study may prove beneficial in the long run.
Also, the studies are on limited sample groups and so not backed by sufficient validation. While infrared is not ultraviolet, and so safer, how much is safe is something that time alone will tell.
No sauna comes with any health warnings, making it sound as if it is pure bliss. And yet, it can prove hazardous too.
So, yes, weigh your options and if you still feel that you want to own one, at least lower your expectations and take the plunge with your eyes wide open.