Definitions

infrared therapy

Infrared sauna

An infrared sauna is a sauna that heats its occupants with heaters that emit far infrared radiant heat. Unlike traditional Finnish Saunas, infrared saunas do not use steam, (which heats the air, and thereby the user) but instead use infrared radiation to directly heat the user.

What is infrared?

Infrared (IR) radiation is electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength longer than that of visible light, but shorter than that of radio waves. The radiation hits the surface of the body and heats through a process called conversion, instead of heating the air around you.

Infrared saunas

An infrared sauna is usually a wooden box, or small wooden room, containing several infrared heaters. In a warm environment, an infrared sauna could be open air and still heat the users in the same manner, since the heaters don't rely on the air being hot, but only hot enough such that the body doesn't cool down without sweating. All the same, normally the units are contained in a room, allowing the air to heat and in effect simulating the feel of a traditional sauna. In other words, the sauna box creates the atmosphere of the sauna while the heaters provide the actual infrared therapy.

In an infrared sauna, the infrared heater produces radiant energy, which is the same as the heat from the sun, only without the harmful ultraviolet rays. Most of these heaters draw on technology developed in 1965 by Dr. Tadashi Ishikawa, a member of the Research and Development Department of Fuji Medical.

Infrared sauna vs. traditional sauna

Traditional saunas, also called rock saunas or Finnish Saunas, use various types of heaters to warm the air and stones in a room. The room's walls can be logs or some other material lined with wood. Stones placed over the heat source attain a high temperature. In its primitive form the stones are heated by wood without a chimney. The fire dies and the smoke exits by the door. Heat is maintained by the stones. Stones are usually peridotite as they are heat stable. Modern Finnish saunas have thermostatically controlled electric stoves or wood stoves with chimneys.

In a traditional sauna the air temperature typically runs between 169 to 190 °F (76 to 88 °C), though temperatures over 200 °F (93 °C) are sometimes encountered. The hot air causes the body to heat up, and eventually results in a sweat. Water is thrown on the stones to achieve a "steam shock". Some devotees enhance the experience by mixing vodka etc in the water. This produces a quick "high". Some add herbs or oil like eucalyptus. Traditionally, ones skin is beaten with a bunch of birch twigs. When the heat becomes intolerable one cools down under a cold shower or, as in Finland, by jumping into a frozen lake, or perhaps, most delicately, one rolls in powdery snow. Then one repeats the process to satisfaction. Although potentially unsafe, alcoholic drinks often accompany the sauna.

An infrared sauna uses a variety of heater types from older technology steel incoloy rods and ceramics to newer carbon heaters that creates infrared waves that heat your body directly, instead of just by the air. The temperature in them is much cooler, at around 120 to 140 °F (43 to 54 °C). The amount of sweat that results from each is comparable, though many people report that the lower temperatures in an infrared sauna allow the user to stay inside longer, resulting in longer sauna sessions and therefore more overall sweating.

Health benefit claims

Infrared sauna promoters state that infrared radiant heat is safe and beneficial, claiming that the heat penetrates more than 1.5 inches (40 mm) into the body. The argument is based on the idea that the wavelengths of far infrared waves are typically between 5.8 and 1000 micrometers. This is supposed to correspond to the vibration of the water molecule at 9.4 micrometers. Because these vibrations are similar, say promoters, the infrared rays help knock toxins loose from fat cells into the body, and those toxins are then released through sweating. They claim this heals and stimulates tissues, and that it is effective therapy for arthritis and tissue injuries.

Dr. Sherry Rogers, a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and a diplomate of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, says in her book Detoxify or Die that an infrared sauna is the only way of removing man-made toxins from your body. Dr. Rogers also states that bio-accumulated toxic load in the human body is responsible for all disease not attributable to bacteria or virus.

Because the skin is the largest organ of the body, regularly sweating in a far infrared sauna can help decrease the toxic load and contribute to better health and vitality. One of the ways that infrared sauna use is beneficial for a wide range of ailments is through the increase in circulation that it causes in the body. Increased circulation is often believed to be helpful in a variety of ways, and is generally regarded as beneficial for health.

Controversy

There is controversy over whether infrared saunas can detoxify the body. Many alternative health practitioners and sauna vendors claim that infrared saunas can eliminate harmful chemicals that have built up in the body, citing personal anecdotes and experiences as support. Mainstream medical professionals, such as those employed by the Mayo Clinic, have failed to find evidence for these claims.

Infrared sauna production

While there are many different infrared sauna brands, there are fewer actual manufacturers. As in many industries, there are a number of manufacturers that will produce for multiple brands, allowing those brands to then sell them as their own. This is similar to store brand marketing that is common in retail stores and grocery stores.

References

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