What is a Far Infrared Sauna?

by Shaun Angel, Owner, CPT

Today I want to roll out to you our newest addition to Livewell Rejuvenation Services, the Far Infrared Sauna.  

If you are like most people, you probably think of saunas as a form of pampering, maybe a part of a relaxing day at the spa.  Maybe you think of it as a group of people in a sweat lodge as is commonly practiced in many cultures, most notably Sweden and Finland.  You are about to find out why the sauna has its place firmly rooted in the health promoting arsenal of fitness and wellness freaks all over the world.  So, what do these people know that you and I do not?  

To those that know us from the Flex 151 side of Livewell, you may have noticed that with Flex 151’s program, we try to refrain from sweating while working our muscles.  Is this because we do not value sweating?  Absolutely not!  When your muscles are contracting and lengthening to produce force, the muscle fibers are very rapidly vibrating and rubbing together, thus causing heat.  This heat creates lactic acid.  Not a bad thing…we all love the ‘burn’; however, if we want to enjoy the time efficiency and 6.5 x more efficient workout than that of conventional resistance training…there is a requirement and that requirement is muscle failure.  We want the tuckered out muscles to be fully depleted of energy by the end of the set through the sequential recruitment of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, a process called inroading.  With our heavily researched anaerobic workout, we burn more sugar and hold off lactic acid longer by also not contributing to our failure through early heat and premature lactic ‘burn’.  So, that crazy diaphragmatic breathing technique we ask you to do is actually a way to expel heat through a respiratory means (like a dog who helps regulate body temperature through panting) and the cool room helps to counter the heat your body creates while doing your first set.  With that being said, proper sweating can be a great health tool for our bodies.  So, what IS the role of sweating on our health? 

What is a Far Infrared (IR) Sauna?

An infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses bio photonic light to create heat. These saunas are sometimes called far-infrared saunas — "far" describes where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum.  An infrared sauna heats our body directly without warming the air around us.  The traditional sauna is electric, wood or gas fired and uses heat to warm the air, which in turn warms the body. Preheating to 150-200 degrees is required for large sweating. The intense heat is difficult for many to tolerate.  On the other hand, far-infrared heats the body, but the air remains cool. Sweating begins quickly and the experience is rather pleasant. According to research, far-infrared is more cleansing than traditional saunas. The deep penetration of the infrared energy allows the cells to eliminate better.

So, the difference between an infrared sauna and the traditional Finnish-style saunas is that the latter heats us up from the outside in, like an oven. The infrared sauna heats us from the inside out.  The appeal of saunas in general is that they raise core body temperature and cause profuse sweating and increased heart rate, similar to those reactions caused by moderate exercise. An infrared sauna produces these results at lower temperatures than does a regular sauna (20-30 degrees cooler), which makes it accessible to people who can't tolerate the heat of a conventional sauna.

Why Far IR Sauna?

Everyone today is exposed to heavy metals and toxic chemicals.  No matter how well we eat or how much we exercise, we cannot evade chemicals in our water, air and soil.  Hundreds of chemicals affect the skin from lotions, soaps, creams and deodorants. Others are cleaning solvents, detergent residues and chemicals from bathing water.  Eating organic where it counts and a large proportion of our diet raw, getting adequate sleep, staying hydrated with clean water, reducing stress, reducing sugar, moving daily and exercising regularly goes a long way to keep our systems clean.  Yes, the body detoxifies through the liver, urine and poo, but the skin is the largest organ and wants to be a big eliminator as long as sweating occurs.  A very good method to place the detoxification process of the body ‘on steroids’ is through using a far-infrared sauna. Its dry, warming energy is highly compatible with the human body. It heats the tissues several inches deep, enhancing natural metabolic processes, increasing circulation and helping to oxygenate our cells. Your skin is a major organ of elimination, but many people do not sweat on a regular basis. This may be due to our modern sedentary lives, comforts of all-season climate conditioning, wearing synthetic or tight clothing that does not breathe, and even from sun damage.  Repeated use of the sauna slowly restores skin elimination, which can help reduce your toxic load quite significantly. But not only will it help rid your body of heavy metals and chemicals at the deep cellular level, it will also help kill off viruses and other microbes—even cancerous cells.   

Beyond Detox:  Further Sauna Benefits

Anti-Aging and Skin Rejuvenation:  I am developing disdain for the word “anti-aging”…it is tossed around in the skin lotion, makeup and supplement industry like a ‘turn back your years pill’ is something you can grab off a shelf.  We all are aging!  Things like reducing sugar, eating large amounts of veggies (preferably 1/3 raw), hydrating, moving, sleeping and exercising..when performed well over the long haul…with consistency…usually helps us to weather our age much better. Hopefully, we won’t have to mask it so much later in life if we consistently practice wellness initiatives.  But, studies do show that far infrared saunas increase circulation, largely through capillary action, which promotes revitalized, cleaner skin with reduced pores and stimulated collagen.  Many users brag about their ‘glow’ after a session.  Basically, the movement of moisture through the skin from the deep sweating flushes bacteria from the epidermal layers of the skin and sweat ducts.  Furthermore, this movement of fluid to the skin delivers more nutrient and mineral-rich fluids and also helps to fill spaces around the cells, increasing firmness and reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Weight Loss:  A single 30 minute session can burn 200-600 calories while you relax!  Core body temp will elevate.  As the body is trying to cool itself, there is a increase in heart and metabolic rate, which furthers calorie burn.  Research also shows increased insulin sensitivity, lowered insulin and a significant reduction in blood glucose levels post sauna sessions. Don’t pay attention to the scale right after, as that will largely be water weight.  Make sure to hydrate before, during and after your session!  As long as you hydrate and don’t engage in compensatory eating as a result of this higher thermal caloric burn post sauna, enjoy the assist!  

Immune Boost: Feel like you are getting sick?  Infrared heat will stimulate circulation, rev up the production of white blood cells (read study here in the Journal of Human Kinetics) and rally your immune system’s response to invaders.  Think of what your body is doing when you have a fever:  raising your core body temperature slightly to make your body a much less hospitable environment for germs to grow – and to fight off these foreign invaders (many germs and viruses are not tolerant to heat).  Even if you’re not on the verge of coming down with something, the increased circulation that comes with regular sauna use is a great way to keep the immune system strong.  It opens up your sinuses and allows drainage.  Further studies have found that sauna and exercise together results in even a greater immune system response…go figure!

Stress Reduction & Stress Resilience:  Yes, sweating is relaxing for the mind and body, especially if you do as I do and ‘upgrade’ your sauna sessions with meditation and/or deep breathing.  Stress builds up tension in the body, manifesting as various aches and pains, which the gentle heat serves to dissipate.  That one was easy, but what about  stress resilience?  This benefit is a bit counter intuitive.  By stepwise increasing the heat stress to your body with sauna Far IR heat, what Dr. Rhonda Patrick refers to as ‘Hyperthermic Conditioning’, your body begins to tolerate and build resilience to this heat stress by acting HSP’s, or Heat Shock Proteins.  That’s right, your body literally becomes more efficient at staying cooler under heat.  When the sauna heat stresses the body to the point it wants to protect us from protein breakdown and muscle loss, it triggers the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs).  These HSP’s are used by your cells to counteract potentially harmful stimuli, including environmental stress from pollutants, toxins, heat, cold, exercise stress and more.  Like it or not, we humans were built under adversity and hardship to become stronger…and why author Nassim Taleb recommends environmental stressors to make us “AntiFragile”.  Here is how it works:  Whenever a cell is exposed to an unfriendly environment, your DNA “separates” in specific regions and begins to read the genetic code to produce new stress proteins, including these HSPs. What this means is that exposure to sauna heat can induce a hormetic response (a protective stress response), which promotes the production of HSPs that are crucial to stress resistance, prevention of free radical damage, support of cellular antioxidant capacity and repair of damaged proteins. Learn more about how saunas affect HSP’s, Muscle Hypertrophy, growth of new brain cells and more ultra geeky sauna stuff here with Dr. Rhonda Patrick: 

Recovery, Muscle Build, and HGH:  Infrared heat can benefit sore and damaged muscles by penetrating the muscle with heat, which increases circulation, reduces lactic acids and allows the tight muscles to relax and repair.  This rise in circulation is also good for those suffering from arthritis and pains.  The good news for Flex 151 clients is that high intensity exercise is a big driver of human growth hormone (as is intermittent fasting, which I do several days per week).  What most people don’t know is that regular sauna use is well documented to increase human growth hormone (HGH) as well, which is in decline as we age and prevents muscle loss through above HSP’s.  Basically, we need to retain our HGH to avoid muscle loss, promote muscle growth and defend against accelerated ageing.        

Better sleep:  A sauna experience will release those ‘feel good’ endorphins.  As endorphins are released into your body, they create a soothing, nearly tranquilizing effect that can not only help to minimize chronic pain caused by arthritis and other muscle soreness but also stimulate deeper sleep.

Improved Cardiovascular Functioning:  Heating the muscles with infrared rays produces an increase in core body temperature, which causes the blood vessels near your skin to dilate, thereby increasing blood flow similar to that seen during exercise (up to twice the normal rate).  This makes the heart pump faster, lowers blood pressure and helps circulation as the body is trying to regulate your body temperature.   

What to Expect in your First Sauna Experience

Saunas are safe for most people providing one follows a few simple rules.  Make sure to check with your doctor first before diving into a sauna, especially if you have multiple sclerosis, hyperthyroidism, hypertension or serious heart conditions. Your session will be no longer than 30 minutes; however, most people will only want to tolerate 10-15 minutes until they work up to 30 minutes. 

  • Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after the sauna. 
  • Most people prefer sitting on our towels in their favorite bathing suit bottoms while listening to music, a podcast or simple ‘zoning out’ or meditating.  Your call, but infrared rays are lessened through clothing. 
  • How often, how long and when?  Sauna benefits are best noticed with consistent use.  I aim for 1-2x per week, but Ethan has experienced some amazing results with daily use!  Just remember that sauna use should be like your clean eating and exercise goals…consistency is best, whatever your frequency.  Best time of the day would be upon arising and at bedtime if time permits. Evening is probably best if you use it once a day. If ill, however, the morning is better when energy levels are higher. Less often is also acceptable if beginning or to maintain your health. If you are very debilitated, begin with once a week. Work up to more frequency as you are ready, but listen to your body!  You will know if you crave more sessions or are weak from too many. 
  • Most people should start off around 10 minutes or less and gradually build up.  You will know when you are done; your heart rate will be elevated like you have been doing aerobics and you will be ready to stop.  Listen to your body.  That is plenty of time.  Your acclimation will improve, resulting in longer times soon enough.  Just like Flex 151, more is not better at this point.  
  • Drink at least two glasses of water before entering the sauna, preferably mineralized.  Add juice or minerals (we sell high quality ionic minerals at Livewell) to your water if it is mineral-free. Ask me for why next time you see me, this is kind of complicated, but VERY important for proper detoxification. 
  • Use a small towel to wipe off the sweat. It is not recommended to talk or work in the sauna.  Enjoy some downtime!
  • Some days you will sweat more than others.  It is common to not sweat much the first few visits, especially if you don’t sweat much on a daily basis.  Your body is acclimating to the heat.  In a few sessions, you will be amazed at how much you sweat! The body dissipates heat more efficiently and fewer cellular toxins are there to be removed.  Congrats, you are becoming healthier! 
  • With far infrared heat, more temperature is not better.  You will be experiencing your session in 100-110 degree heat on the thermostat, but remember infrared heat is different than Finnish sauna heat and detoxification is better at a lower temp.  Don’t get confused and enjoy the relaxing experience without suffocation!    
  • After the sauna drink a glass of water. Sit or lie down for at least 10 minutes.
  • When you are home, take a shower, warm or cool but not hot.  This would be an excellent time to search out chemical free soaps, shampoos, lotions and deodorants!  Remember, your skin is your largest organ, so lowering chemical load enhances the detox you just received.  Also, skip most lotions and creams unless you know what are good versus bad ingredients. These also contain harmful chemicals.  Ask us for recommendations.
These simple steps allow your body to reap the full benefit of the sauna experience.

Hopefully, you can see only some of the incredible benefits to this very passive form of health and wellness improvement, the far infrared sauna.  Results are much better when saunas are part of an integrated program to your wellness.  Eating unprocessed foods that ‘rot’ and are as locally produced and grown as natural as possible (making sure many of these foods are veggies and raw), getting adequate sunshine, moving 10,000 steps a day, obtaining brief intermittent exercise, sleeping well and practicing stress management techniques all work hand in hand.  Don’t forget positive mindset and loving yourself…it is hard to give to others what you do not have.  Basically, think ‘process’, enjoy your journey and Livewell! 


Read more about saunas and see sources cited in article in these links: