December 8, 2022
October 14, 2022
Differences Between Infrared Sauna Therapy, Near Infrared Light Therapy & More
The written article is based on a summary of existing literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
60 scientific references back the claims in the article. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
In this blog post, I’ll talk about all the infrared light therapy at home options. This topic is quite confusing for many people as many different options exist.
For that reason, I’ll distinguish between:
Infrared sauna therapy - which heats up your body using infrared light & heat.
Near-infrared light therapy - which doesn’t heat up your body. Usually, near-infrared light therapy devices not only expose you to the infrared light spectrum but also
Don’t worry if this all sounds complicated. I’ll break down what infrared light is - and other types of light - in the next section.
So let’s start with infrared sauna therapy:
I’m asked all the time:
At the end of this blog post, you’ll have a full understanding of how to answer these questions. But first, I’ll have to take a step back and talk about the “light spectrum” in physics. That light spectrum gives you a much deeper understanding of how to distinguish between the different therapies:
To understand all the differences between saunas and infrared light therapy at home, I’ll first consider light from a physics perspective. Simply put, three main different types of light exist: ultraviolet light, visible light, and infrared light. Only visible light can be seen with the naked human eye - ultraviolet and infrared are invisible without scientific tools.
I won’t focus much on ultraviolet light in this blog post. Ultraviolet light is what can give you a sunburn if you’re excessively exposed and can help create vitamin D in your skin. Visible light, moreover, consists of all the colours of the rainbow: violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. And, lastly, the main topic of this blog post - infrared - is what makes sunlight feel hot on your skin.
In physics, there’s a strong link between infrared light and heating (1; 2; 3; 4; 5). Your own body also emits infrared light. That infrared light can be seen on security cameras at night, for instance. Infrared light is thus very natural to the human body.
And, by exposing your body to infrared light (or heat), your body temperature goes up. Medical science talks about a rise in “core body temperature”, which has all kinds of potential health benefits.
Lastly, I’ll have to cover the different types of infrared light - I’ll do that in the next section:
The different types of infrared light are the key to understanding the differences between infrared sauna therapy and near-infrared light therapy. I’ll distinguish between “near infrared”, “middle infrared”, and “far infrared” heat here (6; 7; 8). The difference between these types of infrared is the “wavelength’. Near-infrared, as the name already suggests, has the shortest wavelengths. Middle infrared has a longer wavelength and far infrared has the longest wavelength.
These wavelengths can be measured:
(Different categorisation schedules exist for distinguishing between these types of infrared. I’ve taken a schedule that’s quite commonly used, the ISO 20473 standard.)
These three different types of infrared light all have different effects when your body is exposed to them. Different types of infrared light penetrate the human body to different extents, and, also affect tissues to different degrees (9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15). For instance, it’s much harder for most types of light to penetrate bone than to go through the skin and muscle tissue. For that reason, getting near infrared or far infrared exposure to your brain will be different than to your arms.
The most important thing here is to understand that infrared light or infrared heat (which are almost indistinguishable) heat the body from the inside out. A traditional sauna works the opposite way: it heats the air, and that air then indirectly heats your body.
Using infrared light has advantages though: the experience is very gentle compared to a traditional sauna. A traditional sauna has a maximum temperature of 110 degrees Celsius while that’s only 60 degrees for an infrared sauna.
Most heat in a traditional sauna is also located near the top of the sauna, not the bottom. The problem with that approach is that your head and skull are your weakest link - the head is first to give out when you’re spending time inside the sauna. High-quality infrared saunas take the opposite approach - heater panels are only aimed at your body, never your head - so that the correct tissues are heated up.
Also, with an infrared sauna, you won’t be breathing in extremely hot air. Those two factors alone make infrared sauna therapy much more gentle. And, despite that gentleness, an infrared sauna will still give you extremely good increases in the aforementioned “core body temperature”. So, you get the same results with a more gentle experience.
Different types of infrared light also have different biological effects. For instance, there’s an “absorption peak” of around 3 micrometres, then again around 10.5 micrometres, and around 60 micrometres.
In plain English, these absorption peaks entail that they’re ideal for heating up your body from the inside out. And, because the absorption peaks are located in both the near, middle and far infrared spectrum, getting exposure to all of them is ideal if you want to increase your core body temperature to the maximum extent possible. For that reason, we offer full-spectrum infrared saunas, that combine all three types of infrared.
The effects of infrared light on your body are far more extensive than just heating you up though. For instance, near infrared light can be used to irradiate your blood, making it less sticky, improve circulation at the smallest blood vessels, help immune cells work more efficiently, and affect the energy created in your cells directly (16; 17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 22).
Your cells contain so-called “mitochondria”. Mitochondria can be envisioned as the energy-producing factories of your cells. Energy creation in your mitochondria is an extremely complex process of many different chemical and physical elements. Scientists don’t fully understand that process to this day. However, what is known is that certain steps of that energy-creation process work more efficiently with near infrared light exposure.
And, like the aforementioned energy-creation process, new discoveries on how infrared light exposure supports health are found every day. I’ll be following these trends with great interest and keep reporting on them on this blog.
Next up, now that you understand infrared light and the differences between different types of infrared, let’s consider how infrared sauna therapy works:
First, let’s consider “infrared sauna therapy” or “infrared heat therapy”. Both are basically synonyms for the same phenomenon. In this case, you’re using an infrared sauna to heat your body from the inside out.
Below I’ve added a picture of such an infrared sauna. Traditionally, these saunas use heater panels to expose your body to infrared light. These heater panels used to emit mostly far infrared light in the past.
Nowadays, sauna technology has developed. For that reason, you can also expose your body to near and middle infrared light today. To expose you to all types of infrared, at Clearlight Infrared® Saunas. , True Wave™ Full Spectrum infrared heaters can be installed in any sauna we offer. These heaters have also been designed to emit as little “EMF” or “Electro-Magnetic Frequencies” as possible so that each of your sessions fully supports health.
So why would you use infrared heat therapy using a sauna?
Well, in a previous blog post, I summarised all of the different benefits of infrared sauna therapy. I’ll briefly cover some of the most important infrared sauna therapy benefits:
Additionally, I want to cover a few other infrared heat therapy devices, that mimic a sauna - I’ll cover these in the next section:
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Next to infrared sauna therapy, there are a few devices that I also want to cover: infrared sauna blankets, heat lamps, and infrared sauna domes.
Let’s start with a device called a “heat lamp”. Such heat lamps are traditional incandescent light bulbs that have been altered to only emit different types of infrared light. A tiny amount of red light, from the visible spectrum, is included as well.
In terms of infrared light, heat lamps mostly emit near-infrared light and some middle and far infrared light. The bulbs are generally very inexpensive - costing around 10 GBP - and you can find many tutorials online on how to create a DIY sauna using heat lamps. Using these heat lamps is also known as “infrared lamps therapy” or “infrared heat lamp therapy”.
The problem with heat lamps is that they don’t really raise your core body temperature as much as a regular far infrared sauna. The lamps get really hot themselves, but sitting close is actually quite difficult. You can also get these lamps with an enclosure, but, even in that case, they’re not perfect for raising your core body temperature because you miss out on a few peaks in the water absorption spectrum.
Next up, there are infrared sauna blankets. These blankets are a new development from a few years ago, and they’re quite a hit. You can sit inside a blanket and wrap it around your body, leaving your head free, and then expose your body to quite a neat dose of far infrared.
The only problem here is that you’re wrapping the plastics directly against your body as not all blankets are made of the highest quality materials. EMFs are usually less of an issue because the control unit is far removed from your body.
The biggest benefit, moreover, of these sauna blankets is that they’re very portable and affordable. For a couple of hundred GBP, you can buy an infrared sauna blanket. And, these blankets do fit in a large suitcase if you’re travelling.
At Clearlight Infrared® Saunas, we’ve found a middle way between functionality and price, by developing the Clearlight Saunas Dome™. That Dome is made from 100% natural materials that are non-off-gassing and exposed your body to almost non-existent EMF levels. Also, most of your body doesn’t touch the materials, so there’s no biological interaction at all when you’re engaged in a session.
The Clearlight Saunas Dome™ is also used in clinical research right now, such as on the effect of saunas on depression. For countering a clinical depression, extremely high core body temperatures need to be maintained, and our Clearlight Saunas Dome™ is able to deliver on that requirement. The benefit here is that your head isn’t exposed to any infrared light or heat at all so you can last a lot longer inside there.
Also, if you’re short on space in your house, the Clearlight Saunas Dome™ is an excellent option. This Dome can simply be stored in a closet and takes up very little space when you’re not using it. If you’re living inside a small apartment, for instance, then you might not even have space for a 1-person sauna. The Clearlight Saunas Dome™ then becomes an excellent option.
In short, I don’t think heat lamps are optimal, although they do provide a nice amount of near-infrared light. Secondly, the infrared sauna blankets and especially the Clearlight Saunas Dome™ are excellent options if you don’t have a large budget and/or don’t have much space in your house.
Next up, let’s explore the second topic of this blog post, near-infrared light therapy:
For “near-infrared light therapy” you’ll need a near-infrared light therapy device. Different near-infrared light therapy devices exist on the market though.
I’ll cover some of these devices later on. Let’s start with the basics:
“Near-infrared light therapy” is frequently understood as “red light therapy”. And, that near-infrared light therapy is an outgrowth of laser therapy that started decades ago. Back then, lasers that only could be used under the supervision of medical professionals would be used to treat different tissues, ranging from bones, blood circulation, dental tissues, the skin, tendons, the brain, and many others.
Since the 2000s, the price of LEDs has come down a lot. It thereby became economical to use LEDs to emit near-infrared light. Often, that near-infrared light is paired with red light. The near-infrared light therapy devices never emit middle and far infrared. And, because the near-infrared light therapy uses a very small part of the near-infrared light spectrum that is non-heating, you don’t raise your core body temperature much if at all.
Nowadays, many different near-infrared light therapy devices have hit the market. These include face masks for rejuvenating the skin while making it younger, wraps that can be used to treat joints such as the shoulder and back, and smaller or bigger LED panels. These LED panels - called “red light therapy panels” - contain anywhere between 10 and hundreds of LEDs. These LEDs then emit the non-heating red and near-infrared light that hits your skin and enters your body.
At Clearlight Infrared® Saunas, we offer the only near-infrared light therapy device that can be combined with infrared sauna therapy. That Clearlight® Light Therapy Tower is custom-made to be placed inside a sauna.
The reason this device can be used in this way is that its electrical components are fully shielded from the heat and humidity of the sauna. That way, you will have the benefits of infrared sauna therapy and near-infrared light therapy at the same time.
And, from the science, it has become clear that the benefits of LEDs are very similar to these of lasers that are in use for decades (41; 42). So, you will get double the health-supporting benefits that you’d get from either therapy alone, at the same time. If you’re interested in learning more about these benefits, I refer to my guide on the advantages and disadvantages of near-infrared light therapy.
Let’s dig into some of these benefits in the section below:
Below I’ll consider the benefits of infrared therapy. To illustrate my point, I’ll give some near-infrared light therapy examples:
First up, let’s consider infrared therapy for back pain - back pain is a very common issue in society and many people suffer from it. Most people will experience back pain during their lives. And, in some people, that back pain will remain and become what is called “chronic back pain”.
Chronic back pain is one of the most common types of chronic pain out there. Fortunately, near-infrared light therapy helps wonderfully here. Let’s, therefore, look at some near-infrared light therapy studies for back pain (43; 44; 45; 46; 47; 48; 49).
Multiple studies show that near-infrared light therapy is equally beneficial as an exercise for countering pain. That’s a great outcome as you can use near-infrared light therapy from the comfort of your home. And, combining the two interventions does give you more benefits than using either of them alone.
After a few weeks of near-infrared light therapy, overall pain and disability go down. The range of motion in the joint also improves. Disability is a huge factor in lower back pain because it prevents many people from working, no matter whether you work from an office, stand a lot, or whether you’re very physically active during your job.
The benefits are present for both people who have acute back pain and chronic pain. Different types of back pain, whether the pain stems from the discs, or concerns an impingement of the nerves, do benefit from near-infrared light therapy.
Next up, let’s look at another reason many people use infrared therapy - wrinkles:
Next up, there’s infrared light therapy for wrinkles. Here too, a huge amount of research is available, fortunately (50; 51; 52; 53; 54).
Near-infrared light therapy for wrinkles works because it increases energy production in the mitochondria in your skin. That way, more energy is available for keeping your skin healthy and lessening the appearance of wrinkles. The problem with mitochondria is that their number and size go down when you age. Near-infrared light therapy, in turn, not only makes your mitochondria more plentiful but also more efficient.
Stem cells, which many people use to look better, are also activated by infrared light therapy, and blood flow overall improves. Those two mechanisms further reduce the presence of wrinkles on your skin.
Reducing wrinkles is one of the main reasons many people use near-infrared light therapy. If you use a search machine, you can find thousands of testimonials of people who had amazing results with infrared light therapy. Of course, the face is one of the main locations where wrinkles develop and where you can see the signs of ageing, so let’s explore that topic further:
Next up, let’s consider a special case: infrared light therapy for face. Many devices are on the market that specifically exposes your face to red light and near-infrared light. These forms are non-heating in almost all cases.
The easiest example to imagine is a light therapy mask. Frequently, these masks emit a combination of blue, red, and near-infrared light.
Blue light has specific benefits for countering acne, for instance. Red light enhances the amount of collagen and elastin in your skin, making it both more smoother and elastic. The end result is that many people look a lot younger.
Lastly, infrared light therapy for the face has unique benefits of its own. Some of the light penetrates into your brain, and therefore, improvements in cognitive function are also found (55; 56; 57; 58; 59; 60). Memory, attention, and mood all improve when you expose your skull, and therefore the brain, to infrared light therapy. Some of the light can penetrate through your skull, and therefore affect your brain. If you have an injury to your brain, because of physical trauma or Alzheimer’s or another reason, then the improvements will be more profound.
And, lastly, as I’ve stated in my blog post about red light therapy and near-infrared light therapy, the benefits are far more extensive than the face, wrinkles and back pain benefits I’ve discussed here. Let’s quickly go through a few of these benefits:
Other benefits exist as well that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that the list of benefits of near-infrared light therapy is extremely impressive as thousands of studies exist - 90% of these studies show a positive outcome.
And, with that being said, let’s conclude:
Whether you’re using infrared heat therapy - with a sauna or an infrared lamps therapy - or near-infrared light therapy, the results are extremely promising. The science on these topics is progressing daily and more benefits are found yearly.
I and my team will keep informing you about these developments in the coming years. Hopefully, I’ve informed you well about the differences in options here. Now that you better understand the differences in infrared light therapy at home, you can better make an informed decision.
Fortunately, more and more of these therapies are available from the comfort of your home. Some experts believe that 10 years from now, every home in developed countries will contain a near-infrared light therapy device, for instance. And, infrared sauna therapy for home is getting more widespread as well, although it’s more expensive and you’ll need more room.
Hopefully, you join me in this exciting future…
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