In this blog post, I’ll tell you about the science of using an infrared sauna and psoriasis. I’ll first talk about the basics of the health condition and then explain several mechanisms in which infrared saunas can counter psoriasis symptoms. These symptoms include inflammation, pain, and others.
So let's begin with the basics:
What Is Psoriasis? Psoriasis Science 101
Psoriasis is a disease in which your immune system attacks itself and is characterised mostly by skin damage and pain (1; 2; 3). In people with psoriasis, the skin has bumps and plaques and is chronically inflamed. These skin problems are found all over the body and sometimes expand to the mouth and eyes. The symptoms appear because the immune system responds against the body's own cells.
Psoriasis is at least in part genetically inherited - if people in your direct family have the health condition you’ll be at greater risk too. However, environmental factors are thought to be the triggers of psoriasis. Adults are most affected by psoriasis.
If you’ve got psoriasis, your risk of getting other diseases also increases. These diseases include anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart and blood vessel conditions, arthritis, and other autoimmune problems (4; 5).
Standard treatments against psoriasis now include ultraviolet light exposure and prescription drugs. These drugs include creams and medication that suppress parts of the immune system - all of which aren’t without side effects.
So, that’s where the psoriasis and infrared sauna connection originates: the 2% of the population affected by psoriasis want to manage their symptoms without having to resort to interventions that include side effects. So in the remainder of this blog post I'll focus on natural treatments like infrared saunas.
How? Well, psoriasis is intertwined with increases in inflammation, for instance (6; 7; 8). Infrared saunas, in turn, can affect bodily inflammation at several levels - a connection I’ll explore in more detail in the next section:
The Infrared Sauna Psoriasis Symptom Countering Approach
Currently, there’s no fix for psoriasis. As a result, managing symptoms instead of resolving the condition becomes the main incentive. That’s where the psoriasis infrared sauna connection comes in - in this section I’ll explore several means through which psoriasis symptoms can be affected:
Countering Chronically Elevated Inflammation
Chronic inflammation isn't an isolated phenomenon only applicable to psoriasis. For instance, chronically elevated inflammation is a commonality between both psoriasis and heart and blood vessel diseases (9). Once you decrease chronic inflammation both your heart disease and psoriasis risk and symptoms decrease.
As a result, the aim of modern medicine in relation to psoriasis is actually to lower chronic inflammation so that people with psoriasis maintain their health better and longer (10). And, as a very beneficial side-effect, once chronic inflammation is lowered, the risk for other diseases like diabetes and joint issues also comes down.
Now there’s a lot of good news in relation to using infrared saunas for psoriasis actually - let’s explore some of the most recent research:
- Both red light and near infrared light can act as an anti-inflammatory (11). These anti-inflammatory effects have gotten greater emphasis in recent years, next to typical benefits such as increased energy production, better blood flow, and enhanced oxygenation.
- In viral infections, for instance, infrared light exposure prevents the immune system from going haywire and counters the so-called “cytokine storm” (12). Some inflammatory biomarkers can be reduced by 80% just after 48 hours of treatment.
- Not only do red light and near-infrared light have these anti-inflammatory effects though - far infrared light has the same benefits according to animal studies (13). Blood flow improves while inflammation is lowered when mice are exposed to the far-infrared light
- Similar effects are found when humans are exposed to far-infrared light (14). In allergic rhinitis, the immune system calms down and excess inflammation is inhibited, for instance.
And, even though these different effects of different parts of the infrared spectrum aren’t studied in great detail, the evidence all points in the same direction: infrared light can lower chronic inflammation and normalise the functioning of the immune system.
More research is needed in this area though, although current outcomes are very promising.
Keep in mind that I’m mainly considering infrared light-specific effects here. To enjoy these benefits you’ll need an infrared sauna, preferably a full-spectrum one. With a high-quality far infrared sauna you will already experience many benefits though.
Having said that, sauna-specific benefits for inflammation exist too. These traditional saunas include Finnish saunas, for instance.
In the short term, sauna sessions increase several inflammatory biomarkers (15). But, that dynamic is the same as with exercise - you temporarily stress the body whereby it gets weaker while in the long-run, you get stronger. When looking at long-term effects, the picture is very different though (16; 17; 18).
Let me explain:
More frequent sauna sessions are associated with lower C-reactive protein, one of the most important markers for (chronic) inflammation. In a Finnish study, people who sauna bathe once per week had C-reactive protein levels of 2.41, with 2-3 times per week that level became 2, and with 4-7 times a week the C-reactive protein was lowered to 1.65 mmol/L.
Research into “high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP)” yields the same conclusion.
Other studies confirm this conclusion - specifically suggesting that through the lowering of inflammation risk for chronic diseases goes down. For psoriasis, this conclusion is very promising as the condition is characterised by chronically elevated levels of inflammation.
There’s more though:
Countering (Chronic) Stress And Anxiety
In the last few years, the relationship between stress and psoriasis has been increasingly emphasised (19; 20; 21). Not only is stress a frequent trigger for increasing psoriasis symptoms, but nowadays it’s speculated that stress also creates the problem in the first place.
Of course, if you’ve already developed psoriasis then you cannot de-stress to make the problem go away. However, you can decrease symptoms by using a sauna.
What makes an infrared sauna the perfect option here is that the experience is very gentle and not harsh on your skin and body. In a previous blog post, I’ve explained that temperatures inside an infrared sauna only rise up to 55 degrees Celsius, as opposed to a maximum of 110 degrees Celsius in traditional saunas.
Infrared saunas do not rely on heating the air around you to accomplish their effects inside your body. Instead, the infrared light enters your body and heats you up from the inside out.
In different animal and human studies, moreover, infrared light lowers stress and anxiety (22; 23). Heating also helps release “endorphins” - natural opioids - that make you feel good and are responsible for the “runner’s high” (24; 25). Heating up the body can also counteract a clinical depression (25).
The combination of both heating up your core body temperature and supplying your body with an optimal dose of infrared light has the most powerful effect on psoriasis here. Also, next to countering inflammation and stress, other mechanisms exist by which infrared saunas can counter psoriasis symptoms:
Other Mechanisms - Skin Quality, Pain, And More
Many other mechanisms exist by which infrared saunas help manage psoriasis symptoms. Below I’ll consider a few of them here without going into great detail:
- Infrared light exposure will improve your overall skin quality. Over time, exposure to near-infrared light will increase the amount of collagen in your skin (26). As a result, many people rate their skin as having better texture and roughness. Some people also find that their skin colour improves. Of course, these benefits in appearance are very promising if you’ve got problems with psoriasis because optics are one big downside of the health condition.
- Additionally, infrared light exposure counters pain sensations across the board (27; 28; 29). While the studies investigating the effects of infrared light exposure don’t focus on psoriasis specifically - they concern tension headaches, peripheral neurological pain, fibromyalgia, and more - it’s quite likely that it lowers pain perceptions for psoriasis sufferers too.
Other benefits can be found in the literature as well but hopefully, you get my point. So, let’s, therefore, consider the big picture and conclude:
Conclusion: The Bright Psoriasis And Infrared Sauna Future
Hopefully, after reading this blog post, the two main mechanisms of countering chronic inflammation and chronic stress have convinced you that infrared saunas can be a powerful tool for managing psoriasis symptoms.
Of course, I’d never recommend infrared saunas in isolation. Instead, for the best results, you’ll do well to optimise your sleep quality, eat a healthy organic diet, move around a lot, limit the number and amounts of toxins you ingest, get some ultraviolet exposure which is very helpful for psoriasis (sunlight, anyone?), and other common-sense health recommendations.
Nevertheless, the psoriasis infrared sauna strategy is very much underappreciated today as I don’t observe it on many of the popular websites and blogs online.