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Infrared saunas are gaining popularity as an alternative to regular steam-heated, or electric-heated saunas. They’ve even been linked to additional health benefits. But do they live up to the hype?

Read on to learn more about this type of sauna therapy and the potential health benefits.

Traditional saunas use steam generated by a burning stove, or electric heaters, to warm the room to temperatures between 150 and 195°F.

Infrared saunas use light waves from specialized lamps to heat your body without warming the room. The light waves radiate heat that warms the body more effectively than warmed air.

This allows infrared saunas to provide similar benefits to regular saunas, but at much lower temperatures. The temperature in an infrared sauna is usually around 140°F. As a result, people can stay in an infrared sauna longer.

Here are some of the potential health benefits to using an infrared sauna.

Heat helps dilate blood vessels, improving circulation. This also relieves some muscle and joint pain. Some research has found infrared saunas to be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic painful conditions.

“The deeper penetrating infrared light helps heat the body more effectively and can reduce pain, promote relaxation, and improve circulation,” says Dr. Scott Weiss, co-owner and clinical director of Bodhizone Physical Therapy and Wellness PLLC in New York City.

The high heat causes your blood vessels to open up and move closer to the skin’s surface. When blood vessels expand, your circulation improves, and blood pressure lowers.

There’s some evidence that infrared saunas may help improve blood pressure and be used as part of a treatment plan for heart disease, although controlled studies are very limited.

People with conditions like heart disease are more likely to tolerate infrared saunas than regular saunas because of the lower heat level.

One theory behind an infrared sauna detox is that by heating the body directly, tissues get more oxygen. Heat causes the body to sweat. Infrared saunas might help to remove toxins through the skin. But experts question these claims.

Keep in mind, when your body gets overheated, you sweat. When you sweat, you lose fluids. You get dehydrated when you lose more fluid than you’re taking in. There’s a risk of getting dehydrated from being in an infrared sauna.

“Due to fact that the body is heated directly, risks of dehydration, and other heat-related illness, such as heat stroke, are a problem if proper care is not taken,” says Dr. Weiss.

According to Harvard Health Publications, the average person loses about a pint of sweat during a short time in the sauna. But you can prevent dehydration by drinking enough water before, during, and after your time in the sauna to replace the fluids lost by sweating.

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and requires attention.

Be aware of these signs of mild to moderate dehydration:

  • dryness in the mouth
  • extreme thirst
  • headache
  • feeling dizzy
  • feeling lightheaded
  • not urinating as frequently as normal

Older adults and people with chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, and heart failure are at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated. Check with your doctor before entering an infrared sauna.

Infrared saunas can be purchased for home use on Amazon.

They also are becoming more common at spas, gyms, and wellness centers.

There may be some health benefits to using infrared saunas. But if you have an existing health condition like heart disease or diabetes, consult your doctor before using one. Infrared saunas may be helpful as part of your treatment, but they shouldn’t be used alone.