My recent monthly newsletter which discussed our family’s near infrared sauna from SaunaSpace generated dozens of excited emails into my inbox. Apparently, many people are considering an infrared sauna for themselves to reap the myriad of health benefits bestowed by this traditional therapy.
Most of the questions I received in response indicated some confusion over the differences between near infrared (NIR) and far infrared (FIR) or “full spectrum” sauna models. Don’t be fooled by the marketing literature – these two types of infrared saunas are very, VERY different!
Let’s go over these important differences below which led to our decision to obtain a near infrared sauna and avoid the far infrared models. Most people are unaware that the passé far infrared saunas are not only less effective, but actually pose some very real health dangers. This is probably why they are now calling them “full spectrum” saunas instead!
Read on to get the full scoop. Warning: trying to explain aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum gets extremely complicated. I’m a bit of a physics nerd, so I love this stuff. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible. I hope I succeeded!
Infrared Sauna Spectrum
Solar radiation refers to the electromagnetic radiation that reaches the Earth from the Sun. Many people are surprised to learn that ultraviolet (UV) radiation makes up a very small part of the total energy content, roughly 8%- 9%. The visible light from the sun represents about 46%-47%. The remaining 45% of the total energy received from the sun is in the near infrared range (1).
The total infrared spectrum consists of near, mid, and far infrared waves. This represents a small fraction of the vast electromagnetic spectrum which includes visible light, UV light, microwaves, radio waves and gamma waves. Humans, animals, and plants absorb and utilize infrared light in various beneficial ways.
In humans, tiny receptors called chromophores absorb infrared light that is between 600 nanometers (nm) and 950 nm. As you can see from the chart below, this only includes the near infrared portion of the infrared spectrum. In other words, the far infrared portion of the infrared spectrum only produces thermal heating to the human body. Thermal heating and deeply penetrating, rejuventating light therapy is only provided by near infrared wavelengths.
Benefits of Near Infrared (NIR) Penetrating Wavelengths
NASA studies have shown that near infrared light penetrates up to 9 inches (23 cm) of body tissue. This results in rapid activation of all chromophores and metabolic pathways that come into contact (2).
For this reason, near infrared light is used in low level light research studies because the biological systems of our bodies that are affected by light do not absorb far infrared light. Not only are there no far infrared biologic receptors in our bodies, but far infrared waves don’t penetrate enough to reach deeper tissues anyway. Mitochondrial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) pathways, including Cytochrome-C-oxidase, and other critical cell processes involving ATP (energy) production and cell signaling only absorb NIR light.
The beneficial stimulating effects of NIR on body tissues cannot be overstated. Everything works better when oxidative phosphorylation (ATP production) improves. Mitochondria, the powerhouses of most living cells in the body, ramp up ATP production when positively stimulated with NIR light. Living animal cells generally contain an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 mitochondria!
This is why the benefits of near infrared sauna therapy literally enhance the entire body with some folks experiencing totally unexpected improvements. One example is the shocking disappearance of my lifelong eye floaters which I wrote about in my recent newsletter.
“Full Spectrum” Infrared Saunas?
In order to compensate for the fact that the far infrared spectrum does not provide any stimulative, penetrating light therapy, some manufacturers have added red LED lightbulbs in the ceiling of their sauna models. These are typically marketed as “full spectrum” infrared saunas.
This term may initially sound beneficial. Unfortunately, it is not. Here are the reasons why full spectrum (far) infrared saunas are not only inferior, but should be actively avoided (3).
- Rather than using natural incandescent infrared bulbs which combine light and heat into a single thermal light source (TLS), full spectrum saunas separate light from heat. This is accomplished by using far infrared emitters combined with artificial LED lights installed in the sauna ceiling.
- LEDs produce an inferior “digital” monochromatic light that selectively emits a fraction of the mitochondrial stimulating light band. Only the incandescent tungsten heat lamp provides all 600-950nm wavelengths as part of its “analog” full-spectrum emission.
- WARNING: Far infrared emitters in full spectrum saunas are typically very high EMF. The EMFs which are hundreds of times higher than we would encounter in everyday life, stresses body tissues and the sympathetic nervous system.
- LED bulbs are very unreliable in terms of the actual spectrum emitted and reported lifespan.
Why to Use Near Infrared Saunas or NOTHING ELSE
In summary, far infrared saunas provide exposure to less beneficial infrared wavelengths than near infrared saunas. Moreover, far infrared “full spectrum” saunas add the body burden of exposure to high EMFs with inferior, incomplete LED-based light therapy stimulation that fails to reach all the cells of the body.
In comparison, the incandescent (tungsten-only filament) lamps in a near infrared sauna are a thermal light source just like the sun itself. Light and heat are combined for optimal benefits with no health risks.
Our bodies are designed to experience the alliance of light and heat together, not separately as in a full spectrum sauna. Stimulating cell mitochondria within the near infrared spectrum of 600-950nm wavelengths of light induces cell regeneration, anti-aging, collagen production, human growth hormone, inflammation reduction, neuron repair, rapid wound and injury healing, and the list goes on. In addition, the incandescent heat lamp bulbs used in a near infrared sauna emit plenty of 1000-2000 nm infrared wavelengths (mid infrared) that are absorbed by water molecules in the body, which is how infrared light heats biological tissue.
Experience the Near Infrared Sauna Difference Risk Free
Because I personally use and recommend the SaunaSpace Pocket Sauna, I include this product on my healthy shopping list page with a 5% off coupon HEALTHYHOME
This sale is store-wide, which includes the Near Infrared Pocket Sauna (this is what I have), the Near Infrared Shower Converter Kit, both light panels (to upgrade your far infrared cabinet to a Near Infrared Lamp Sauna or for use in your custom built-in enclosures), as well as everything else on the site.
If you travel a lot, you may wish to consider the convenience of the portable sauna, which comes with a convenient carrying case.
And, as always, SaunaSpace gives you a free 100 day trial to experience the near infrared difference.
My bet is you’ll love it and experience enormous improvements in your health. But if not, you can return it for a refund with FREE RETURN SHIPPING within the USA.
If an infrared sauna is something you’ve been considering for awhile, be sure to take advantage of the HEALTHYHOME coupon (entered at checkout).
Please feel free to add any comments or questions you may have regarding infrared sauna therapy in the comments section below. I will do my best to answer them and provide additional resources that can help you sort through the information and choices.
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.