Infrared saunas are often touted as offering numerous health benefits--from increasing blood circulation to ridding the body of harmful toxins--but there are also risks associated with them. Infrared saunas, which use heaters to emit infrared radiant heat directly into the body, can cause overheating, dehydration and a depletion of electrolytes, in addition to mobilizing toxins around the body and complicating pre-existing illnesses.
Potential for Overheating
Infrared saunas--which, according to Dr. Mehmet Oz, deliver infrared heat and filter out harmful ultraviolet rays--do not get as hot as regular saunas, reaching temperatures from 100 to 140 degrees F as opposed to a traditional sauna's 160 to 180 degrees F. Still, because people often stay inside infrared saunas for so long, the potential for overheating the body is very high. Dr. Andrew Weil says that 10 to 20 minutes is more than enough time in an infrared sauna.
Because saunas are designed to make people sweat, theoretically removing toxins from the body, dehydration is bound to occur if an infrared sauna user does not drink enough water. The likelihood of dehydration with infrared sauna use grows higher when a person drinks alcohol or sugary drinks before using an infrared sauna. Older adults are more likely to become dehydrated while using an infrared sauna than younger people.
Seattle physician Dietrich Klinghardt notes that while infrared saunas can rid the body of toxins, they can also mobilize toxins from one part of the body to another. It is possible for residues from old medications and psychedelic drugs to be released into the system during an infrared sauna session, which can be dangerous for an unsupervised sauna patient.
Adverse Effects on Illnesses and Conditions
Those with joint injuries should not use an infrared sauna because direct heat could cause additional swelling. According to Weil, those with heart conditions or high blood pressure should refrain from sauna use as well.
Others conditions that could potentially be aggravated by infrared sauna use are hemophilia, brain tumors, pregnancy, silicone breast implants, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, unstable angina pectoris and severe aortic stenosis.
People with pacemakers, implanted pins and rods, and cochlear implants should consult their doctors about whether their specific devices will be safe in an infrared sauna.