Infrared Sauna: Can You Really Sweat Out the Toxins?

Plus 10 Health Benefits of Infrared Sauna

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Can infrared saunas really help you sweat out the toxins? For thousands of years, many cultures have used heat bathing, to cleanse and heal the body. The Finnish heat baths were — and still are — called saunas. The original saunas were considered to be sterile environments. In fact, in Finland, women often gave birth in the sauna! The ancient Roman baths, Russian Banyas and Native American sweat lodges were all forms of saunas.

Today, saunas are gaining popularity all over the world as way to increase health and vitality. Saunas can help you relax, and research is proving other long-term potential benefits for your health, including relief from pain due to injury or arthritis, positive effects on blood pressure, and faster wound healing. Some research even shows a reduced risk of death, including death from cardiovascular events.

How Do Saunas Work?

Saunas use heat to cause you to sweat while also increasing your heart rate – as if you were exercising. Originally, saunas consisted of just a small fire built underneath an enclosed space. Today, traditional saunas use heaters to heat rocks, which warm the air in the room and ultimately warm your body.

Newer infrared saunas are now becoming popular as well. Most infrared saunas use far-infrared (FIR) light. The term “far” refers to where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum. Some saunas also use near infrared light (NIR) and mid infrared light (MIR). NIR light may promote skin renewal, improved cellular functioning, and wound healing.  MIR light can penetrate deeper into the body’s soft tissue where inflammation occurs, and may speed up the healing process. FIR light reaches deepest into the body, where toxins are stored. Some infrared saunas contain the full spectrum of light.

Unlike traditional saunas which heat the air, an infrared sauna uses light to heat your body in much the same way the sun does.  So, an infrared sauna can produce the same benefits as a traditional sauna, but at a lower temperature of between 120 and 140ºF compared to the temperature range of a traditional sauna, which is typically between 150 and 185º F.

Can You Really Sweat Out Toxins?

Many people believe that sweating is a great way to release toxins and other impurities from your body. In fact, it’s a common “benefit” pitched at hot yoga studios. One theory is that fever is the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins, and a sauna creates a self-induced fever.  However, this theory may be a bit simplistic.

The primary organs of detox in the body are your liver and kidneys. The reason your body sweats is to cool its internal temperature. When analyzed, sweat is comprised mostly of water and a tiny bit of salt. There is no exception when it comes to sweat caused by a traditional sauna — studies show sweat caused by a traditional sauna is 95-97% water and the rest is salt, with a tiny bit of protein and urea. In other words, it’s not made up of “toxins” per se. 

The main reason you feel good after sweating — whether after exercise or a sauna — is that your body releases endorphins.  It does not necessarily mean that you are releasing toxins. But, there may be an exception when it comes to infrared saunas.

As humans, we are all bio-accumulators. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we all have dangerous toxins stored in our bodies, including pesticides and mycotoxins. We retain these toxins in our bodies’ fatty tissues, including breast milk, the liver, and blood plasma. Most of these environmental toxins are known to contribute to a whole host of diseases, including cancer, arthritis, autoimmune disease, autism, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s and more.

While most sweat is comprised of water and little salt, studies show that 15-20% of infrared sauna-induced sweat is composed of cholesterol, fat-soluble toxins, heavy metals, sulfuric acid, and ammonia (as well as sodium and uric acid.) In other words, an infrared sauna may enable your body to eliminate environmental toxins through sweat.

10 Additional Benefits of Infrared Sauna

Many doctors agree that the use of an infrared sauna is virtually one of the most powerful healing therapies. There are many studies that document the effectiveness of sauna therapy for hypertension, congestive heart failure, and for post-myocardial infarction care. In addition, there are proven benefits of infrared sauna for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or addictions.

Here are some of the more common benefits of infrared sauna:

Provides temporary relief from pain

The dry heat from an infrared sauna can relieve soreness due to over exertion by helping to loosen tight muscles. This helps with recovery time for athletes and the rest of us after a hard workout. One reason is because, during a sauna, beta endorphins and norepinephrine are released. This temporarily raises your body’s pain threshold. However, one study reported in Clinical Rheumatology found that the dry heat of infrared saunas may reverse chronic pain and stiffness in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis whose conditions are typically aggravated by humidity. The study also showed that infrared saunas were well tolerated and had no adverse effects.

Helps with weight loss

A sauna increases your heart rate just like when you exercise. Used regularly, saunas can help increase your metabolism. Some infrared sauna manufacturers claim that users can burn anywhere from 300-600 calories in one sauna session. In addition, some studies have shown that sauna therapy can release toxins stored in fat tissues that can otherwise prevent weight loss.  These toxins include heavy metals, and fat-soluble chemicals like PCBs, PBBs, and HCBs.

Improves heart rate variability

One of the key indicators of a healthy heart is heart rate variability (HRV).  The more variability you have between heart beats, the better. If you are under chronic stress or have a condition where you cannot exercise, your heart rate can become less variable. Infrared saunas not only give your heart a workout, they help to relax your body and mind, reduce autonomic nervous stimulation and improve your HRV.

Increases circulation

Heat causes your blood vessels to dilate. As blood is drawn closer to the skin’s surface, your blood vessels expand to accommodate increased blood flow. This allows your blood vessels to become more elastic over time. This can improve circulation and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Maintains healthy looking skin

Many people, including celebrities, swear the infrared sauna is their secret to glowing skin.  This could actually be true. Studies show that infrared sauna can improve psoriasis and other skin conditions. Far infrared saunas stimulate blood circulation in your skin, which in turn may help boost your skin’s ability to produce collagen.  And, sweating may accelerate your skin’s ability to detox traces of dirt, makeup, pollution, heavy metals, and alcohol.  Finally, the heat relaxes tense facial muscles.

Supports kidney function

Releasing toxins through sweating can help support kidney function by reducing the load put on your kidneys. Some doctors recommend infrared sauna use for their patients on dialysis.

Reduces blood pressure

Abnormal blood pressure can be a coronary risk factor.  Several studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly with regular use. However, these same studies show that this benefit is true only when using infrared saunas.  People who used conventional saunas showed no improvement in blood pressure.

Lowers your risk of dementia

According to a 2016 Finnish study published in the journal Age and Aging, regular sauna bathing is associated with lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And, the more frequently you take a sauna the better. In the study, those who took a sauna between 4-7 times per week for 15 minutes had a 66 percent lower risk of dementia (all forms) and a 65 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those taking a sauna just once a week. One of the ways saunas may help protect your brain is by stimulating the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in much the same way aerobic exercise does, helping to bulk up grey matter through neurogenesis.

Improves your immunity

 Some studies show that regular saunas can reduce your chance of getting a cold by 30 percent. In addition, infrared saunas have even been shown to help prevent a cold from getting worse. One of the reasons is that a sauna-induced fever may stimulate the immune system to increase production of white blood cells and antibodies.

Promotes a sense of well-being

Saunas have been traditionally used to produce a feeling of relaxation. The heat helps to relieve physical and emotional tension in your muscles, including your face and neck muscles, by triggering the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This relaxation effect is one of the biggest benefits to using a sauna. When you are relaxed, your energy levels increase, and you sleep better at night — thus, increasing your sense of well-being.

How To Use An Infrared Sauna

If you are healthy, infrared sauna may be a great way to enhance your health and well-being.

In addition, sauna use can benefit many health conditions.  However, be sure to check with your health care provider before using a sauna, especially if you have asthma or other breathing problems, heart disease, epilepsy, or blood pressure that is either too high or too low,

Here’s what you should know before get started:

  • Start slowly. Give your body time to adjust to the heat.  Start with short sessions of no more than 15 minutes and gradually work your way up to 40 minutes per session several times per week.
  • Remove accessories. Be sure to take off anything metallic, including jewelry, before using a sauna.  You will also want to remove eye glasses and contacts.
  • Listen to your body. If you begin to feel uncomfortable symptoms, such as dizziness, headache, nausea, or fatigue, get out of the sauna, cool off and hydrate. If you continue to feel ill whenever you use a sauna, discontinue use all together.
  • Take time to cool down. It’s best to towel the sweat off your body and wait for a few minutes while your body naturally cools down. Do not immediately get into a cool or cold shower.
  • Rinse off. Once you have cooled down, rinse off or shower.  Keep the temperature of the shower comfortable.  Be like Goldilocks — the water should not be too hot or too cold.
  • Drink water. Water is the best way to hydrate. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your sauna.

Remember, you don’t have to purchase a sauna. Some gyms, spas and wellness providers offer packages that you can purchase. Do not use a sauna if you are pregnant, take stimulants, tranquilizers or other mind-altering drugs, or if you are under the influence of alcohol.

Have you used an infrared sauna?  How have you benefited?

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Do Hot Tubs do the same thing?

  2. Sheri
    2 months ago

    I had mercury toxicity from having 14 old amalgams in my mouth. I used a Therasauna far infrared sauna to detox the Mercury out after I had the fillings removed by a holistic dentist. Very important to use a sauna that is low in EMF. Many companies make cheap ones and you can do more harm than good. So don’t go running to Costco to buy one. Some companies are not honest about the heaters they use. I trust Therasauna and their heating element. Western doctors told me not to have the filling removed. They are so ignorant. Do your homework. I didn’t get Mercury toxicity from eating tuna for crying out loud.

  3. Jen R
    3 months ago

    THANK YOU for sharing this info!! I am so excited to see so many respected doctors sharing the many benefits of infrared saunas. I own an infrared sauna studio (Jenerate Wellness and Infrared Saunas by Jenerate Wellness) and sell Clearlight Infrared Saunas to those who want one for their home. I’ve made it my life’s mission to educate others about these amazing tools and love that so many are finding the value. Thanks again!! 🙂

  4. Raeleen
    3 months ago

    Coincidentally I have just been researching saunas to buy one. I was looking into the Therasage360, but am now preferring the Relax Sauna. Both are very high quality portable saunas that enable my head to remain out of the heat.
    Has anyone else looked into some quality brands?

  5. Mary Ann Markowitz
    3 months ago

    We bought one years ago on a lark. Then reading Dr. Sherry Rogers I realized what a gem I had sitting in my exercise room. Fast forward, we sold it all and hit the road in our motorhome. But, we stored “stuff” and the sauna was one of the things I could not wait to get out of storage. It’s the largest, heavy item I have and have no intention of parting with it. And, I learned more facts today and am ready to turn it on now!

  6. Marlene
    3 months ago

    PLEASE tell me if you think I can use infrared therapy for heavy metals detox (specifically mercury, lead and aluminum) with breast implants. They are the newer gel variety but I am worried if this could affect me adversely.

  7. Laura
    3 months ago

    Hi Dr. Northrup,

    Thank you for this article on saunas. I’m glad you cleared up the misconception that just sweating in any manner releases toxins. I did not know that. Do you have any current information on the EMFs produced by these far-infrared saunas. Dr. Mercola feels it’s a real concern with those in gyms, etc.

    1. Kiki
      2 months ago

      Near infrared saunas don’t produce EMF but far infrared do

  8. Dixie
    3 months ago

    We have an infrared sauna in our ensuite….so grateful to be able to use regularly. Our ensuite was just completed so now are able to add this to our lifestyle. Be very careful if you consider buying one as there are cheap ones from China. Ours is made from chemical free wood etc. by SaunaRay.

  9. Bonnie
    3 months ago

    I live in Arizona where it is very hot this time of year. On my patio today it is 110 degrees and probably 114 outside. My question is, do you think I could just lie on patio and use it as a sauna? It is a very dry heat just like a sauna..your thoughts.

    1. Med
      3 months ago

      I’ve wondered the same thing. I also live in Arizona, and love the dry heat. Can we just sit outside (below a covered patio) and sweat for a similar effect?

  10. Yvonne Dinnery
    3 months ago

    Hello,
    There is a new type of yoga, up in Canada anyways, that uses infrared. Have you heard about it? What do you think? Beneficial?

    Thank you!!

  11. Monica
    3 months ago

    I Love saunas! I sit in one at the gym after my work for as long as I can which is usually 30-45 mins. I’ve used infrared saunas before could you recommend a good if I wanted to buy one eventually. I love you and the information you provide!

  12. Susan
    3 months ago

    Is there a home product that you recommend that has the benefits of all the FIR, NIR & MIR spectrums?

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom as always!

    Sue

    1. Cindy
      3 months ago

      We did our homework and bought the Sunlighten

  13. Deborah
    3 months ago

    I enjoyed the information. I haven’t been in a sauna in many years, but I’m reading your friends book Medical Medium & several of the illnesses you mentioned he says are caused by the Epstein Barr Virus & offers advice with certain foods to deal with it. He doesn’t mention infrared sauna, at least not as far as I’ve read. I have psoriasis on my scalp only & if I get overly hot, I live in Texas, it irritates my scalp a lot. Maybe a few minutes in the sauna would be nice, but I know I couldn’t stay long, I do not like the heat.

    1. Cindy, RN
      3 months ago

      Studies are showing that Gluten Ssensitivity and the resulting Leaky Gut are the cause of psoriasis. Your doctor won’t know about it for another 15 years so you should do searches on it yourself. Stop Gluten and you can stop your psoriasis.

      1. Deborah
        3 months ago

        Cindy, Thank you!
        I can relate. I am gluten sensitive and even when I eat something with potato starch, which I’m sensitive to white potatoes & something with tapioca starch, my psoriasis breaks out. Stress also aggravates it. I also just saw in my Medium Medium book about saunas & I am on target now.

  14. Bonnie
    3 months ago

    I have seen a few reports that it’s contraindicated for someone to use an infrared sauna if they’ve had clotting issues in the past.
    My husband, I feel, would greatly benefit from sauna use, but has had several blood clots (legs, heart, lungs).
    What’s your opinion on this?

    Thank you!

  15. Bonnie
    3 months ago

    I have heard just the opposite–that NIR saunas penetrate deeper into the body, while FIR penetrates only about 1 1/2 inch (???)

  16. Samantha
    3 months ago

    Talk about coincidence and synchronicity wow ! I was only yesterday looking into these and wondering if the outlay was truly worth the health benefits. Then into my in box pops this ! Thank you, I will be seriously considering one now 🙂

    1. Lani
      3 months ago

      I have been looking for an infrared sauna since Jan when I read Medical Medium. I went to my chiropractors a couple of weeks ago and his receptionist told me a spa had just gotten one, so I went directly to their place and got a trial one that day. they had a special this month, and I was considering going for the whole package but wasn’t sure when I should start since I as already sick. then I opened up my email and here was this article! , so I went over to the place right way,very early in the morning, to start the 30 day deal of every other day. Using the sauna has cleared up about half of the congestion and skin problems I have now in 3 sessions. I love the feeling, and am hoping it does everything this article says, . It really is a great healing modality.

  17. Pyasa
    3 months ago

    I am curious to know what you feel,or know, about how the infrared sauna may increase or decrease hot flashes? I have heard damp heat decreases them, but this is dry. And it seems clearing out toxins would decrease hot flashes, but I am just speculating. Would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you!

    1. Mary Ann Markowitz
      3 months ago

      Hi, my yoga instructor recommended avoiding it during perimenopause and I think it did affect some of my symptoms negatively. But, we all know peri does not last, so use your judgment on how you are feeling before you get into your sauna.

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