Stemming from Finnish culture as far back as 7000 BC, humans have used saunas as a way to cleanse the mind while cultivating health, fortitude, and resilience within the body. Its widespread popularity permeates many cultures, integrating health and wellness practices with social and community ones.
The designs of saunas have evolved over the course of history, in various sizes, layouts, materials, and heating methods. Traditionally, saunas were built out as wood structures housed over a central stove where water gets poured over extremely hot stones to generate a large amount of heat through steam or smoke.
Fast forward to the late nineteenth century where the advent of electricity revolutionized the path to modern sauna. A man named John Harvey Kellogg, who dedicated his entire life to holistic healing and ways to innovate its practices, gave birth to the first sauna that incorporated infrared light. Kellogg recognized that infrared light had the ability to deepen the health benefits of traditional heat therapy, leveraging light’s ability to penetrate skin tissue and induce profuse sweating.
After Kellogg, a series of health discoveries made by scientists at NASA and a Japanese doctor led to the contemporary full-spectrum infrared saunas we know today. Since 1979, these saunas have been available to the U.S. public where its health benefits and therapeutic heat have been enjoyed by many who seek to improve their well-being. From strengthening heart health to toning the nervous system, infrared sauna is one of the most effective health tools to provide holistic treatment in body, mind, and spirit.
John Harvey Kellogg
Kellogg's infrared sauna
One of the biggest benefits to heat therapy is its effectiveness to induce hormesis in our body1, essentially triggering our body’s natural mechanism to beneficially adapt to current stressors and protect against future ones. When hormesis is triggered, our body activates a series of activities such as new cell growth, wound healing, muscle building, and cardiovascular toning—functions that increase our internal resistance to stress and build a greater tolerance for stressors in the future.
In infrared heat, the experience of temperature is much more gentle and therapeutic than its traditional counterpart. Infrared induces heat therapy through a relaxing experience while providing the added benefits of light therapy from the wavelengths of infrared light itself. Our body’s skin tissue readily absorbs infrared light because of our biological adaptation to the sun. Much like getting a healthy dose of sunshine, studies show that infrared light stimulates the production of vitamin D, supports healthy circadian rhythms, and increases the production of mood-boosting hormones that reduce anxiety and allow us to feel more at ease2.
As heat increases our body temperature and causes us to sweat, our blood circulation throughout our entire body starts increasing, speeding up the delivery of essential nutrients and removal of waste products in soft tissue. Many infrared sauna users report feeling lighter, less sore, and more flexible after a session, while studies show that infrared use increases neuromuscular performance and recovery rates between training sessions for professional athletes3. Regular infrared use helps to restore our body’s optimal physical and functional capacity and rebuild muscles at the cellular level.
Without any physical movement, infrared sauna activates our cardiovascular system and tone our heart health. By simply staying still and allowing the heat to stimulate our body’s regulatory processes, our heart rate increases as does our metabolism. As a result, we sweat and burn a significant amount of calories comparable to moderate exercise4 while reaping the benefits of decreased inflammation and muscular tension that helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight management.
Studies show that infrared sauna naturally increases several anti-aging hormones including human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which particularly help with repairing muscle tissue and injury healing5. Through infrared sauna, we increase our body’s production of heat shock proteins and antioxidant enzymes that build muscle mass without weight training6. Our muscles stay limber and elastic, which helps us feel aligned with any physical activity we regularly engage in.
While heat therapy increases overall blood circulation in the body and to skin, infrared heat provides even greater skin benefits by inducing a deeper sweat and directly penetrating soft tissue in skin to stimulate skin cell regeneration. Sweat draws out skin impurities and cleanses off dead skin cells, while infrared light wavelengths stimulate our skin cells, healing skin wounds and blemishes, increasing collagen production, and producing new skin tissue growth7 for more radiant, healthy skin.
From mental to physical benefits, infrared sauna is one of the most powerful health tools that exists in the modern age. Providing therapeutic heat as an effective dual light-and-heat modality, infrared delivers on multiple fronts for a holistic treatment towards well-being.
A summary of infrared benefits: