*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
The claims in the article are backed by 18 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
One of the main reasons people buy different saunas from us, such as full-spectrum infrared saunas, is because they promote detoxification. And yet, many people don’t really know how to conceive detoxification or how to optimise it
In my sauna detox protocol I, therefore, explain how you can maximise your detoxification processes by four simple steps. I consider these four steps the most important in maximising detoxification during a sauna session, even though alternative methods do exist that I deem less important.
Before digging into these steps though, I first want to say something about the human body’s ability to detoxify through the skin. Remember that infrared saunas increase sweating, and, sweating is one of the main alleged mechanisms for detox - I’ll explore that concept first:
Detoxification Through The Skin 101: How You Detox Using An Infrared Sauna
If you read many authoritative online newspapers, you’ll get away with the impression that detoxification is a fully automatised process that you cannot influence in any way.
The Wall Street Journal claims, for instance, that while infrared saunas are a great source of stress relief, it’s a myth that somehow detoxification through the skin increases with a sauna session (1).
Next up, National Geographic states that humans don’t eliminate toxins through the skin in any major way (2). While the article does suggest that eliminating toxins through the skin happens, the quantities are “so low that they’re essentially meaningless”.
Other thoroughly-grounded scientific opinions exist though:
A systematic review from 2012 - which integrates many individual studies in medicine - concludes that the human skin is certainly a major contributor to the detoxification process (3). What’s more, for some types of toxins such as heavy metals, the skin is the primary detoxification means.
Many other toxins might be preferably excreted through a combination of many different organs such as the liver, kidneys, digestive system, and more, but that’s not true for all of them. Therefore, the statements of the Wall Street Journal and National Geographic are incorrect at the very least.
The reason for this incorrect conclusion is probably because the writers of these articles aren’t immersed in the scientific research on sweating physiology, sauna studies, and other topics on a daily basis.
And, many of these toxins can have huge effects on your health, especially with chronic exposure. Mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic affect everything ranging from brain function, metabolism, hormonal function, basic energy production, organ health, and much more (4; 5).
Heavy metals and other toxins matter to your health. Having higher levels of these heavy metals in your body translates into a higher risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart and blood vessel problems, diabetes, autoimmune disease, different types of cancers, and more.
If you and I thus assume that sweating does increase the detoxification rate and that sweating is positively a primary detoxification pathway for at least some toxins, then a sauna protocol to maximise this process is highly recommended. Therefore, let me introduce the first step of this sauna detox protocol to you:
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Sauna Detox Protocol Step 1: Preferably Exercise Before Your Sauna Session
Exercise affects what is called the “lymphatic system”. So before talking directly about exercise I’ll take a detour and consider the topic of the lymphatic system (6; 7; 8). Many people have heard about that lymphatic system but few know about its actual purpose.
The lymphatic system plays a role in the circulatory system of your body, your immune system, metabolism, and also detoxification. One of the primary components of the lymphatic system is the lymphatic fluid, which helps carry immune cells throughout the body.
Waste products from cells are in part removed by the lymphatic system. This happens after the circulatory blood system has delivered nutrients and other compounds to the cells through the tiniest of blood vessels: capillaries.
And although the topic isn’t completely understood scientifically yet, exercise does seem to improve the lymphatic system’s overall efficiency (9; 10; 11).
Slow cardio exercise, for instance, increases the flow in the lymphatic system by 2-3-fold compared to if you’re idle. The reason exercise, or just plain movement, is so important for the lymphatic system is because the system doesn’t have a pump like the heart for your blood circulation system.
The solution? When your infrared sauna is warming up, perform 20-30 minutes of exercise or movement. If you cannot handle (intense) exercise then just walking or working in your garden are already excellent options. Again, even slow cardio already improves lymphatic function massively so doing something is more important than reaching perfection.
Of course, if you’re in good shape, you can push yourself quite hard. Do keep in mind though that exercise before your infrared sauna session places more stress on your body, so only combined the two when you’ve adequately recovered. If not, then a relaxing gentle walk or bike ride does wonder.
Moving on to the next infrared sauna detox protocol step:
Infrared Sauna Detox Protocol Step 2: Eat Well Before Your Session And Hydrate Yourself Adequately
What you eat has a huge effect on different detoxification processes of your body (12; 13).
Many different detoxification processes, which have complicated scientific names such as “P450 enzymes”, “metalloprotein”, and “NRF2”, are all affected by your dietary choices. These choices then affect detox processes from the organ level to the cellular level.
And even though there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, a wide variety of plant foods is most important for aiding the detoxification processes specifically because they contain dietary fibre. I won’t give any specific dietary recommendations though - the best principle is to ensure you’ve got a good mix of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, tubers, and other plant foods in your diet. These foods should preferably be organic.
During your session, when the infrared sauna works its magic, toxins will be released at many different places throughout your body. If you’ve eaten some fibre-rich foods in the last 16 to 24 hours, the body has a better ability to remove different toxins through your digestive system. Not all toxins are thus removed through your sweat, but the digestive system is sometimes even more important as a detoxification pathway.
Removing toxins from your body is essential though. Different types of toxins play a major role in many different lifestyle-based diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and blood vessel and heart conditions.
Secondly, because toxins are also removed through your sweat, drinking sufficient amounts of water maximises the detoxification process. During one sauna session, you can lose up to 2% of your body weight in water (14; 15).
If your body is dehydrated, you’ll sweat less water on a relative basis but decreases the number of minerals excreted. These minerals, such as zinc, are necessary to eliminate toxins such as heavy metals, as they are paired with them during the sweating process.
The question then becomes, “how much should you drink?” The answer to that question doesn’t depend on how you measure your body weight. Whether you measure your body weight in pounds, kilograms, or stones, you simply divide that number by 50 to arrive at the amount of water you need to drink around your sauna sessions.
So if you weigh 50 kilograms, you’ll need to drink 1 kilogram - or 1 litre - of water before, during, and after your sauna session to avoid dehydration. Make sure that you're not dehydrated before a session either though - drinking after a session doesn't compensate for dehydration before a session.
Next up, moving on to the infrared sauna protocol third step:
Infrared Sauna Protocol Step 3: Supplement With Niacin To Increase Detoxification
Let’s take a short detour first:
“Niacin” is another name for vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 has many different functions in the human body, among which, is to increase detoxification by inducing a “flushing response” (16; 17).
On the internet, the “niacin detox protocol” has become very popular. I don’t recommend using that protocol as it was originally conceived, as it will lead to imbalances in the long run.
However, an important part of that niacin protocol is to slowly build up your niacin uptake over time. I only recommend carrying out this step after consulting with your physician or a qualified clinician though.
For niacin to have its effect, you’ll need to ingest it 20-30 minutes prior to your infrared sauna session. Of course, you can already engage in the aforementioned exercise session I talked about during step 1.
In order to get a “niacin flush”, you’ll need to use immediate-release niacin and not any slower-release version. During your sauna session, you’ll then experience red flushing of the skin, entailing that the niacin flush is working. During this process, the detoxification processes of your body increase.
Over time, during the niacin protocol, you’ll work up to a maximum of 5 grams, or 5,000 milligrams of immediate-release niacin. You can safely work up to this quantity if and only if you monitor your skin response. Monitoring your skin response means beginning with a small dose, such as 50 milligrams, and watching whether your skin reddens during a sauna session.
Next up, once you’re no longer getting a flush at a certain niacin intake level, you’ll slowly increase your dose by 50 or 100 milligrams at a time.
Another very important element of this protocol is to ensure adequate nutritional uptake. Rather than recommending the supplementation protocol used in the niacin detox protocol, I recommend increasing your intake of foods that are very high in vitamins and minerals, such as organ meats, shellfish, and dark leafy greens.
If you cannot consume these foods in higher quantities, then a high-quality multivitamin will work great. Thorne Research Advanced Nutrients is one I highly recommend.
Lastly, there’s one more step in the sauna protocol for detox - here it is:
Sauna Protocol For Detox Step 4: Use Your Towel And Shower Effectively
Your skin is not an impenetrable barrier but should instead be conceived the way your lungs operate: what goes in and what goes out matters.
So, you already know that your body detoxifies through your skin. What you might not know is that toxins, if they remain on the skin - will be re-absorbed into the body. Many examples exist, such as mercury in skincare products that enter the body through the skin, lead in lipstick and lipgloss, and Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) in tanning lotions (18; 19; 20).
Once you sweat during a sauna session, these toxins remain on your skin. Using a clean towel to wipe these toxins subsequently reduces their presence on your skin during a sauna session.
But you can do more (21):
Taking a short 1-minute hot shower before your sauna session will increase overall blood flow in the skin. Next, after your sauna session, taking a 1-minute cold shower allows the toxins that weren’t taken up by the towel to be removed from your skin.
Using that routine structurally around your sauna sessions will maximise the benefits of the sauna detox protocol. Now you have four different strategies, all to increase detoxification. And now that I’ve given you the four simple steps to maximise the sauna protocol, let’s conclude:
Concluding Thoughts: Follow The Routine As Advertised
Let me conclude with an analogy:
If you’re cooking potatoes, it matters whether you first wash your potatoes and then boil them, or whether you boil them first and then try to wash them. The latter strategy is kind of illogical.
The same is true for this 4-step sauna detox protocol: exercising before you enter the sauna will give you far superior results to exercising after the sauna. The reason for this outcome is that by exercising before you enter the sauna, you’ll aid the mobilisation within the lymphatic system. Next up, the infrared light allows you to detox anything in circulation more effectively.
The same is true for taking niacin: if you take niacin too far before a sauna session or after a sauna session, you won’t attain the expected results. Same for showering in the manner which I’ve explained above.
Lastly, the same is true for hydration and your diet. If you’re entering a sauna dehydrated and only rehydrate after your session, sweating will have been impeded. Hence, it’s important to be properly hydrated before you enter the sauna. The same applies to eating sufficient food high in fibres before your session: the body cannot remove toxins through the digestive system if they cannot bind to any fibre, and hence, preferably including some fibre within every meal of your day is highly recommended for the end result.