*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.
Sunburns are no fun. The severe pain and skin irritation from a bad sunburn can make everyday activities unbearable. And while we all do our best to slip, slop, slap - let's face it - we usually end up with at least one sunburn every summer.
The short answer: Infrared saunas will not soothe sunburn, if anything they will make the symptoms worse.
Sunburn is a process in which the cells of the skin underneath the top layer are dying off to prevent cancerous formations. The symptoms come as an inflammatory response to provide immune cells to heal the damaged cells.
As a by-product of this, the skin damage is felt as heat. Stepping into an environment that increases the temperature of your skin, even more, will result in worse symptoms. It is critical that you do not further cause inflammation on the skin with sauna dry brushing or sauna Gua Sha treatments.
However, infrared radiation was used in an animal study that concluded that pre-exposure to infrared light reduces sunburn cell formation.
Let's take a closer look at what this study found.
Can Infrared Saunas Prevent Sunburn?
There is no doubt that the best way to prevent sunburn is through sun protection measures, be it sun-protective clothing, or ensuring you wear sunscreen.
We can all agree that the risk of skin cancer is too high to not follow sun safety rules. Outside of this fact, the following animal study has interesting results.
Difference Between Infrared Radiation and Ultraviolet Radiation
The study found that sunburn cells (a measure of skin cell injury caused by ultraviolet radiation) in mice, were significantly decreased by pre-exposure to infrared radiation.
Mice were subject to infrared in an area that raised the surface temperature to 37-42ºC. That same area was then targeted with UVB exposure.
The study showed that the number of basal cells was significantly reduced in a surface temperature-dependent manner by pre-exposure to infrared radiation.
These findings suggest that infrared slows down cell growth and, as a result, decreases sunburn cell formation.
It would seem, in mice at least, that the infrared radiation affects cells in a way that combats some of the damage ultraviolet radiation does.
While this science is miles away from discovering if infrared saunas can support sunburn prevention or not, this research shows interesting developments in this space.
Now let's look at the opposite effect, can infrared saunas cause sunburn?
Can You Get Sunburn From a Sauna?
Direct sun exposure contains a broad spectrum of radiation, both UV and IR.
However, only UV radiation has been shown to cause irreparable damage such as developing melanoma and skin cancers.
An infrared sauna has zero ultra violet light and does not produce any ultraviolet radiation, so it is physically impossible for an infrared sauna to cause cancer or sun burn.
Can You Sweat Out Sunburn?
No you can not sweat out a sunburn, and as we've explained earlier, sunburn is an inflammatory response of the skin cells that causes the skin temperature to rise.
UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin's second layer and can cause premature aging. This type of radiation also contributes to your risk of skin cancer.
UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays and cause sunburns. They damage the DNA in skin cells and also play a role in skin cancer formation.
UVC rays are the shortest type of ultraviolet radiation and are mostly filtered by the ozone layer; however, some UVC rays can penetrate through the atmosphere during a solar eclipse or when using tanning beds.
Exposure to UV rays is the main cause of all types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, and all types of UV radiation damage your skin cells.
Why do UV Rays Cause Sunburnt Skin?
The top layer of the skin consists of cells that are sensitive to DNA damage from UV. These cells produce molecules that attract immune cells when they identify DNA damage.
The immune cells cause the blood vessels in the skin to release fluid into spaces between other structures in the skin. This extra fluid and swelling make your skin appear red and hot, and that is why it hurts when you touch sunburned skin.
What Happens to Sun-Damaged Cells?
Sunburn cells are cells that are killed when you get sunburn. Scientists have identified these cells as keratinocytes (a type of cell that makes up 90% of the outer layer of skin) that are dying through a process called apoptosis.
Apoptosis is the body's way of discarding an abnormal cell before it causes more harm than good. In the instance of sunburn cells, apoptosis is the defence from sunburn cells turning into skin cancers.
So you've just spent a day in direct sunlight at the beach and you didn't use as much sun protection as you should of. You develop symptoms of mild sunburn and realise that you're booked in for an infrared sauna session at your local venue. What do you do?
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Sun Protection for Your Skin
Most people are familiar with the sun protection factor, or SPF, of sunscreens. But what exactly is SPF, and how does it work? The sun protection factor is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to block ultraviolet.
A sunscreen with a higher SPF will provide better protection from UV than a sunscreen with a lower SPF. However, it's important to remember that no sunscreen can provide complete protection from the sun.
Treating Sunburn 101
Cool compresses like using a damp towel, or cool water like having a cool shower, can have a positive impact on your pain management.
Sometimes antibiotic ointment, medicated cream and aloe gel can further help soothe and alleviate symptoms, while applying cold compresses will provide the most relief.
If you've got severe blistering from too much exposure, medical attention may be needed and you should visit your doctor immediately to avoid infection and skin cancer risk.
Similar to utilising a cold shower after a sauna session is refreshing and revitalising, so too is dipping into some cold water with a sunburn.
Just remember, you cannot treat your sunburn with an infrared sauna, however, infrared light may show promising benefits in sunburn prevention in the distant future.
Monitoring UV From the Sun
The amount of UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, the time of year, and the location.
The UV index is a measure of the amount of UV radiation that is present in a particular location. The index is based on a scale from 1 to 11. UV levels of 1 are the lowest and 11 are the highest.
A UV index of 1 means that there is very little UV radiation present and no risk to human health.
A UV index of 11 means that there is a high level of UV radiation present and a risk to human health. When the UV index is high, it is important to cover as much skin as possible when going outside.
Infrared saunas are for relaxation, not for sunburns.
In fact, going into a sauna with a sunburn can actually make your condition worse. That’s because the main cause of sunburn is ultraviolet radiation, and infrared radiation found in infrared saunas will only aggravate the skin damage caused by UV rays.
If you want to use a sauna safely after spending time in the sun, be sure to protect your skin from further exposure by covering up any areas that might still be vulnerable to burning.
Be sure to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated after sauna and when sunburnt.