*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 21 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
Before digging into the topic of infrared saunas and red light therapy, I’ll have to explain some basics about light first. Then, once I’ve talked about the basics of light, you’ll better be able to understand the differences between infrared saunas and red light therapy.
So, first things first:
Light Spectrum Basics
Even though “light” seems very simple, from a physics perspective, it’s not only complicated but also mysterious.
For centuries now, scientists have been studying light, and even though this study has led to many scientific breakthroughs, the investigations continue until today.
In physics, light is understood through the light spectrum. That light spectrum is part of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum:
In the picture above, you only have to focus on three things (2; 3):
Ultraviolet light (UV)
The visible spectrum
Infrared light (IR)
Even though that sounds complicated, stay with me. In the rest of the text below, I’ll try to avoid words like “wavelength”, “frequency”, and different mathematical calculations as much as possible.
I’ll only use down to earth descriptions of these three different types of light that we’re going to explore. So let’s begin:
The first type of light, UV light, is what potentially gives you sunburns and can also help create vitamin D in your skin (4; 5; 6). UV light exposure also gives you a nice tan.
This UV light is invisible to the human eye. I won’t be focusing on ultraviolet light in this blog post because both the infrared sauna and red light therapy don’t use any UV light.
The second type of light, visible light, consists of all the colours of the rainbow. The colours include violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red, and all the intermediate colours in between.
Your eyes can see these colours, which is why this part of the light spectrum is called “visible light”. What many people don’t know is that all of the different parts of the visible light spectrum also affect their health (7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12).
Green light can accelerate wound healing, for instance, blue light can make you feel more awake, and yellow light can improve skin health and appearance. I’m oversimplifying a bit because the full extent of the health benefits of each of these colours is very extensive.
Now, red light also falls within this visible light spectrum. Red light therapy makes use of this part of the light spectrum while infrared saunas do not. I’ll tell you more about the effects of red light in a later section.
Thirdly, there’s infrared light (13; 14). Infrared light can be divided into “near-infrared”, “middle-infrared”, and “far-infrared light”.
And just like different colours of visible light have different health effects, the same is true for different types of infrared light. We’ll go into the health effects of these different types of infrared light later. Both red light therapy and infrared saunas use infrared light. Red light therapy only uses near-infrared. Infrared saunas use far-infrared light, and, if it’s a full-spectrum sauna, then middle and near-infrared light are also used.
Most types of infrared light feel hot on your skin. From a physics perspective, heat and infrared light are actually interchangeable. Only a small part of the near-infrared light spectrum doesn’t produce any heat - all other parts of the near-infrared, middle infrared and far-infrared light spectrum do generate heat once they hit your skin. For that heat-producing effect, infrared saunas use the parts of the near-infrared spectrum that produce heat, as well as middle and far-infrared light.
Now that I’ve given you an introduction to the physics background of both red light therapy and infrared saunas, let’s explore their benefits further:
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Red Light Therapy
It’s very well possible to talk about a “red light therapy revolution” nowadays. The reason for that wording is because the cost of LED light bulbs has come down dramatically in the last decades, making it possible to use many of them to create a panel that emits light.
Up until around 2010, only lasers were used for red light therapy. Lasers can be misused and are potentially dangerous, unlike LEDs, and were therefore unusable in a home setting (15; 16).
Again, red light therapy uses:
The red part of the visible light spectrum and;
A small part of the near infrared light spectrum that is non-heating
The LEDs are used in such a way that they only emit very specific parts of the red and near infrared light spectrum that have proven benefits.
I won’t go deeper into the issue, but some wavelengths, like red light at 680 nanometers, have far fewer benefits than red light at 660 nanometers. The LED technology allows you to very specifically emit light at 660 nanometers, and almost none at 650 or 670.
And, by combining 50 or 100 or even 500 LEDs on a panel, you can thus emit lots of light that hits the human body.
Light is not merely a neutral force that illuminates the room. Instead, just like ultraviolet light affects the biology of the human body, the same is true for red light and different parts of the infrared light spectrum.
Different types of red and near infrared light can penetrate the body up to several inches, in fact (17; 18; 19; 20). By entering the human body, that light affects many different processes.
As of today, almost 6,000 individual studies have been published on the effects of red light therapy (21). Here’s a shortlist of red light therapy benefits:
Normalising inflammation by reducing excess inflammation
Enhancing sleep quality and promoting wakefulness in the morning
Countering pain, such as joint pain or chronic a-specific pain
Boosting athletic performance and speeding up recovery after a session
Increasing your energy levels at the cellular level
Supporting eye, hair, and dental health
Bettering your energy levels, circulation, and blood sugar management
Lowering the risk for several diseases, such as heart and blood vessel conditions, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune conditions like Parkinson’s.
And much more. The list of red light therapy benefits is really extensive. And now that you understand red light therapy, let’s move on to infrared saunas:
As you know by now, infrared saunas use far infrared as their basis. And if the infrared sauna uses full-spectrum infrared, middle and near infrared light are added to the mix.
At Clearlight, we use True Wave II™ technology to achieve an extremely well-balanced combination of all three types of infrared light in our saunas. The end result is that 33% of light is emitted in the near infrared range, 33% in the middle, and 33% in the far infrared light range.
So, now that you know a little about the basics of the infrared sauna and red light therapy, let’s compare the two in more detail:
What Should You Choose? An Infrared Sauna Versus Red Light Therapy
So, the final question to be answered is what option you should choose - an infrared sauna or red light therapy?
Instead of telling you what to choose, I’m just highlighting a few differences between the two modalities:
Heat And Sweating
The biggest difference between red light therapy and infrared saunas is that the former uses very minimal heat, while the latter maximises both heat exposure, as measured in increases of core body temperature.
As a result, there will be no sweating with red light therapy - and extremely minimal heating if and only if you stand very close to the panel.
Infrared saunas are built to maximise sweating, instead. The True Wave II™ heaters expose you to a combination of near-infrared, middle infrared, and far infrared light to heat your body up internally as much as possible, in a safe manner.
For this reason, if detoxification through sweating is your aim, an infrared sauna is the best choice. Both options have excellent health benefits though, but these benefits are just different, as you can read in the shortlists of benefits listed above.
Next up, there’s another difference:
Ease Of Use
Both an infrared sauna and red light therapy are very easy to use. But, if you had to choose the option that’s easiest to use, red light therapy comes out on top.
The reason is that with red light therapy, you can just press a button and start your session. As you know by now, there’s no sweating involved, so there’s also no cleaning up afterward.
With an infrared sauna it’s recommended to shower after your sessions due to the excessive sweat buildup, and to remove toxins from your skin.
Also, if you use an infrared sauna, it’s recommended to pre-heat the sauna first, which takes up to 15 minutes. As you can just activate the red light therapy panel and not worry about cleaning up, the option is ideal if you have a very busy lifestyle.
In fact, I know lots of people who have a red light therapy panel in their office, and use it during their lunch break. Getting a very quick session is is much harder with an infrared sauna.
Moving on to the next difference:
Let’s compare the size of both options:
The size of a 1-person Sanctuary Full-Spectrum sauna is ~100cm by ~120cm by ~200cm (height). Obviously, a 2-person or even a 5-person sauna is going to be much bigger than the 1-person option.
Nevertheless, the 1-person option should give you an indication of how much space is taken up by the smallest unit we’re selling.
Red light therapy is different. The AURORA Red Light Therapy Device is only ~22cm by ~2.5cm (thick) and has a height of ~70cm. As a very thin vertical unit, comparable to the space uptaken by a floor lamp, red light therapy is very space-efficient.
If necessary, you can store an AURORA device under your bed, for instance. Such an option might be advantageous if you’re living in a small condo or studio and don’t have room for even a 1-person sauna.
A red light therapy unit such as the ARL Plus+ consumes 350W, instead. Also, the maximum session time for red light therapy is 20-minutes. An infrared sauna can be used for double that length though.
So, if we compare the energy consumption per session, you consume 116W for a red light therapy session, and 1,167W for a 40-minute session in the 1-Person Full-Spectrum Sauna. Infrared saunas thus consume about 10 times as much energy, although they’re still inexpensive for most people if you use them 5 times a week.
Other options, like the Essential Line, are less expensive because they don’t use cedarwood but Nordic spruce. If you compare the Essential Line to red light therapy, there’s about a 4-5-fold difference in the price for a 1-person sauna and a red light therapy unit.
The saunas are paired with a lifetime warranty for residential use, however. Red light therapy doesn't come with a lifetime warranty. Next up, there is the difference in light wavelengths - we'll thus end where we began in terms of topics:
Before telling you why this topic is applicable for this blog post, let’s make a short detour:
I’ve waited until the end to introduce this more complicated topic. The light spectrum I talked about earlier can actually be measured in “wavelengths”.
Different types of light have different wavelengths. Visible light is found in wavelengths of between 400 and 750 nanometers (nm). The 460nm wavelength consists of blue light, for instance, while 660nm is found in the red part of the spectrum.
From 750 nanometers all the way to 1,000,000 nanometers, you find infrared light. The different parts of infrared light thus make up a huge portion of the light spectrum while visible light only consists of 350 nanometers in total - all that is visible to the human eye.
Now, red light therapy puts out light in very specific wavelengths, such as 660nm and 850nm. In reality, that 600nm reading means that 95% of the light is put out in the 650-670 range, and most directly around 660nm.
Infrared saunas, rather, emit a large variety of infrared light from about 1,000 nanometers all the way up to 1,000,000 nanometers. Again, these contain all the different parts of infrared light, such as near, middle, and far-infrared light, if you’ve got a full-spectrum sauna.
The information to remember is that red light therapy only uses very specific wavelengths, and infrared saunas use a large part of the infrared spectrum that’s much broader.
The wavelengths above around 1,000 nanometers are also heating, which explains why red light therapy barely puts out any heat and infrared saunas heat you up from the inside.
Hopefully all this makes sense. Let’s conclude:
Conclusion: There’s No Best Option - All Depends On Your Goals
Comparing red light therapy and infrared saunas is like comparing fruits and vegetables. Both options are great and both have their unique benefits and potential downsides.
For instance, if you rely on vegetables too much, you’ll have a hard time consuming enough calories on a daily basis. If you rely on fruits too much, you might be consuming excess fructose, which your liver cannot store after a certain threshold if you don’t burn the calories off.
But, of course, both options have tremendous benefits even though the benefits are different. So, in the ideal world, you’ll consume both fruits and vegetables and you’ll also use red light therapy and an infrared sauna.