All this attention begs the question: is one better than the other? And—do you even have to choose?
Actually, you don’t. When comparing red light therapy vs infrared saunas, it’s clear that both provide a number of health benefits, although in very different ways. Saunas are one of the oldest therapies around, and they rely on heat. Red light therapy is a cutting edge technology that relies on light. How they both work—and how they can work together.
Heat-based therapies have been around for millennia. From Turkish baths, to Mayan sweat houses, to Japanese onsen, the ritual of getting hot and sweaty for therapeutic purposes has a sacred place in many cultures.
With dry heat and temperatures oscillating between 150 and 185º F. The sauna-goer lingers in this hot little space, sweats profusely, and emerges feeling refreshed and all a-glow.
Infrared heat works something like this: Imagine a sunny day in the middle of winter. The air around you is cold, but the sun warms your face. That’s the sun’s infrared rays at work, warming your face as they penetrate your skin. You feel the warmth despite the cold ambient temperature of the air around you.
Infrared saunas use radiant heat coming from an IR heat lamp, which directs warmth toward the body as well as other objects in the room.
What this means is that the air inside an infrared sauna doesn’t need to be really hot in order for you to sweat. In fact, infrared saunas maintain an ambient heat of 110 degrees F to 130 degrees F, which some people find more comfortable than the range of traditional saunas. Infrared saunas still make you sweat—a lot—thereby generating all the benefits of a traditional sauna, but with less overall stress on the body.
Most infrared sauna models rely on light waves in the far infrared part of the spectrum, known as far infrared light (FIR). FIR light is the only kind of infrared light capable of raising your core temperature in a way that simulates the heat stress of traditional saunas and exercise.
The research on FIR sauna therapy which studies shows that time spent in FIR saunas improved quality of life in patients with Type II diabetes; improved cardiac and vascular function in patients with chronic heart failure; and eased pain, stiffness, and fatigue in patients with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
All things considered, FIR sauna therapy is one way for patients with inhibitory health problems to feel the benefits of exercise without actually doing it—and without having to withstand the intense temperatures of a super hot Finnish sauna.
Near infrared light does not produce heat, so it won’t light your internal fire the way FIR does. The warmth of an NIR sauna comes from the incandescent light bulbs that power its heat lamps—and those bulbs get awfully hot to the touch.
NIR sauna uses incandescent light bulbs in order to harness a broader spectrum that includes therapeutically beneficial light bands—namely, red light wavelengths , and near-infrared wavelengths. These bands of light have been scientifically proven to yield benefits for humans—and they happen to be the same ones harnessed in red light therapy.
They heat the body in order to activate physical benefits, in the same way traditional saunas do. These physical benefits include:
Activating heat shock proteins, shown to bolster the immune system and repair cells;
Increasing blood flow to enhance recovery and endurance, post-exercise;
Sweating out toxins. Note that some manufacturers falsely claim that infrared saunas make you generate sweat that contains up to 20% more toxins than that which is generated by traditional saunas. There is zero evidence to back this up.
Infrared saunas are less hot than traditional saunas—and thus more comfortable for some people.
Most infrared saunas employ far infrared light waves, which are more effective at generating heat.
Some infrared saunas use near infrared light waves, which don’t generate heat; rather, the warmth in the sauna space is due to heat emitted from incandescent light bulbs.
When comparing red light therapy vs. infrared saunas, it’s important to remember that red light therapy employs light, while infrared saunas employ heat. Both technologies deliver therapeutic benefits, but they do so in ways that are completely different to one another—yet also potentially complementary. Red light therapy is the process of targeting the body with specific near-infrared and red light wavelengths that are recognized for their unique therapeutic and regenerative results.
The set-up alone makes for an all together different experience to infrared saunas. There is no heat involved with red light therapy. The LED lights themselves don’t get hot, and users don’t break into a sweat or experience elevated heart rates, as happens in infrared or traditional saunas.
You might be wondering: What is it about red light therapy that’s so magical? The answer has to do with the efficacy and quality of the wavelengths that are being directed at the body.
Equally as important as the kind of wavelengths used is the total energy output, known as irradiance. Red light therapy LED devices must produce powerful levels of light in order for the therapy itself to be effective.
This brings us back to the subject of near infrared saunas. While it’s true that these saunas emit some or all of the five wavelengths mentioned above, they can’t do it with a fraction of the irradiance seen in LED light therapy panels.
LED red therapy, on the other hand, is limited to only the most effective wavelengths, uncompromised by other light waves, and delivered at incomparable irradiance. This explains the superior function and effectiveness of LED red light therapy over NIR infrared saunas, if we are looking strictly at the role red and NIR light play in therapy.
Is it necessary to choose between red light therapy and infrared sauna sessions? After all, each takes a completely different approach to therapy. Let’s look at a scenario where these different treatments could work in concert.
Say you’ve been experiencing mild but persistent back pain. One day, while lifting weights at the gym, you feel a horrible pinch...and just like that, you’ve thrown out your back. You’re in a lot of pain, and your recovery plan includes physical therapy and just taking it easy—which is going to be really hard because working out is your favorite way to destress, and not being able to exercise is driving you crazy.
In this case, red light therapy and infrared saunas could provide a one-two combo. Red light therapy has been shown to promote healing and reduce inflammation and pain symptoms, potentially shortening your recovery time. Infrared sauna sessions will simulate the heart-pumping, blood circulating endorphin rush you crave while also potentially helping you sweat out toxins.
When comparing the two, think about exercise habits. Most people indulge in more than one activity—be it yoga and running, lifting and swimming, barre and rowing, or whatever you have time for. Red light therapy and infrared saunas are different enough to be complementary, and powerfully so.
The benefits of Red Light Therapy include: