Can Infrared Saunas Cause Cancer? Here's What Science Says
Infrared saunas have surged in popularity, hailed as an effective way to detox, relax muscles, lose weight, and enjoy other health benefits. However, concerning claims have also circulated about the potential dangers of frequent infrared sauna use.
The main question many people are interested in trying these trendy heat treatments is: Can infrared saunas cause cancer?
It’s an important question, given that cancer continues to impact millions worldwide each year. No one wants to voluntarily expose themselves to avoidable carcinogens or activities that damage the body at a cellular level. When our health is at stake, we all want to make fully informed decisions before embracing new wellness fads.
So, what does the existing evidence say about infrared sauna safety? Could radiant heat technology actually harm us each time it makes us sweat?
In this blog post, we’ll dig into concerns around infrared sauna cancer links while separating fact from fiction. We’ll also provide science-based usage guidance to help readers make informed personal choices regarding infrared sauna use, health impacts, and safety.
What Are Infrared Saunas?
Infrared saunas use infrared light waves to heat the body rather than traditional steam. Instead of heating the air as a traditional sauna does, infrared saunas use infrared lamps or panels to radiate warmth directly onto the skin. The body absorbs this infrared energy, causing tissue temperatures to rise.
Before using an infrared sauna, you should consult your doctor, more so if you suffer from any health conditions, to ensure that it's safe for you. You should also always follow the manufacturer's instructions and stay hydrated during your sauna session.
How Does Infrared Sauna Work?
Infrared saunas use infrared heating elements like metallic coils or ceramic plates to emit infrared light waves, which are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, just beyond the visible light spectrum. It is not visible or felt, but the body readily absorbs the infrared radiation. These rays are absorbed by your skin and penetrate deep into your body, causing a warming effect.
Here's a more detailed explanation of how an infrared sauna works:
- Infrared heaters: Infrared saunas are equipped with ceramic or carbon fiber heaters that emit infrared rays. These heaters are typically located on the walls or ceiling of the sauna.
- Penetration of infrared rays: Infrared rays are absorbed by your skin and penetrate into your body's tissues, muscles, and even organs. This deep penetration is one of the key differences between traditional saunas and infrared saunas.
- Warming effect: As the infrared rays penetrate your body, they generate heat from within. This process increases your body's core temperature without significantly raising the ambient temperature in the sauna room.
- Sweat production: Your body responds to this internal heating by sweating to cool itself down. Sweating is one of the primary mechanisms through which your body eliminates toxins and regulates temperature.
- Increased heart rate: The heat from the infrared sauna also causes an increase in heart rate, which can provide a cardiovascular workout similar to mild to moderate exercise.
- Detoxification and health benefits: Proponents of infrared saunas claim various potential health benefits, including improved circulation, pain relief, relaxation, detoxification, and even weight loss. However, scientific research on some of these claims is ongoing, and not all benefits of infrared heat are conclusively supported.
Related: Are Infrared Saunas Safe?
What Are The Types of Infrared Saunas
Here are different types of infrared saunas that operate using different parts of the infrared light spectrum and have varying design setups.
- Near-infrared saunas use the shortest infrared radiation wavelengths, closest to the visible light spectrum.
- These saunas use incandescent or halogen bulbs as heating elements.
- Near-infrared rays are believed to have a more localized heating effect and may penetrate the skin's surface only slightly.
- Advocates claim that near-infrared saunas promote skin health, collagen production, and wound healing.
- There is limited scientific research on near-infrared sauna health benefits, so some claims are not well-established.
- Mid-infrared saunas use longer infrared radiation wavelengths than near-infrared saunas.
- Mid-infrared sauna heating elements are often made of ceramic or carbon fiber.
- These saunas offer a balance between surface-level and deep-tissue heating.
- Mid-infrared rays are believed to improve circulation, relieve muscle and joint pain, and support relaxation.
- Some mid-infrared saunas target specific areas of the body, such as infrared heating mats or panels.
- Far-infrared saunas use the longest wavelengths of infrared radiation, which penetrate the body's tissues more deeply.
- They are the most common type of infrared sauna and are often found in commercial settings and home use.
- Far-infrared saunas induce profuse sweating and raise the body's core temperature.
- Advocates claim that far-infrared saunas can aid in detoxification, weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, pain relief, and relaxation.
- A far-infrared sauna therapy is more scientifically researched than other types.
Common Uses of Infrared Saunas
The unique heating mechanism of infrared waves allows saunas to operate at lower ambient temperatures compared to hot steam rooms, while still making you sweat out toxins. Infrared sauna sessions typically range from 30 minutes to an hour at temperatures from 120°F to 140°F. The lower heat does not diminish the intensity of the detoxifying sweat.
Enthusiasts also use infrared sauna therapy for potential health benefits like:
- Relaxation and stress reduction
- Detoxification through sweating
- Pain relief, including muscle and joint pain
- Improved blood flow circulation
- Weight management and calorie burn
- Skin health enhancement
- Potential immune system boost
- Improved sleep quality
- Athletic recovery and muscle relief
- General wellness and health maintenance
While infrared saunas offer benefits, research on their specific effects is still ongoing. Claims are not conclusively supported. Consult a healthcare provider before using one, especially if you have medical conditions, to ensure safety. Follow manufacturer guidelines and stay hydrated.
Do Infrared Saunas Cause Cancer?
The Science Behind
The use of infrared saunas neither treats nor causes cancer. These misconceptions may arise from similarities between some cancer treatments and the functionality of infrared saunas. Infrared saunas, used for recreational purposes, employ a full spectrum of infrared wavelengths, including near, mid, and far-infrared, to gently raise core body temperature. This form of infrared radiation is safe for human exposure and does not affect cancer cells.
Regarding concerns about the potential cancer-causing effects of infrared saunas, this speculation arises from the association between ultraviolet (UV) exposure and skin cancer. Some people wonder whether infrared (IR) exposure, often experienced alongside UV radiation from the sun, might also pose a risk.
However, a study demonstrated that IR exposure did not induce skin cancer, and the combination of IR and UV did not influence cancer growth. This research suggests that IR is not associated with the development of skin cancer and is considered a safe form of light.
Is infrared sauna therapy safe for cancer patients?
The safety of infrared sauna use for cancer patients may depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the current treatment regimen, and the individual patient's overall health.
In general, it is crucial for cancer patients to approach infrared sauna therapy with caution and only under the guidance and approval of their healthcare provider.
Here are some considerations:
Consultation with a Healthcare Provider: Cancer patients should always consult their oncologist or healthcare provider before considering infrared sauna therapy. Given the patient's specific cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, medical professionals are best equipped to evaluate whether sauna use is safe.
Timing of Sauna Sessions: An infrared sauna is generally not recommended during active cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Sauna heat can potentially interact with cancer treatments or exacerbate treatment-related side effects. However, after treatment or during periods of remission, some patients may explore sauna therapy to manage symptoms like pain, stress, or fatigue.
Supervision and Monitoring: If your doctor approves sauna use, cancer patients must undergo supervised sessions. Trained professionals can ensure that the sauna temperature and duration are controlled and kept within safe limits to prevent overheating, dehydration, or other adverse effects.
Individual Tolerance: Individual tolerance to heat varies, and cancer patients may react differently to sauna therapy. Patients should pay close attention to their bodies and exit the sauna immediately if they experience discomfort, dizziness, or adverse symptoms.
Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is paramount. Cancer patients should drink plenty of water before, during, and after sauna sessions to prevent dehydration.
Approaching sauna use cautiously, following medical guidance, and prioritizing safety are critical when considering infrared sauna therapy as a complementary approach to treat cancer, care, or symptom management.
The Use of Infrared Saunas and Their Limitations
Infrared saunas offer potential health benefits, but it's important to use them safely and be aware of their limitations.
Here are usage guidelines and considerations:
1. Consult a Healthcare Professional
Before starting regular infrared sauna sessions, consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you have an underlying medical condition, are pregnant, or are taking medications. They can advise you on using an infrared sauna for your specific situation.
2. Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your sauna session to prevent dehydration. Sweating can lead to fluid loss, so it's crucial to maintain proper hydration.
3. Session Duration and Frequency
Start with shorter sessions, typically 15-30 minutes, and gradually increase the time as your body becomes acclimated. The recommended frequency varies, but 2-3 sessions per week is common. Avoid prolonged or excessively hot sessions, as they can lead to overheating.
4. Temperature Setting
Infrared saunas allow you to control the heat temperature. Start with lower temperatures (around 100-130°F or 38-54°C) and adjust based on your comfort. It's not necessary to reach extremely high temperatures for the benefits.
Wear lightweight, comfortable clothing during your sauna session. Many people opt for minimal clothing or towels to maximize skin exposure to the infrared rays.
6. Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to how your body responds during the session. If you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or uncomfortable, exit the sauna immediately and cool down.
7. Skin Protection
While infrared saunas are generally safe for the skin, individuals with sensitive skin may experience redness or irritation. Use a barrier, such as a towel or special sauna robe, to protect your skin.
8. Avoid Alcohol and Stimulants
Refrain from drinking alcohol or consuming stimulants before or during an infrared sauna session, as they can increase the risk of body dehydration and overheating.
9. Cool Down
After your sauna session, take time to cool down gradually. You can cool down by sitting or lying down in a comfortable, cooler environment.
The Bottomline: Infrared Sauna’s Limitations
- Infrared saunas are not suitable for everyone, and their effectiveness can vary. Infrared saunas are not a replacement for medical treatment or therapy for serious medical conditions.
- Persons with certain medical conditions, such as uncontrolled hypertension, cardiovascular issues, or acute infections, should avoid using infrared sauna treatment.
- Pregnant women should consult with their doctors before using infrared saunas, and caution is advised during pregnancy.
- Be aware that while infrared saunas may offer relaxation and potential health benefits, the scientific evidence supporting some of the claimed benefits is still evolving.
Using an infrared sauna can be a safe and enjoyable experience when done responsibly. Consultation with a healthcare provider and following these guidelines will help ensure a positive sauna experience and minimize potential risks.
Based on existing medical research, there is no strong evidence showing that infrared saunas can cause cancer or significantly increase cancer risk when used appropriately. The infrared wavelengths and exposure levels typically emitted in today’s saunas have not been linked to DNA, cell, or tissue damage that would indicate tumor-forming potential.
The long-term impacts of consistent infrared sauna use are still unclear. While short-term exposures in clinical studies have not raised red flags, more ongoing studies tracking health outcomes over decades would help cement safety.
Until additional evidence confirms infrared's harmlessness, consumers are still advised to exercise reasonable caution. Following recommended usage guidelines and limitations can minimize any health risks down the road. Moderation, hygiene, and paying attention to medical advice on infrared sauna use are the best ways to avoid overexposure.
Overall, infrared saunas remain a well-regarded fitness and relaxation product by physicians based on what we currently know. But as with any new technology, vigilance and gradual adoption are recommended.