Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna: Comparison Overview

Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna: Comparison Overview

Science and technology have affected almost every part of our life. We are using some kind of technology in our daily life to improve the way we connect socially, learn methodologies, and treat certain diseases. 

When it comes to health and wellness, more people today are empowered to rely less on medications and more on exercising and home-based procedures and therapies. This is because chemical substances in conventional treatments can affect your body in ways that cause harm, and sometimes their consequences outweigh the benefits. Take the example of acne, hyperpigmentation, or any other related skin issue. Topical applications are considered comparatively safer than the intake of heavy medicine as the latter can affect your fertility for a certain period [1, 2].

Red light therapy and infrared sauna therapy, alternatively known as red heat lamp therapy, are procedures or techniques that help with skin rejuvenation, beautification, muscle or joint pain, depression, fertility, and many more. However, both are not the same and there is a considerable difference in their mechanism of action.  

Because it’s a matter of your health, you need to be selective between these two modes of treatment. In this article, we will uncover their differences and decide which one is best for you. Keep reading for details.

How Do Infrared Saunas Work? 

The history of sauna therapy is very interesting. Back in 1112 AD, the people of Finland would sit in an enclosed area that’s pre-heated with hot stones. By splashing water on these stones and rocks, they would generate steam and these people would take a steam bath to heal themselves. Over time, this technique kept on changing as more and more benefits were explored [3].

Today, infrared sauna with light therapy usea far infrared heaters, lamps (that use electromagnetic radiation), or bulbs to emit light. These infrared sauna bulbs or Infrared sauna lamps act as a heating device that emits red color light for giving heat therapy.  The wavelength of this light referred to as far-infrared radiation (FIR) is an invisible form of energy. These rays interact with the body’s cells, cell membranes, and fluids such as water and DNA/proteins. This interaction boosts up the metabolism and energy levels within the cell molecule and therefore will feel like heat on the human body. The infrared sauna lights can operate between 120˚F and 140˚F and penetrate around 1 and a half inches within the skin [4].

Health Benefits of Saunas

Traditional saunas as well as infrared saunas are known to help with several health issues. 

  1. A study reveals that sauna therapy shows positive short term improvements in terms of pain and the removal of stiffness in patients with rheumatoid arthritis [5].
  2. Another study reveals that sauna therapy helps in managing chronic heart failure and diseases that can cause heart failure such as hypertension, diabetes, and more [6, 7].
  3. Infrared saunas or ultra red light sauna can reduce muscle soreness, act as an antidepressant, and promote relaxation [8, 9].
  4. Saunas help your body get rid of toxic substances as it is thought that sweating causes toxins to leave your body [10]. However, some claim that this is only a myth and that there is a lack of evidence to support it [11].

How Does Red Light Therapy Work?

Red light therapy is a clinically proven method to boost skin health and muscle performance and heal joint issues, depression, and certain mental diseases. Red light therapy uses low wavelengths of natural light or red light on the part of the body that is exposed to the treatment. This activates mitochondria in our cells which helps repair certain cellular functions [12].

Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Common reasons for using red light therapy today include skin rejuvenation, the removal of fine lines, treating skin roughness, and related issues [13]. Several studies support the effectiveness of red light therapy on hormonal efficiency, pain reduction, relief from depression, and muscle pain healing. 

Red Light Therapy In Comparison to Saunas

To understand the difference between red light therapy and infrared saunas, it is necessary to understand the difference between light and heat energy. 

The Difference Between Light and Heat Energy

The difference between light and heat energy is that heat is a form of kinetic energy that contains the motions of the particles or atoms within a material. On the other hand, light is a kind of electromagnetic energy. But both can be transformed into the other form. Light can be transferred into heat energy and heat can be converted into light energy [14].

Below is a list of more differences you should know about:

  1. Both red light therapy and infrared saunas use light therapy but how each one affects the body is different. Saunas produce heat in the body to an extent that you start sweating. On the other hand, red light therapy produces almost no heat, to the extent that you do not feel it on your body. 
  2. Infrared saunas and red light therapy use different types of electromagnetic radiations. Red light therapy involves wavelengths ranging between 630-700 nanometers. On the other hand, infrared Infrared light represents a broad spectrum of light with wavelengths ranging from 700 nm to 1 million nm (1,000 microns) [15].
  3. Red light therapy uses shorter wavelengths that’s why it’s called low level or near-infrared. Infrared saunas use longer wavelengths. 
  4.  Red Light therapy is most effective for use on the surface of the skin, making it beneficial for skin issues. Whereas,  infrared saunas are effective when a deeper penetration of up to 1.5 inches in the body is needed. 
  5. People who cannot tolerate heat or are prone to dehydration can use red light therapy instead. Whereas people who can tolerate heat well can use traditional or infrared saunas according to their level of tolerance. 

Risks of Sauna Therapy

Despite its several benefits, sauna therapy may have some side effect such as:

  • Mild to moderate discomfort due to the heat emitted by the sauna therapy machine.
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) may be experienced as you are going to lose your body water as a result of sweating. Drinking plenty of water if you are going to use conventional or infrared saunas will help prevent this.
  •  You may experience light-headedness while using sauna therapy for the first time.
  • A study showed that sauna exposure that consists of 2 sauna sessions per week continuously for up to or more than 3 months with each session lasting for around 15 minutes, can impair sperm count and motility [16].
  • Infrared saunas may cause dehydration in aged people.
  • Pregnant women who undergo sauna therapy may feel nauseated and high temperatures can pose a risk to their unborn child. 
  • Those who are under the influence of alcohol may be negatively affected by sauna therapy as saunas can exacerbate hangover symptoms and increase the risk of dehydration.
  • Individuals with kidney disease are also at risk of dehydration in case they expose themselves to sauna therapy.

Risks of Red Light Therapy

There is little evidence on the side effects of red light therapy. However, too much exposure may cause burns and blisters on your skin and your eyes may get affected if you are photosensitive and are not wearing protective glasses. Those who have sensitive skin may experience some kind of irritation. 

Conclusion

Both sauna therapy and red light therapy are proven ways of treating several conditions. The major difference is in their mechanism of action. The infrared sauna works by enabling a person to sweat with the use of far-infrared radiation. Meanwhile, red light therapy enables the activation of ATP within the cells.  Before choosing a method of treatment, it’s also important to consider the risks or possible side effects associated with each type of treatment.


References:

  1. Cinar SL et al. Long-term effect of systemic isotretinoin on female fertility. 2017 Jun – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27292185/
  2. American Psychological  Association. How Do I Choose Between Medication and Therapy? https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/medication-or-therapy.pdf
  3. Tsonis, J Sauna Studies as an Academic Field: A New Agenda for International Research. 2016 June 1 – http://asbasweat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Sauna-Studies-as-an-Academic-Field-2016.pdf
  4. Vatansever F.  Hamblin MR. Far infrared radiation (FIR): its biological effects and medical applications. Photonics & Lasers in Medicine. 2012 Nov – https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/plm/1/4/article-p255.xml
  5. Oosterveld FG et al. Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. A pilot study showing good tolerance, short-term improvement of pain and stiffness, and a trend towards long-term beneficial effects. 2009 Jan 28 – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10067-008-0977-y
  6. Beever R. Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: summary of published evidence. Can Fam Physician. 2009 – .https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2718593/
  7. Imamura M et al. Repeated thermal therapy improves impaired vascular endothelial function in patients with coronary risk factors. 2001 Oct – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11583886/
  8. Janssen CW et al. Whole-Body Janssen CW et al. Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. 2016 –  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27172277/
  9. Raison C. Can Sitting in a Sauna Ease Depression?- 2016 – https://blogs.webmd.com/mental-health/20160707/can-sitting-in-a-sauna-ease-depression
  10. Sears ME et al. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. 2012 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312275/
  11. Englehaupt. E Fact or Fiction: Can You Really Sweat Out Toxins? 2018 – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/04/sweating-toxins-myth-detox-facts-saunas-pollutants-science/
  12. Tafur J, Mills PJ. Low-intensity light therapy: exploring the role of redox mechanisms. 2007 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996814/
  13. Wunsch A, Matuschka K. A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase. 2014 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  14. Henderson TA. Multi-watt near-infrared light therapy as a neuroregenerative treatment for traumatic brain injury. 2016- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870908/
  15. Garolla A et al Seminal and molecular evidence that sauna exposure affects human spermatogenesis. 2013 April 28 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23411620/

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