A portable infrared sauna is an single-person sauna that can be moved to different locations fairly easily. It uses radiant heat — heat transferred without direct contact — to produce infrared radiation. Portable saunas can be made of a wide variety of materials and styles and generally use an electric heater as the heat source, although some use tourmaline stones.
One of the most common styles of a portable infrared sauna is one with a seat, such as a chair or bench, along with a heater in an enclosed container made of Mylar®, molded plastic, or other suitable material. Another style is shaped like a cocoon suspended over a mat, and is meant for taking saunas while lying down. The portable saunas enclose the body except for the head region and usually have side slits for putting the hands outside, such as for reading a magazine.
A portable infrared sauna is commonly used as a means of achieving some of the benefits of a health spa while at home or traveling. It may be part of an alternative health program, such as that offered by a spa, focused around holistic healing or therapy. An infrared sauna is believed to have health benefits similar to those that can be obtained from traditional saunas that use hot coals to produce steam heat, however an infrared sauna is termed a “dry sauna,” since it produces heat and sweating without using water.
Furthermore, while a conventional sauna usually produces temperatures between 158–212°F (70–100°C), an infrared sauna tends to operate 60–80°F (15.5–27°C) lower, usually with a maximum temperature setting of 130°F (54.4°C). A typical portable infrared sauna will heat to its optimal temperature within a relatively brief time. It also differs from a regular sauna in that its infrared radiation can penetrate up to 2 inches (5 cm) into the skin, while heat from an ordinary sauna stops near the skin surface.
A portable infrared sauna can be one of three types: near infrared, mid infrared, or far infrared. Far infrared radiation is generally believed to produce the highest health benefits for the body, in that a larger quantity of positive ions is changed to negative ions inside the body. The deeper penetration into the bones and muscles by far infrared radiation is also felt to eliminate toxins.
Among the many other health benefits it can provide, a portable infrared sauna helps relieve arthritic pain and joint stiffness. It also can help relieve stress and increase circulation by warming and expanding the arteries and veins. Prudent use is advised, however. It has been recommended not to exceed sessions of more than a half-hour at a time.
While all saunas produce sweating, conventional saunas and infrared saunas do this differently. A conventional sauna warms the air, while an infrared sauna warms the objects in the air, such as a body within an enclosed space. Infrared radiation can produce up to three times more perspiration than a conventional sauna. Also, the ionization of so many water molecules can cause fainting, especially in those taking blood pressure medications and the elderly.
An infrared sauna can also cause burns or eye damage without proper precautions. Excessive or prolonged exposure to infrared heat can burn the surface of the skin. Staying within recommended half-hour time limit can help avoid this complication. A more serious consequence, however, is possible eye damage from the far infrared radiation. Eye protection, such as wearing an ultraviolet mask, can help prevent burns of the cornea. Additionally, it may be beneficial to drink additional water in order to avoid dehydration.