An infrared (IR) sauna is similar to a regular sauna, with the main difference being that IR heaters are used as the heat source. An IR heater uses far-IR, or energy similar to that provided by the sun, but there is no risk of solar radiation in an IR sauna. Unlike a traditional sauna, in which the heat indirectly affects the body, IR energy is directly absorbed by the body, which may have benefits. An IR sauna does not have the same high temperature as a traditional sauna, so those who cannot take high heat may feel more comfortable. While there are many claimed benefits of using an IR sauna, some are lacking in readily available proof.
Traditional sauna and IR sauna rooms are not that different — they both use heat to make people sweat and are thought to promote a healthy lifestyle. The main difference is that IR saunas use IR heaters, instead of traditional heaters or hot rocks, to produce the extra heat. These heaters should be far-IR, or IR that is near microwaves on the energy spectrum, because this is believed to offer the most health benefits. Some saunas use near- or medium-IR heaters, but they are not considered as effective.
When using a traditional sauna, the body is affected by the heat and steam without absorbing either, so the only benefit is believed to be extra sweating. With an IR sauna, the energy is directly absorbed. Some health experts say this absorption assists in fixing damaged tissue but, as of 2011, there is little solid evidence to support this claim. Absorbing this energy is not dangerous because, unlike ultraviolet energy, IR energy does not adversely affect the human body.
Some people may be wary of using a sauna because of the intense heat. If so, they may want to consider an IR sauna that uses a far-IR heater. When a far-IR heater is used, it heats up the body but not the air. This means the IR heater remains cool while the body warms up. This still may be too intense for some sensitive individuals.
While there are many claimed benefits to using an IR sauna, there are a few definite benefits. Just like a regular sauna, people will sweat and burn calories during a sauna session. Blood circulation and pressure will improve with the increased temperature. There also is a metabolic boost, though the effect is minimal.