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Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna: What’s The Difference?

Last Reviewed on February 1, 2024

Find out which therapy reigns supreme: Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna. Discover the pros, cons, and science behind both treatments to help you make an informed decision about your health and wellness journey.

People have used saunas for centuries for their various therapeutic and wellness effects. On the other hand, red light therapy is a newer treatment gaining popularity because of its potential health benefits.

Both therapies offer excellent advantages, such as pain relief and skin improvement. However, there are some notable differences in how they achieve these benefits and the range of conditions they can treat.

So, let’s dive in and learn more about the differences between red light therapy and infrared saunas!

Red Light Therapy

Did you know our bodies respond to different wavelengths of light, leading to various changes?

One application of this is red light therapy, also called photobiomodulation or low-level laser therapy, which can treat different health conditions and repair the skin.

Man sitting between two red light therapy panels

Red light therapy works by activating photoreceptors on the surface of our cells, kicking off a biochemical reaction that ultimately allows our cells to heal and repair themselves more effectively. This improved cellular function can lead to a wide range of health benefits for us. 

More specifically, research has shown this light-based treatment to promote healing, collagen production, and more [1, 2].

Overall, red light therapy has shown promise as a therapeutic technique for managing health conditions and rejuvenating the skin safely and effectively.

Red Light Therapy Benefits

Red light therapy has many benefits that can help improve overall health. Let’s take a closer look at each of these benefits:

Improves Skin Health

If you’re looking to reduce signs of aging or alleviate skin pathologies like psoriasis and eczema, red light therapy can help. A 2014 study in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery found that red light absorption by the skin rejuvenates it by promoting collagen synthesis, improving skin complexion, and reducing wrinkles [3].

Woman seeing fewer fine lines and wrinkles after using red light therapy

Accelerates Wound Healing

Red light therapy helps speed up wound healing by improving cells’ repair potential. It stimulates tissue repair and decreases inflammation, making it an effective tool for managing wounds [4].

Promotes Hair Growth Regrowth

Red light therapy can also be an effective way to promote hair growth in those suffering from androgenetic alopecia, also known as male-pattern baldness. A 2021 ex vivo study of hair follicles from alopecia patients found 650 nm red light to be effective in stimulating hair growth [5].

Alleviates Chronic Pain

Red light therapy can be an excellent natural source of pain relief, especially for those that would prefer to avoid painkillers. A 2015 meta-analysis of over 4,000 studies concluded that “[red light therapy] has a positive effect on acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain” [6]. That said, while red light therapy can help relieve acute and chronic pain, this light-based therapy should not be used as a standalone treatment for those suffering from neuropathic pain or neurologic deficits.

Man using red light therapy on his knee for pain relief

Red Light Therapy Limitations

Despite its many benefits, there are some limitations to red light therapy. 

Red light therapy, despite the many promising studies, is still a relatively new therapy. There are little to no studies on the long-term effects of this light-based therapy.

There has also been little standardization of wavelengths and dosages across these studies, making it slightly more difficult to provide clear treatment recommendations.

So, if you’re considering trying red light therapy, speaking with a healthcare professional to discuss any potential risks is a good idea.

Infrared Saunas

Saunas are popular for their ability to help soothe sore muscles and provide a sense of relaxation and well-being. If you’re new to saunas, you might wonder what the differences are between a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna.

The fundamental difference is that traditional saunas use steam to heat the surrounding air, while infrared saunas use infrared light to heat your body directly. As a result, infrared saunas produce less heat and have a lower temperature range of 120-140℉, compared to traditional saunas, which typically range of 150-195℉.

Woman relaxing in a traditional sauna

Far Infrared Saunas vs. Near Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas come in two types: far infrared and near infrared.

As the name suggests, a far infrared sauna emits light in the far infrared range. These longer wavelengths are great for penetrating deeper into the body, activating sweat glands, and heating the body from within.

On the other hand, near infrared saunas use shorter wavelengths that primarily penetrate the skin, promoting skin healing and skin renewal.

Out of the two, far infrared saunas tend to be more common. That said, some IR sauna models are “full spectrum” models that emit all three types of infrared light: far-infrared, mid-infrared, and near-infrared.

Woman relaxing in an infrared sauna with a glass of water

Infrared Sauna Benefits

The following are some notable benefits of infrared saunas:

Relaxes Sore Muscles

The heat from the sauna increases blood flow, which reduces inflammation and promotes faster muscle recovery [7]. This can be especially helpful for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who experience muscle soreness after a workout.

Provides Pain Relief

Research has shown infrared saunas to provide pain relief in various chronic pain syndromes. A 2008 pilot study found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis experienced short-term relief after using an infrared sauna, with statistically significant improvements in both pain and stiffness [8].

There is also growing evidence suggesting that infrared saunas can help ease pain from musculoskeletal disorders like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and more [9].

Removes Toxins

Another benefit of using an infrared sauna is its ability to remove toxins from the body. The heat from the sauna induces sweating, which can help flush out toxins like chemicals and heavy metals such as lead.

Enhances Heart Function

Infrared saunas can have a beneficial impact on your heart health, as studies show this heat-based therapy can help lower blood pressure among other benefits [10].

Researchers have described the body’s physical response to an infrared sauna session as similar to walking at a moderate pace. This is where some of the cardiovascular benefits of infrared saunas may stem from.

Infrared saunas have also been linked to short-term cardiovascular benefits in heart failure patients. A 2018 meta-analysis found that patients who underwent infrared sauna therapy saw “significant reduction[s] in B-type natriuretic peptide, cardiothoracic ratio, and an improvement in left-ventricular ejection fraction” – all of which are indicators cardiac function [11].

Promotes Weight Loss

Infrared saunas can also aid in weight loss [12]. The heat from the sauna raises body temperature, which can help burn calories and promote weight loss. This can be especially helpful for people with type 2 diabetes, who are often advised to lose weight to improve insulin sensitivity.

Infrared Sauna Limitations

While infrared saunas are generally safe, some users have reported feeling light-headed, claustrophobic, or anxious during a session. Others have experienced leg pain, breathing difficulties, or low blood pressure. Plus, prolonged use of an infrared sauna can put you at risk of dehydration or heat stroke [13].

Red Light Therapy vs Infrared Sauna

Red light therapy and infrared therapy are both non-invasive and safe therapies that offer similar health benefits. However, there are some differences between the two approaches.

Let’s dig into them!

Explaining the differences between red light therapy and infrared sauna

Wavelengths

One noticeable difference is the wavelengths used in each therapy. Red light therapy uses wavelengths in the mid-600 nm range and the mid-800 nm range, while infrared saunas typically emit infrared rays at wavelengths greater than 1,000 nanometers.

The smaller range of red light barely heats your body, while the wide spectrum offered by infrared saunas is strong enough to heat you internally.

Penetration Depth

Red light therapy penetrates the skin and works by absorption into the cells. These specific wavelengths allow the red light to penetrate around five millimeters into the skin, while infrared light penetrates a good 3-4 centimeters into the tissue [14, 15]. This deep penetration leads to vigorous sweating in an infrared sauna, which effectively detoxifies the body and helps burn calories.

Diagram showing how deep each light wavelength penetrates into the skin

Recommended Usage

Experts recommend keeping red light therapy sessions short, up to 20 minutes maximum, starting with twice-weekly sessions and increasing usage based on health goals.

In contrast, the time spent in an infrared sauna can be decided based on the conditions being targeted and general health. It’s recommended to keep your infrared sauna sessions around 15 minutes. While you can safely stay in an infrared sauna for longer, it increases your risk for dehydration and even heat stroke.

A good rule of thumb is to leave the infrared sauna once you feel hot enough.

Therapeutic Benefits

Both therapies have similar therapeutic advantages, such as pain relief, reduction of muscle soreness, and body relaxation. However, red light therapy is highly effective in treating skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, and scars and serves as an anti-aging treatment by reducing wrinkles and fine lines.

Infrared saunas, on the other hand, are primarily effective in soothing aching muscles, promoting blood circulation, and reducing inflammation. They also aid in improving cardiovascular health and detoxification by promoting sweat gland activity, flushing out toxins like lead, and more.

Safety Considerations

While both wellness approaches are highly safe and effective, there are some safety considerations of which to be aware. Red light therapy may cause eye discomfort, so following safety instructions like wearing eye protection is essential when using a red light therapy device.

On the other hand, infrared saunas can overheat the body, leading to dehydration, so it’s crucial to drink enough liquid, preferably water, before and after the session.

Choosing the Right Therapy for You

When choosing the right therapy for your needs, it’s essential to consider your treatment goals.

For instance, if you’re aiming to achieve clearer and more youthful skin by reducing signs of aging, then red light therapy may be the best option for you. Red light therapy can also be beneficial if you’re looking to relieve chronic pain caused by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia.

Woman using red light therapy for its therapeutic benefits

However, if your goal is to relieve pain, relax your muscles, and improve heart function while reducing oxidative stress, infrared sauna sessions could be a great choice.

It’s worth noting, though, that the heat from an infrared sauna can be intense, so if you’re uncomfortable with high temperatures, it’s best to avoid it.

Plus, it’s always advisable to seek guidance from a health professional to determine the most suitable therapy for your specific condition. You can achieve superior results and avoid unwanted side effects by seeking professional advice.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for ways to relieve pain and relax your body, red light therapy and infrared saunas are both effective wellness approaches.

Red light therapy uses targeted wavelengths of red and near infrared light to boost cellular energy and promote collagen production, resulting in improved healing strength and skin health. 

Meanwhile, infrared saunas heat the body with infrared light to improve cardiovascular function, support detoxification, and relieve pain.

So, if you’re looking to try them out, remember to seek guidance from a healthcare professional to determine which therapy is right for you.

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11776448/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11547815/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25054749/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8577899/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4743666
  7. https://www.termedia.pl/A-post-exercise-infrared-sauna-session-improves-recovery-of-neuromuscular-performance-and-muscle-soreness-after-resistance-exercise-training,78,47765,0,1.html
  8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10067-008-0977-y
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8946909/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2718593/
  11. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/clc.23077
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1350449519301756
  13. https://www.healthline.com/health/infrared-sauna-dangers
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5653719/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4493260/
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

John Ni, BSc.

John, a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, serves as a respected scientific reviewer at TherapeuticBeams.com. His expertise extends across various domains, including chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and dermatology. He contributes to publications like Royal Society of Chemistry, Drug Topics, and Practical Dermatology.

John Ni, Content Editor & Scientific Review

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