Dangers of the Infrared Sauna

While there are few dangers of the infrared sauna – or of any sauna for that matter – it’s important to know what they are!

We can tell you one thing straight off, though… any dangers of the infrared sauna are not related to the IR rays themselves. Far infrared rays do not carry the dangers that we associate with ultraviolet rays or x-rays. Read more about infrared heat waves on our FIR saunas page.

On this page:

• A quick overview of fir sauna dangers
• Overheating effects
• Dehydration and inadequate fluid replacement
• Medical conditions and the sauna
• Sauna and the heart
• Medications
• Effects of past use of psychedelic and other mind-altering drugs
• Longer term dangers
• Release of drugs and chemicals stored in your fat
• Risks for chemically sensitive people

A healthy person that uses common sense (see How to take a sauna is unlikely to run into trouble in an infrared sauna. Millions of adults around the world use saunas uneventfully on a regular basis, after all.

Children cannot use the sauna in the same way that adults can, though. Read more on kids & sauna As for age and the sauna, it’s really more a matter of how healthy you are than how old you are. Sauna use by those over 80 is very, very common in Finland!

Also, don’t bring your pets in the sauna! They can keep you company from right outside the door, if you like, but dogs and cats don’t handle heat as well as humans do and can overheat a lot more easily.

A quick overview of dangers of the FIR Sauna

We’ll start with the possible negative short-term effects of sauna use. Lower down on this page we’ll look at the two longer-term possible negative effects of sauna use.

Affecting everyone:

• Overheating (heat exhaustion and heat stroke)
• Dehydration
• Using the sauna while drinking or after drinking alcohol
• Depleting your electrolytes or minerals through sweating
• The effects of mobilized toxins

It is, as well, not recommended to use the sauna during an acute illness or injury where it may interfere with the natural healing process. For example, it is recommended to avoid sauna use during the first 48 hours of an acute sprain-type injury.

Affecting only some people:

• Adverse effects on certain medical conditions
• Interference with the absorption and/or effects of certain medications
• Adverse effects on some implants

In summary, the few dangers of the infrared sauna to the healthy, un-medicated person come from: overheating effects, dehydration, depleting your body' supply of minerals or electrolytes through profuse sweating (without the right kind of fluid replacement), and the effects of mobilizing stored toxins out of the body. Read about how fir saunas eliminate toxic chemicals and heavy metals in a sauna detoxification program.
For people on medications and/or with medical conditions, a medical go-ahead or medical supervision is advisable. We’ll discuss that below. But, first let’s look at overheating as one of the dangers of the infrared sauna.

Overheating: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Anyone – even the healthiest of people - can overdo a sauna and overheat their bodies, causing heat-related illness. But this doesn’t happen without warning. If you’re not familiar with the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, here's a Academy of Family Physicians web page on heat-related illnesses. A good rule of thumb is to get out of the sauna and into a cool shower if you suspect you’re overheating.

For those in sauna detoxification programs where up to an hour or more a day may be spent in the sauna, some experts advocate keeping a thermometer handy to monitor your temperature.

Traditional dry heat saunas carry the additional risk of the user getting a burn by accidentally touching the heater or hot rocks. In a safely designed infrared sauna, the heaters are covered and sudden contact burns cannot occur.

Note that your skin nearest the far infrared heaters can get reddened from the increased blood flow there, but this goes away within an hour or so after the sauna (and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable).

Dehydration and improper fluid replacement

Make sure to drink water and/or electrolyte replacement beverages before, during and after sauna use. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least a ½ cup every 15 minutes. Don't drink alcohol before or during sauna use (this is a big no-no), and avoid sugary drinks or sodas, as well.

Medical conditions and the sauna

Avoid sauna use completely in the case of :

• Stroke (type caused by bleeding into the brain)

• Severe aortic stenosis
• Recent myocardial infarction (heart attack)
• Unstable angina pectoris
• Lupus erythematosus, if you are on steroids (interferes with blood circulation)
• Brain tumors

Avoid sauna use completely unless under the care of a doctor with expertise in sauna detoxification in the case of:

• Multiple sclerosis
• Silicone implants

Check with your doctor in the case of:

• Your specific medical condition • Pacemakers (check with doctor and manufacturer)• Pins, rods and other implants, such as cochlear implants (but for sure don’t use the sauna if it causes you pain or other discomfort at the site of your implant)• Diabetes (for sure start slowly and monitor your blood sugar)

While the above are some of the conditions which may pose dangers through sauna use, definitely check with your doctor (or, better yet, a doctor experienced in sauna therapy) about your specific medication condition.

Are there dangers of the far infrared sauna for the heart?

Other than in the case of severe aortic stenosis, recent MIs and unstable angina…it doesn’t seem so.

Studies reported in mainstream medical journals have taught us that heart attacks (MI’s) are not associated with sauna use amongst healthy sauna users and that blood pressure doesn’t rise. Nor, apparently, does sauna us cause arrhythmias. In fact, high blood pressure may be lowered somewhat by regular sauna use. Read a lot more on sauna and the heart on our upcoming angina pectoris and sauna page.

Better yet — even in folks coping with congestive heart failure — short infrared sauna sessions have been found to be not only safe but helpful!

Medications that can pose a danger in the infrared sauna

Since certain medications can be affected by the increased blood circulation and increased sweating of body heating…it’s best to check with your doctor (or preferably a doctor knowledgeable in sauna detoxification) if your medication levels might be affected. Here are some examples of the types of medications that can be affected:

Medicines applied by skin patches (transdermal medication)

The absorption rate of a transdermal medication can change. With sweating. The adhesive may also unglue from your skin.

Insulin! If you’re a diabetic and your doctor gives you the go-ahead to use the sauna, he’ll also be telling you to check your levels at least at first to see how body heating affects your them.

Sauna can release residues of past medications

Minute remains or residues of past anesthetics, antidepressants, sedatives, chemotherapy or other medications you’ve used can exit from storage during sauna use. When one of these makes its way back into the bloodstream on its way to begin eliminated, it can exert the same effects it did when you originally took it! Learn more about this on our sauna detoxification page.

Past psychedelic drug use and the fir sauna

If you used LSD or other psychedelic drugs in the past, you may experience a full-blown “trip” as residues of the drug are released from storage in the tissue into your bloodstream again. Or you may have a flashback to an earlier experience. You’ll need to have a responsible attendant with you if you’re planning to use the sauna with this type of history. It would be extremely dangerous to have a trip while unsupervised in a sauna.

Longer term dangers of the infrared sauna

There are a couple of things to watch out for over the long run with home infrared sauna use:

You can deplete body reserves of one or more minerals and electrolytes.You can run toxins out of your system that cause you symptoms or trouble on the way out.

These are things that would only pose a problem to someone using the sauna heavily and regularly – mostly those people using the sauna for detoxification.

If your nutrition is complete and you hydrate yourself properly in the sauna, you’re not likely to create a mineral or electrolyte deficiency through recreational sauna use a few times a week.

But the minute you enter into a systematic sauna detox program, you need to commit to learning about and implementing an electrolyte and mineral replacement plan. It’s not hard to do and you can learn more about this on our upcoming sauna and detoxification pages.

Drugs stored in your fat can be pulled into your bloodstream in the sauna

Some chemicals we take into our bodies during daily living are overwhelming or difficult (or impossible) for our bodies to deal with and — because they are fat soluble — end up getting stored in our fat.

Any drug stored in your fat from past exposures, including, for example, anesthetics you might have been exposed to, can have affects on you as you mobilize them and sweat them out.

(If you’re like most people and you think back to all the drugs you’ve taken, and any operations you might have had, you’ll recognize that you’ve been exposed to a lot of drugs over the course of time!)

Depending on the drug, this can be one of the dangers of the infrared sauna, as well as traditional saunas.

This is why we believe that no-one should attempt to do a systematic sauna detoxification program on their own without really studying up on the topic…and following an expert’s protocol exactly. (Come back to see our upcoming sauna detoxification pages.)

Sweating out the bad stuff you’ve been exposed to—an example

It sometimes happens that in the course of a drug raid of a meth lab (when an explosion takes place) that a police officer can unwillingly inhale methamphetamine fumes. From the lungs, the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream and some of it can become stored in the officer's fat tissue.

Sweating detoxification programs (not many!) exist to help police officers get the chemical out of their system. During the sweating program the officers can experience full-blown methamphetamine “trips”. This happens when the drug is pulled out of storage in the fat into the bloodstream before it exits through the sweat pores.

Chemically sensitive people are more at risk

If you are (or suspect you are) chemically sensitive, the dangers of the infrared sauna related to toxins released from the tissues by heat will be far greater for you. You’d be best to detoxify under expert supervision.

William Rea, MD, one of the most knowledgeable doctors in the world in environmental toxicity and sauna detoxification warns: “Uncontrolled, too-rapid mobilization can have devastating effects on chemically sensitive patients.” On the other hand, chemically sensitive people can and do get rid of their toxic burdens through carefully supervised sauna programs. (Come back to see our upcoming Sauna Resources page with listings of centers offering sauna detox programs.)

More than 800 fire-fighters and policemen and -women that were poisoned at the World Trade Center 911 disaster site have been successfully detoxified through a sauna detox program in New York City!