The Difference Between Red Light Therapy and Saunas

The Difference Between Red Light Therapy and Saunas

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Saunas and red light therapy are two clinically-proven treatments that offer a range of natural health benefits. They work well as complementary therapies, but rely on very different biological mechanisms of action to produce those health benefits.

This short article breaks down the key differences between Joovv red light therapy and near infrared vs far infrared, with a focus on how each works and what the benefits are.

Near Infrared vs Far Infrared Saunas and How They Work

The purpose of a sauna is to deliver enough heat to raise your body’s core temperature. This is done by either convection or with infrared wavelengths of light.

Convection Saunas: Traditional convection-type saunas deliver heat by warming the air inside the sauna. This is the hot, steamy setting that many people picture when they think of a sauna.

Infrared Saunas: More popular in recent years, infrared saunas don’t heat the air, but actually heat the objects inside the sauna room. Infrared saunas use charcoal, carbon fiber, or other types of emitting surfaces to deliver infrared heat. While many saunas are marketed as providing “full spectrum” infrared wavelengths, the vast majority of research supporting the health benefits of saunas is tied directly to the temperature, humidity, and treatment time under which your body is exposed to heat.

The most effective wavelengths, in terms of generating heat, are in the far infrared spectrum. We’ll cover this in more detail below—but in short, the purpose of all saunas, convection and infrared alike, is to deliver heat.

Near Infrared Saunas

Technically, a near infrared sauna is almost a contradiction of terms since near infrared wavelengths produce very little heat. High-quality saunas utilize far infrared, or IR-C, wavelengths that are much more effective at delivering heat, as shown in the graph below:

Therapeutic Range of Far Infrared Frequencies

You can also check out this in-depth article on all the differences between red light therapy and heat lamps.

Health Benefits of Saunas

All saunas work by inducing thermal stress on the body—but what does this accomplish?

There are several biological responses, which include increased heart rate and perspiration. A sufficient amount of heat also affects the body’s protein metabolism process—essential in all living things. A special kind of protein—technically referred to as heat shock proteins—responds only to cellular stress caused by heat. So by inducing heat stress on the body, these special proteins become activated—which leads to some interesting health benefits that are very similar to those gained through physical exercise.

For example, participants in one study sat for a 30-minute sauna treatment (at a humid 194℉) after 13 work sessions over the course of 3 weeks. At the end of the study, these participants experienced an increase of 32% in performance tests compared with those who didn’t use the sauna. [1]

While the majority of benefits from saunas are related to increased cardiovascular function, other studies have demonstrated benefits like improvement in chronic fatigue, decreased depression, and helping your body clear toxins. [2]

Red Light Therapy Compared to Saunas

The major difference between red light therapy devices like Joovv and saunas is their mechanism of action. Saunas rely on heat to produce biological effects, whereas red light therapy devices like Joovv produce almost no heat at all. Instead, a red light therapy device delivers wavelengths of healthy light directly to a person’s skin and cells, which can improve cellular function and support bodily balance. In simplest terms, a sauna makes you hot while a Joovv feeds your body energizing light.

How Does Light Therapy Work: Specific wavelengths of natural light have some amazing effects on the mitochondria in our cells, helping them to produce more energy for our bodies. Instead of using heat to induce a cardiovascular stress on your body—the way saunas do—red light therapy literally feeds energy into our cells with photons from natural light.

Clinically-Proven Near Infrared vs Far Infrared Wavelengths: When looking at the entire light spectrum delivered by the sun, a vast majority of wavelengths, including ultraviolet (UV), are absorbed very quickly by the outer layers of the skin tissue—and felt as heat through far infrared wavelengths. This is why we feel warmth from sunlight, and from other sources like fire and hot coals.

But there is a narrow band of near infrared wavelengths that can penetrate human tissue much more effectively, some of these wavelengths have a unique ability to boost cellular function and energy. A simple way to think of this process is that the photons in these wavelengths essentially charge your “cellular batteries.”

What You Should Look for in Saunas and Red Light Therapy Devices

In order to see benefits from a sauna, it needs to reach a certain temperature. Therefore, look for convection saunas that can sustain air temperatures between 170-200℉, the range cited in most published clinical literature. Alternatively, with infrared saunas, make sure to select one that provides an equal amount of heat using high-quality carbon emitters. Remember, saunas should provide heat as a form of therapy, so it’s important to understand the differences required for health benefits. Beyond that, be wary of additional unsubstantiated claims.

In our guide to choosing a light therapy device, we cover many device considerations in great detail. You can also take this short quiz to see which Joovv is right for you.

In general, look for a device that can deliver the right near infrared vs far infrared wavelengths and effective power/irradiance over a large treatment area. These factors will make all the difference in the world for the health benefits we mentioned above.

Light Therapy and Saunas—Friends with Benefits!

Saunas and light therapy are two effective therapies that support balance and health. Because saunas deliver energy in different near infrared vs far infrared wavelengths, there is really no effective overlap between the two therapies. They actually compliment each other quite well! So as you consider your health and how to improve your fitness and function, saunas and red light therapy both have a lot to offer, and go well together as complementary natural therapies.

Check out this page if you want to learn more about red light therapy. You can also see Joovv’s red light therapy devices and setups here. 



Sources and References:

[1] Scoon GS, Hopkins WG, Mayhew S, Cotter JD. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2007 Aug.

[2] Crinnion WJ. Sauna as a valuable clinical tool for cardiovascular, autoimmune, toxicant- induced and other chronic health problems. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Sep.