Scott Nelson

The Differences Between Red Light Therapy and Saunas

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 traditional saunas, with a focus on how each works and what the benefits are.

Types of 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 many picture when they think of a sauna (nude Scandinavians optional).

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.

What About 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:

Best Wavelengths in Sauna are Mid and Far Infrared

What About the Sauna Space?

We heard this question enough to write a whole post about the differences between Joovv and Sauna Space. The short version is that the Sauna Space is a type of infrared heat lamp, which is a totally different (and less clinically effective) than red light therapy.

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—respond 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 natural light directly to your skin and cells. In simplest terms, a sauna makes you hot while a Joovv feeds your body energizing natural light.

How Does Light Therapy Work: The benefits of light therapy relate to how light energy impacts the body at the cellular level. That link takes you to a detailed post of the molecular science behind red light therapy. The top-level summary is this:

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 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. This is why we feel warmth from sunlight, and from other sources like fire and hot coals.

But there is a narrow band of wavelengths that can penetrate human tissue much more effectively, and scientists have discovered that 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.”

Natural Health Benefits: The improvements in cellular function and energy levels generated by clinical red light therapy (like with a Joovv) have been shown to provide a wide range of health and fitness benefits, including improved skin health, enhanced muscle recovery, reduced joint pain, increased male fertility, and even fat loss and improved sleep

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. But in short, look for a device that can deliver the right 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 clinically-proven therapies that offer natural health benefits. Because saunas deliver energy in different forms and 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 complimentary natural therapies.

Scientific Sources and Medical 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;10(4):259-62. Epub 2006 Jul 31.

[2] Crinnion WJ. Sauna as a valuable clinical tool for cardiovascular, autoimmune, toxicant- induced and other chronic health problems. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Sep;16(3):215-25.

Joovv light therapy products are indicated for use in the relief of muscle and joint pain, including arthritis and muscle spasm pain, and increasing of blood circulation, and relaxation of muscles. The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to support the safety or effectiveness of Joovv devices, or diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It's not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.

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