The Best At-Home Infrared Saunas, According To Functional Medicine Experts
If you're no stranger to mbg, then you know stress is a complex topic. That's because while we understand chronic stress can do our bodies harm, we also know small, strategic stressors can actually be beneficial.
The concept, called hormesis (which you can read all about here), states that periodic stressors will trigger a cellular response that may slow aging, better equip you to manage future stress, and enhance overall health. Case in point: infrared sauna therapy.
Compared to traditional saunas, which use some form of physical heat (wood or stones heated by fire, gas, or electricity) to raise the temperature, infrared saunas rely on infrared light, a wavelength invisible to the human eye that presents itself through heat.
To dig a little bit deeper into the benefits of infrared sauna therapy, mbg chatted with functional medicine experts who share their thoughts and the best at-home options to buy.
The best infrared saunas, according to experts:
The best infrared saunas, according to experts:
What are the benefits of an infrared sauna?
Infrared technology relies on light waves, so it can penetrate the skin1 and warm up your core temperature directly; whereas, traditional saunas warm up the entire room before the warmth even reaches your skin. Meaning in order to reach the same level of efficacy, an infrared sauna can stay at a lower—and more comfortable—temperature than its traditional counterpart (~140 degrees Fahrenheit vs. ~185 degrees).
So one major benefit, according to psychiatrist and doctor of osteopathic medicine Roxanna Namavar, D.O., is that infrared saunas are more tolerable to people sensitive to heat while still putting the body under just the right amount of stress.
"When we stress our hormones out a little bit, we get great results in the long term. It's a concept written extensively in medicine," functional medicine doctor and mbg Collective member Amy Shah, M.D., tells us. Exercise or intermittent fasting are two examples, Shah explains, noting that "saunas are another stressor with beneficial downstream effects."
Some of those benefits may include better sleep quality and improved energy.
And though more research is needed to back up these claims, one small study found that participants experienced an increase in melatonin production2 and better sleep quality following infrared light therapy, which ultimately led to greater athletic endurance.
"Studies have looked at the impact of infrared saunas on conditions such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia/Alzheimer's disease, headache, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and found evidence of benefit3," Namavar says.
While more research is necessary to bolster these findings, Namavar notes, based on current understanding, there are "no negative effects from utilizing infrared therapy."
If you're thinking about trying sauna therapy, we recommend chatting with your doctor to find out if it's the right tool for you. Whether your doctor recommends it for specific health reasons, or you're interested in saunas for the spa-like self-care benefits, here are some of the best at-home options on the market.
mbg's picks for the best infrared saunas of 2022:
Best personal sauna: Sunlighten Solo System Personal Sauna
- Space efficient
- Comfortable format
- Far-infrared only
The Sunlighten Solo System personal sauna was recommended to mbg by Cole and is a longtime favorite of functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D. "I have found infrared saunas to be very effective in reducing the stress response and creating balance in the autonomic nervous system," Hyman says in his Sunlighten review. "I have personally benefited from Sunlighten sauna therapy and feel it can be integrated into anyone's wellness plan."
These beds are "top of the line, super effective, and beautiful," Cole tells mbg. "Sunlighten saunas have been a great tool in the protocols I develop for [my patients] over the years," he adds. And he's not the only one. Experts like Dave Asprey and Dr. Amy Meyers give Sunlighten saunas their stamp of approval too.
Best Low EMF: Clearlight Sanctuary 2 Sauna
- Full spectrum infrared
- Fits two peoples
Recommended by Stillman, Clearlight saunas earn top marks for their low-EMF design. Electromagnetic fields are emitted by all technology, and it's one of the concerns tossed out by shoppers when comparing modern infrared saunas versus their traditional counterparts.
Clearlight accounts for this concern by block all EMFS, which are frequencies below 300 hertz, as well as ELF or extremely low frequency fields between 3 to 30 hertz.
Despite this difference, the saunas use both far-infrared light and a full-spectrum heating system. The interior contains an ergonomic bench, as well as ambient lighting (you can choose from one of 12 colors) to really get you in the comfort zone. And because sharing is caring, we suggest the Sanctuary 2 sauna—fit for two!
If you need a bit more space to host friends and family, you can always upgrade to one of the brand's larger indoor full-spectrum picks, such as the Sanctuary Retreat, which is ADA-compliant, or the slightly slimmer Sanctuary Yoga. Both offer enough room for four people, have removable benches, and incorporate full-spectrum far-infrared light.
Best portable: SaunaSpace Luminati Infrared Sauna
- Full spectrum
- Sleek design
- Not as comfortable as other formats
This portable option from SaunaSpace comes highly recommended by holistic medicine doctor Leland Stillman, M.D. The materials are hypoallergenic and sustainable. Plus, it's easy to break down and set back up, so it's not confined to one room. Their bulbs combine near-infrared light (which emits the most heat, without penetrating skin cells, to support tissue repair) and far-infrared light (which penetrates skin cells in order to raise the body's surface temperature and support cardiovascular health), creating a full-spectrum sauna with multiple benefits.
Best blanket: HigherDOSE Infrared Sauna Blanket
- Space efficient
- Far-infrared rays only
Functional medicine expert Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP told mbg "I've been using, and recommending to my patients, HigherDOSE's Sauna Blanket...no matter where I'm staying—I even take it with me to hotels!" Though the blanket only offers far-infrared rays (compared to full-spectrum), this is still a great option "if you are looking for something more mobile and lower cost," Cole says.
Community Perk: mindbodygreen readers can save 15% on their HigherDose blanket purchase with code MBG15.
Best Far-Infrared: Clearlight® Premier™ IS-1 Far-Infrared Sauna
- More affordable
- Low EMF design
- Does't offer full-spectrum of infrared light
If your budget is slightly smaller but you still want the luxury of a full-size infrared sauna, try this pick. Instead of full-spectrum light, it only offers far-infrared (saving you around $2,000). You won't get all three levels of infrared heat—near, mid, and far–but you will get the most important: far-infrared. Plus, like the rest of the Clearlight designs, it blocks all electromagnetic field (EMFs) and extremely low frequency emissions (ELFs).
- Obtrusive design
While this SereneLife sauna wasn't recommended by an expert, it earned a spot on our list thanks to glowing reviews and a more accessible price: "After several times of using this, it has really helped with my sore muscles. It's very relaxing and customer service has been extremely helpful," says one Amazon review.
"The sauna is amazing. I purchased it for recovery after my workouts and for relaxation. It heats up quickly and is comfortable to sit in," another writes. The sauna reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit and comes with a remote control so you can easily adjust the temperature and time spent in the heat.
Best splurge: Clearlight Outdoor 5 Person Full Spectrum Sauna Pros
- Can go outside
- Low EMF design
If you’re ready to go all out, this clearlight sauna has it all : seating for five, full spectrum infrared light, app based temperature control, and the ability to go indoors and out. “This is a quality build premium sauna,” says one reviewer. Another adds, “Installation was a breeze.”
Widely recommended by functional medicine experts, infrared saunas offer potential benefits ranging from improved sleep to enhanced endurance, not to mention general relaxation. If you're tight on space or are looking to for a cheaper option, a blanket or portable sauna might be right for you. But if you're ready to go all out, a 2 or even 5 person sauna will fit the bill.
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