When you’re out in the sun, you’ve probably noticed the heat of the sun’s radiation on your skin. If you duck into the shade, you’ll also find that it’s immediately cooler. Two things are happening here: ultraviolet light is damaging your skin, and infrared light is warming it. Since saunas heat your body, too, you might wonder if they have the other side effects of sun exposure.
You can’t get sunburn from a sauna because sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays which saunas do not produce. Even infrared saunas, which produce the same infrared radiation as the sun, don’t hit you with UV rays.
The only culprit that will ever cause you sunburn is UV light exposure. In fact, the only way to get sunburn is from UV light. Since traditional saunas, infrared saunas and infrared sauna blankets, and steam rooms don’t produce UV light, you will be entirely safe from sunburn. Although too much sauna use can be harmful, it’ll never be the cause of sunburn.
Why Can’t Saunas Give You a Sunburn?
Traditional saunas and steam rooms have important similarities and differences, but neither of them produce UV light. The only light in a traditional sauna would be lightbulbs that don’t have UV rays. Even dry saunas that use infrared radiation don’t produce UV radiation. Although they are both types of radiation the sun provides, infrared and UV radiation are different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Therefore, since saunas don’t produce UV light, you can’t get sunburn from them. However, other types of injuries related to sauna use are possible. Saunas can dehydrate you, cause heat stroke, or complicate pre-existing heart conditions with overuse. Additionally, you could get burned by saunas, but only burns from excessive heat and not UV radiation.
Where do Sunburns Come From?
Sunburn comes from being overexposed to ultraviolet (UV) light which is why people use sunscreen. Your skin’s initial response to UV light is to produce more melanin. Melanin is what makes your skin darker and “tan.” Suntans are how your body blocks out the harmful effects of too much UV exposure.
However, melanin can only provide so much protection before excess amounts of UV rays break down your skin and cause it to burn. This burn is known as sunburn, which turns your skin bright red and causes it to peel.
Severe sunburn can be excruciating, and repeated exposures make you more susceptible to skin cancers. Fortunately, UV light is something that is never produced by any type of sauna. So saunas can’t give you sunburn. However, if you’re planning to use the sauna and then hit the tanning bed, note that tanning beds really do create UV rays and can give you a sunburn!
What About Actual Burns in a Sauna?
Although it’s impossible to get sunburns in saunas, it is entirely possible to get burns in all types of saunas. Let’s face it; saunas can raise the heat to unbearable levels for most novice users and it’s very possible to touch the hot rocks or steam generation source, which will have a surface temperature that can burn you. The air in a sauna isn’t usually hot enough to burn you, but the heat source will be much hotter, so touching the heat source directly is the main worry for a burn in a sauna.
The heat generation method differs amongst the different types of saunas, but in all cases, one rule holds true: very hot things can burn your skin. You should remove any metal jewelry like piercings, necklaces, and rings in all types of saunas as well, since the metal can get hot enough in the sauna to burn your skin.
How to Avoid Burns in Traditional Saunas
Traditional saunas are heated with either gas-fired burners, wood-fire furnaces, or electric heaters. If you touch any of these heat-generating components, they can burn you. It is best not to touch them. Oh, and those hot sauna rocks that you splash water on to create steam? Don’t touch those either. The stones’ ability to instantly boil water into steam should be enough indication that they are scorching.
Avoiding Burns from Steam Rooms
Steam saunas or steam rooms produce a lot of heat too. The heat in steam rooms is maintained by a large amount of steam pumped into a room from a boiler. If you’ve even been in a steam room, you’ve probably noticed that the steam is warmer next to the valve it comes from.
Just as you might think, that jet of steam is much hotter at its source, and if you touch it, you’ll get burnt. Typically a type of cage normally protects the steam release area in steam rooms to prevent people from touching it, even by accident.
Can Infrared Saunas Cause Burns?
Infrared saunas heat your body’s tissues directly with infrared (IR) or far-infrared (FIR) radiation. IR and FIR do not directly heat the air in saunas and don’t really heat up other materials in the room too much (compared to traditional saunas).
They will make the walls warmer but usually not too high enough temperatures to burn you. However, you should still be cautious of touching things in infrared saunas in case they are hot to touch. Test the temperature first with a quick tap of the back of your back, and don’t full-on grab anything that may be very hot. Your risk of burns in infrared saunas is minimal, and your risk of sunburn in them is still zero.
Preventing Burns from Sauna Blankets
Infrared and far-infrared sauna blankets like the Higher Dose use IR and FIR radiation to heat your body. In fact, they use the same method as infrared saunas, just in a compact portable package. Infrared sauna blankets have their heating elements in direct contact with your body.
Their heating elements can get very hot, hot enough to burn you. Since they can reach temperatures high enough to burn your skin, sauna blankets recommend you wear a layer of cotton clothing to prevent burn. The cotton clothing provides a barrier between your skin and the infrared heating elements.
The cotton is enough to prevent burns from occurring and also captures your sweat. Wearing cotton not only prevents burns but also helps keep the inside of your sauna blanket sanitary. To prevent burns in a sauna blanket, always remember to wear cotton clothing that covers your entire body that will be in the blanket. Never go in naked – you could get burns on areas you haven’t even considered.
No type of sauna is designed to produce harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunburn is only caused by your skin’s exposure to UV light. Since saunas don’t make UV light, it is impossible to get sunburn from using a sauna. Saunas can cause other types of burns, from touching hot materials or super-hot steam, but never sunburns.