There’s nothing like basking in the sun and enjoying the warmth. The benefits of sunlight are plenty. It helps with not only your mental health and circadian rhythm but your physical health as well. UV sunlight promotes hormone production and increases vitamin D levels. Infrared saunas provide some of the same radiation as sunlight, so you may wonder if they can provide the same benefits as sunlight.
You can’t get vitamin D from infrared sauna use since they do not emit ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. However, a sauna is a great way to boost your immune system and overall health through detoxification and triggering the body’s thermoregulatory response.
Infrared saunas produce infrared radiation that warms your body from the inside. It’s the same natural radiant heat from the sun. If you ever felt the heat from the sunlight go away after stepping into the shade, you experienced radiant heat! That’s precisely what the infrared sauna provides to your body, minus the more harmful UV radiation! However, without UV radiation, you cannot gain any vitamin D benefits from an infrared sauna.
Can Infrared Saunas or Red Light Therapy Increase Your Vitamin D Levels?
While infrared saunas do have many health benefits, they can’t increase your vitamin D levels because they do not produce ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light is the only type of light that can activate your receptor cells to start the cholesterol reaction on your skin to stimulate vitamin D production. The same logic holds for red light therapy, for the same reasons: no UV rays.
Unless you are ingesting vitamin D supplements or vitamin D-rich foods in the infrared sauna, there is no way it will boost your vitamin D level while you’re inside of it. The same thing can be said about infrared blankets.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Vitamin D is not actually a “vitamin” in the true sense; it is actually a hormone or, technically, a secosteroid. Vitamin D is essential in regulating your immune system. It aids in calcium absorption, which is vital for bone growth. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency has been scientifically linked to many ailments, including heart disease, multiple forms of cancer, depression, weight gain, and higher susceptibility to severe Covid-19. You can get more vitamin D by eating foods rich in it, or you can let your body create it!
Yes, that’s right; your body can make its own vitamin D by skin exposure to sunlight. Your skin has vitamin D receptor cells that initiate a chain reaction when exposed to sunlight. The sunlight kickstarts the receptor cells to convert cholesterol on your skin to vitamin D3. The best way to get vitamin D is to create it yourself through sunlight exposure; you can do this by being out in the sun for an hour or two a day. However, be careful. Too much sun exposure can lead to sunburn and increase your risks of skin cancer which is why proper sunscreen use is always recommended.
Another method to get vitamin D is to supplement with vitamins and eat plenty of foods with lots of vitamin D: oily fish, red meat, egg yolks, healthy breakfast cereals, and fortified milk. Saunas, however, won’t increase your Vitamin D levels. Now that we know about the effects of Vitamin D, let’s turn our attention back to saunas to see how they can recreate some of these effects.
Does Sauna Use Boost your Immune System?
It’s clear from the conversation above that Vitamin D has lots of great effects on your body, such as boosting and regulating your immune system. You can’t get vitamin D from a sauna, but can a sauna boost your immune system in the same way to give you some of those great effects?
By raising your core body temperature inside a sauna, you’re not just sweating, you’re simulating a fever event within your body. Since a fever is typically a component of your body’s natural immune response, it’s clear that routine sauna use can complement your body’s natural immune system in a way that gives you boosted results. The increased body temperature can kill bacteria or infections just like a fever can, and forcing this system to rev up and down can keep the body’s thermoregulatory system ready. You can think of this almost as getting your oil changed regularly.
Past this thermoregulatory response, the other effects of sauna use can boost your immune system in other ways. You may take for granted comments like sweating and sauna use “detoxifying” you, but what does this specifically mean in the context of boosting your immune system?
Do Sauna’s Really Detoxify Your Body?
A review of the literature around detoxification and sauna use demonstrates very clearly that increased sweating leads to an increase in the removal of generic toxins that accumulate in the body, such as heavy metals like mercury or lead, microplastic byproducts found in plastic containers, other chemicals that disrupt the body’s endocrine and hormone regulation systems.
While one study clearly demonstrates that a high volume of sweat is released during a sauna session (typically more than a whole pound, or half a kilogram!), several more (like this one, and this one) help fill in the picture of what toxins are removed, and why sweat it one of the best ways to remove them.
So, it’s clear that saunas make you sweat more, and the sweating process removes toxins. While some of these toxins may affect your immune system directly, others contribute to other health effects not necessarily regulated by the immune system. Does the sauna/detoxifying process boost your immune system? Maybe not directly, but it will surely boost your overall health, which is undoubtedly something you’re also interested in boosting!
What Toxins to Saunas Remove?
From heavy metals like lead, copper, and mercury (ingested from a high fish diet perhaps), to microplastics and other oil-derived plastic contaminants, sauna use can help your body push out all manner of generalized toxins. If you live in a high-smog city, or maybe you simply have a job in which you’re at a production site or other chemically messy environment, you may ingest these toxins like phthalates and BPA by way of polluted air or water. In fact, you may choose to smoke or vape, which introduces small amounts of toxic chemicals to your body. Sauna use addresses almost all of these generalized toxins.
How Long Should you Sit in a Sauna to Detox?
To detox in the sauna, the key is to sweat enough to really move volume out of your body. Based on the studies linked above, this can be achieved in as short as 20 minutes. You should use the sauna long enough to work up a good sweat, anywhere from 20-30 minutes. And if you want a better detox effect, work up to longer sauna sessions and, most importantly, make sure you have a sauna routine! Detoxifying your body one time will only do so much for you…if you’re going to the sauna multiple times a week, you’ll be removing toxins more regularly.