An infrared sauna blanket might seem like a good option if you’re looking to upgrade your at-home wellness routine. Cutting out the need to book appointments or travel, this sleeping bag-style contraption can make it easier to access the benefits of a sweating session, especially if you have a disability or health condition keeping you at home. Not to mention, if you’re concerned about the lack of privacy in a public sauna, you can enjoy the same benefits without having to leave your house.
The benefits of sweating have long been celebrated, with sweat lodge junkies boasting clearer skin, better circulation and uplifted moods from their sauna sessions. But how many of these benefits are backed by evidence? And are there any risks involved in the use of sauna blankets or the far-infrared technology they employ?
What is an infrared sauna blanket?
An infrared sauna blanket uses far-infrared technology to heat the body from the inside, causing a sweating response as you would experience in a very hot room like a sauna. This ‘dry sauna’ method requires you to wear loose clothing and fold yourself into what looks like a giant sleeping bag. After a ten minute preheat, the blanket is ready to use, and you simply slip inside and let the far-infrared technology warm your body up to the point that it begins to sweat.
How does an infrared sauna blanket work?
Most infrared sauna blankets recommend you wear loose, comfortable clothing made of natural fibers in order to keep yourself comfortable while using them. This clothing will absorb most of the sweat you produce, keeping clean-up of your blanket minimal, and serving as a barrier between your skin and the blanket.
The recommended temperature to start with is 158°F (65-70°C) for no more than 30 minutes (although some models recommend you start even lower depending on your tolerance). You can build up to a longer session, and see how you feel at higher temperatures. Most blanket models top out at 178°F (80°C) and recommend you do not exceed 60 minutes at a time.
Dr. Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics, explains how infrared blankets work in comparison to a traditional sauna. “Traditional saunas work by essentially sitting in a small space with four walls and a bench,” he says. “You start sweating almost immediately and the heat therapy helps the body rid itself of toxins. An infrared sauna blanket plugs into a wall, heats up and you wrap the blanket around your body. Both a traditional sauna and a sauna blanket work much in the same way in that they heat the body directly, thereby warming you up but not the area around you.”
What are the benefits of an infrared sauna blanket?
Research indicates that sauna therapy can have a positive impact on chronic conditions, treatment of pain and improvement in overall health, with particularly positive results for infrared saunas in studies focused on cardiovascular health. Other 2018 research has found that infrared sweating treatments have the potential to improve cardiac function in the short-term. Using your infrared sauna blanket a few times a week might help to improve your cardiovascular health, as your heart rate increases when using these dry saunas, much as it would while doing a Pilates abs workout or an elliptical workout for weight loss.
However, Perry says that any claims that these blankets cause weight loss or metabolic increase are a myth. “If you weigh yourself after, you will probably find you have lost a bit of weight, however this will only be the water you’ve lost through sweating which you’ll recoup as soon as you rehydrate,” he says. “They also don’t speed up your metabolism or burn any fat despite raising the heart rate.”
Research has shown that most people use saunas to aid relaxation. The private relaxation time offered by at-home infrared sauna blankets might give users respite from their busy days, with the convenient benefit of taking a few minutes to set up before enjoying.
“If it does help you to unwind and feel better then it can have personal benefits to some,” says Perry. Alternatively, why not learn how to meditate to help you to switch off?
Infrared sauna blankets: are there any risks?
Research suggests that infrared sauna blankets are safe to use for most of the population. However, if you are experiencing a complicated pregnancy, particularly toxemia, then it is advised you don’t use any sort of sauna. Despite the benefits of saunas to cardiovascular health, evidence indicates that it is unwise to use a sauna if you have unstable heart conditions.
All saunas carry a risk for dehydration, with some people reporting dizziness or headaches after extended use. It is advisable to keep a bottle of water nearby when using your infrared sauna blanket, and come out of it if you begin to feel lightheaded. Check out our guide to the best water bottle to keep you hydrated.
Studies have also indicated that consumption of alcohol, combined with the intense heat of the sauna, may increase risk of hypotension, arrhythmia and sudden death. While it may be tempting to enjoy a glass of wine while having your self-care time in the sauna, it’s recommended you wait until you are done with your session and your heart rate has returned to normal before enjoying anything alcoholic.
Lou Mudge is a Health Writer at Future Plc, working across Fit&Well, Coach, LiveScience, T3, TechRadar and Tom's Guide. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health and is eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody.
Multiple diagnoses in her early twenties sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavors and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health. You can find her on Instagram at @loulouapril
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