Should You Be Sweating to Help Your Fertility or Menstrual Cycle?
- Infrared saunas are becoming trendy as more celebrities sing their benefits.
- Infrared saunas use light to heat the body rather than the hot air or steam that traditional saunas use.
- More research needs to be done, but infrared saunas may provide legitimate health benefits.
The infrared sauna wellness trend has finally reached us normies, whether we're seeing it via spas and gyms offering the treatment or being bombarded by posts from wealthy individuals buying portable infrared saunas, such as Kendall Jenner.
One of these at-home sauna companies even promises its chambers can improve fertility, and others purport the ability to relieve menstrual cramps.
But can infrared saunas actually help you become more fertile? What—if anything—makes infrared saunas so much better than traditional saunas?
Why are celebrities raving about infrared saunas?
Jennifer Aniston told Shape Magazine infrared saunas are a "game changer" for her skin and after using them a couple of times a week right after the gym, she's noticed "real change" in her energy, sleep and skin.
The aforementioned Jenner was "so big on LED light therapy," her sisters purchased her an at-home infrared sauna for her 23rd birthday. Gwyneth Paltrow told W Magazine that for her, "wellness" means "sweating," which is why she sits in an infrared sauna "daily."
Because of all the rave reviews, I joined the likes of A-listers everywhere and decided to try it. Beneath the glowing red light, armed with an oversized water bottle and cool towel, I sat. In my swimsuit, sweating for almost 45 minutes, I watched "How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days" through the booth's glass and the sauna's speakers.
When I reached the part where Kate Hudson cries over Matthew McConaughey's rack of lamb, my cool towel was hot and I was so drenched in sweat, my periwinkle one-piece turned navy.
What's the difference between infrared saunas and traditional saunas?
Traditional saunas, or Finnish saunas, date back to Finland circa 1122, where the first evidence of this heat therapy were pits in the ground with stones and a fire.
These sweat pits have evolved from wooden rooms with smoldering rocks burned on a metal stove in the Industrial Revolution to electric stoves in the 1950s, when they began to become popular in the United States.
The first infrared sauna appeared in Japan in 1965. They use light to generate heat for the body and "infrared radiant energy, which penetrates deep into the body's tissues." They are much more "energy efficient and less harsh on the body" as they provide "a deeper level of heat penetration that helps relax muscles and relieve tension more effectively than other types of saunas," said Himali Maniar, M.B.B.S., an OB-GYN and fertility expert at Nisha Women's Hospital in South Bopal, Ahmedabad, India.
'The biggest risks of all sauna use are dehydration due to sweating and low blood pressure, which may result in dizziness or possible fainting.'
Whereas traditional saunas use hot air to "heat the room and then the individual, so the inside temperature is very hot and uncomfortable, infrared saunas heat the individual directly, allowing a more enjoyable room environment," said Felicia Terwilliger, founder of LIV Infrared Sauna in West Hollywood, California. "Infrared light penetrates the skin 2 to 3 inches into the core, sweating you from the inside out."
Traditional saunas operate at a higher temperature than infrared saunas, so it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to break a sweat in an infrared sauna, making sessions last about 30 minutes to 50 minutes.
Infrared sauna temperatures are typically between 110 degrees Fahrenheit to 135 degrees F, while a traditional sauna operates between 150 degrees F and 195 degrees F, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Traditional saunas heat the outside of the body more quickly, so you break a sweat within the first few minutes, making sessions about 20 minutes to 30 minutes max, said Tom Ingegno, D.A.C.M., M.S.O.M., a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and the owner of Charm City Integrative Health in Baltimore.
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Is there a link between infrared saunas and female fertility?
Research is lacking in this area. Infrared sauna sessions may help increase circulation, as heat causes blood vessels to dilate and expand, allowing blood to flow more freely, suggested a 2021 study.
"The increased circulation allows oxygen-rich blood to reach areas which may have previously been deprived," Maniar said.
Infrared saunas could help reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies while relieving muscle tension, which can help our bodies relax, said Amy Moreland, a fitness expert and founder of AMPD Strong, based in Pittsburgh.
Fertility issues are more common in stressed individuals because stress can lead to irregular periods and issues with ovulation, which can make it difficult to become pregnant, Moreland said.
Is there a link between infrared saunas and male fertility?
Heat does alter the production of sperm, a 2007 UCSF study suggested. However, this study seems to be more focused on hot tubs and how they relate to sperm count and motility than saunas.
Infrared saunas' ability to increase blood flow could improve male fertility since these saunas may increase blood flow in the testicles, which "creates an environment that is conducive for healthy sperm production and motility. Additionally, less oxidative stress on the reproductive organs means that there will be fewer free radicals in the area, reducing damage from oxidation and improving sperm quality overall," Maniar said.
Can infrared saunas help alleviate pain during your menstrual cycle?
It's a misconception women should avoid infrared saunas when menstruating. If you have a harder time with higher temperatures during your menstrual cycle, then you might want to skip the sauna.
"While it is true that some people may find the heat uncomfortable during this time, there is no evidence to suggest that using an infrared sauna will cause any harm or discomfort during menstruation," Maniar said.
Are infrared saunas safe if you're pregnant?
Most facilities offering infrared saunas do not allow pregnant women to use this service.
"Heat from the sauna can increase body temperature, which can be dangerous during pregnancy," Maniar said. "The increased heat of the sauna can cause the body temperature to rise too high, which can be dangerous for both mother and baby.
"If you are pregnant and considering using an infrared sauna, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider first."
There is only anecdotal evidence in Scandinavian countries where pregnant women use traditional saunas during their pregnancy.
"It would be unethical to study whether or not it was safe," Ingegno said. "Theoretically (only), an infrared sauna would be safer because the temperature is lower, and it would take longer for the mother to become overheated."
What are the risks of infrared saunas?
"The biggest risks of all sauna use are dehydration due to sweating and low blood pressure, which may result in dizziness or possible fainting," Ingegno said. "Certain cardiovascular conditions may improve or worsen with sauna use, so it is important to speak to your healthcare provider before starting."
If you already have certain health conditions, such as heart disease or are pregnant, you should avoid infrared saunas because there is an increased risk of developing adverse side effects. If you have sensitive skin, you may experience mild to moderate redness in the areas exposed to the heat, Maniar said.
Can you get cancer from an infrared sauna?
Infrared light may be more of a benefit to skin than not, a 2016 study suggested.
However, there are some potential risks associated with infrared light sauna exposure. Hyperpigmentation and scaling could occur due to repeated exposure at elevated levels, the Health Physics Society (HPS) reported. It may reduce DNA repair efficiency and promote skin cancer for those already at risk due to other factors.
There could be damage to the retina, leading to cataracts, due to elevated temperatures, according to HPS. More studies regarding the effects of saunas with infrared light are needed.
The bottom line
Can infrared saunas help improve male and female fertility, reduce stress, alleviate menstrual cramps and give you an excuse to watch part of your favorite rom-com? More research is needed on the subject.
Speak with your doctor, listen to your body and stay hydrated if you decide to check one out for yourself.