Should You Buy an Infrared Sauna Blanket?
You might have spotted infrared sauna blankets on Instagram, as influencers and other users tout the many health benefits of this at-home version of an infrared sauna. But, as with any social media-driven wellness trend, that doesn't necessarily mean it'll provide you with all the advantages promised.
Here, experts weigh in on whether or not wrapping yourself in one of these ~hot~ products is worth all the sweat — plus, the best infrared sauna blankets to buy if you're interested in turning up the heat.
What is an infrared sauna blanket?
It’s essentially an infrared sauna — which uses infrared rays to heat the body directly — but in blanket form. So instead of having four walls and a bench for sitting, an infrared sauna blanket wraps around your body as if it's a sleeping bag that plugs into a wall and heats up.
Other than those differences, the two — blanket and physical sauna — are pretty similar. As their names imply, both products use infrared light to heat the body directly, thereby warming you up but not the area around you. This also means that while the blanket will be toasty on the inside, it shouldn't be hot to the touch on the outside. (Related: The Benefits of Saunas vs. Steam Rooms)
While there are a variety of infrared sauna blankets on the market, they're all generally the same in that they offer a range of heat settings so you can ease into higher temperatures. So, if you're an infrared sauna (blanket, or otherwise) newbie, you can start at, say, 60 degrees Fahrenheit and gradually work your way up to the max (which is typically 160 degrees Fahrenheit). Believe it or not, these temps aren't as high as those that you'd experience in a regular ole sauna — and that's the point. The more tolerable the temp, the more time you'll be able to spend sweating it out or the higher you might turn the dial, and, in turn, reap the supposed benefits.
What are the benefits or risks of using an infrared sauna blanket?
Infrared sauna blankets boast an ability to do seemingly everything, from "detox" your body to reduce inflammation and body aches to boost blood flow and mood. And infrared sauna blanket groupies on the 'gram are quick to second these supposed benefits. But, as with everything on social media, what you see in pics and read in captions might be a little, err, exaggerated.
And while the potential pros of these infrared blankets definitely sound promising, science doesn't entirely back them up. As of now, there's little to no research on infrared sauna blankets in particular, just on infrared saunas in general, says Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic's Integrative Medicine Department.
That said, research on infrared saunas does point to a few potential advantages. For starters, evidence suggests that when used frequently (we're talking, five times a week), these sweat-inducing treatments may help with heart function. This may result from a reduction in blood pressure, as well as in oxidative stress and inflammation. One small study on male athletes also found that it may help with post-workout recovery. Evidence also suggests infrared saunas may also alleviate chronic pain, including aches for those with rheumatoid arthritis. (In fact, Lady Gaga swears by infrared saunas for managing her own chronic pain.) Where the science lacks: anything having to do with weight loss and the idea the sitting in a blanket is just as good for you as breaking a sweat in a workout.
It's important to keep in mind that while infrared saunas may offer these health advantages, that doesn't necessarily mean the blanket version will do the same — though it could.
"Until a manufacturer takes the time and discipline to do such scientific work on their product, I would be cautious about accepting claims for one product (i.e. blankets) that are based on data from another product (i.e.saunas) and trying to claim equivalency between the two," says Dr. Bauer. "This is not to say that there may not be benefits from blankets, it is just that from a medical perspective, we can only respond to data that has been made available to other doctors and researchers in a peer-reviewed scientific journal." (Related: These Tech Products Can Help You Recover from Your Workout While You Sleep)
While science lays out potential benefits to infrared saunas, it doesn't offer much in terms of potential risks — other than a potential lack of efficacy. In fact, several of the infrared sauna studies say there were no adverse effects — at least in the short-term. As for the long-term? That's another TBD, according to Dr. Bauer, who says that the scientific community still doesn't know much about the long-term risks nor benefits of infrared saunas (and therefore, blankets).
Still, if you do decide to try out one of these sweat-inducing sleeping bags, it's important that you start small and listen to your body. "Most users will start with a couple of times a week at 15 minutes up until 60 minutes," says Joey Thurman, C.P.T. "Remember the point of these blankets is to get your body to sweat. Use your body as your guide."
So, should you buy an infrared sauna blanket?
If you're not a fan of heat and find it hard to breathe in rising temps, an infrared sauna blanket might not be worth trying. As for everyone else? If you're okay with giving a new gadget backed by minimal research a try, then just proceed with caution, and be sure to follow the instructions.
Thurman suggests looking for an infrared sauna blanket that's labeled with a low electromagnetic field (EMF) rating. While the research goes back and forth on this, some science has linked higher EMF's (i.e. x-rays) to cell damage and potentially cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health Cancer Institue.
Most blankets cost well over $100 and many are even closer to $500, so it is somewhat of an investment. And while again, it may help improve your health, science doesn't say it's a definite do-gooder. So, weigh the cost with what you're looking to improve.
Infrared Sauna Blankets to Try At Home
If you decide you do want to make the purchase, here are three top blankets to choose from:
HigherDose Infrared Sauna Blanket V3
Made of waterproof and fireproof polyurethane cotton (ya know, juuuust in case), this infrared sauna blanket has nine heat levels (all of which are delivered through low EMF) and a timer that you can set for up to one hour. What's more, it gets hot in about 10 minutes, flat. Whether on your couch or bed, this infrared sauna blanket covers your entire body except for your face for a total-body infrared session. That said, if you want to multitask (think: work while you sweat), you can easily keep your arms outside while the rest of your body heats up. When you're done, easily fold it up and stash it away or carry it with you on your travels.
Heat Healer Infrared Sauna Blanket
Use this infrared sauna blanket for 15 minutes or up to 60, when it will automatically shut off. For best use, the brand recommends laying a towel down inside the blanket (to collect your sweat), then putting the provided cotton body wrap on top for extra comfort. Set the timer and temperature and you're on your way to sweaty relaxation. (Related: Are Sauna Suits Good for Weight Loss?)
Ete Etmate 2 Zone Digital Far-Infrared Oxford Sauna Blanket
Let this bad boy pre-heat in five minutes, then lay down inside wearing a light set of cotton PJs (or other comfy cotton clothes) to protect your skin from the high temps and collect your sweat. Using the remote control, set the timer (up to 60 minutes) and temperature (up to ~167 degrees Fahrenheit) — both of which you can adjust at any time during your DIY sauna sesh. When you're done, just make sure to let the blanket cool before folding it up and storing it.