Infrared saunas have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to relax, detoxify, and potentially aid weight loss. But do infrared saunas really help with weight loss? Here’s a quick overview of the evidence.
Infrared saunas use light waves to heat the body directly, causing you to sweat and raising your heart rate like moderate exercise. Some small studies show infrared saunas may burn 200-600 calories in a 30-minute session. However, experts note that frequent sauna use may impede muscle gain from exercise. Overall, using an infrared sauna a few times per week will likely burn some extra calories, but not enough to produce significant weight loss without also following a healthy diet and exercise plan.
What is an infrared sauna?
An infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses infrared lamps or panels to heat the body directly instead of heating the surrounding air like a traditional sauna. The infrared light waves are absorbed by the skin, heating it up. This causes sweating and increased heart rate, similar to the effects of moderate exercise.
There are a few purported benefits of infrared saunas beyond relaxation:
- May burn extra calories and boost metabolism
- May help reduce pain and inflammation
- May aid detoxification
- May improve circulation
Because of these potential benefits, many people use infrared saunas hoping they will help with weight loss. But is this really the case?
Do infrared saunas help you burn calories?
Some research suggests that using an infrared sauna may lead to extra calorie burn compared to rest:
- One small study in women found a 30-minute infrared sauna session burned about 200 calories.
- Another study showed men burned nearly 300 calories in a 25-minute infrared sauna session.
- A third study calculated infrared saunas may burn up to 600 calories in a 30-minute session.
However, the calorie burn is highly variable and depends on factors like:
- The temperature setting
- How long you stay in
- Your body size and composition
Overall, using an infrared sauna a few times per week will likely result in some extra calorie expenditure. But the amount of calories burned is relatively small.
To put it in perspective, a 150 pound (68 kg) person would burn around 100 calories jogging at a 5 mph (8 km/h) pace for 10 minutes. Or they’d burn roughly the same amount of calories from eating one large apple.
So while infrared saunas can burn some extra calories, it’s not a replacement for regular cardio exercise and a calorie-controlled diet for weight loss.
Can infrared saunas boost your metabolism?
Some infrared sauna advocates claim it can boost your metabolism. The logic is that the sauna heats your core body temperature, which requires extra calorie burn to cool you back down afterwards.
There’s limited evidence that your metabolism may remain elevated for a short time after using a sauna. But the boost is minor and temporary.
One study found a 30-minute sauna session increased metabolism by about 50 calories over the next few hours. Another showed a slight increase in fat burning during the hours after sauna use.
While a small uptick in metabolism after infrared sauna use may burn some additional calories, it’s likely insignificant for weight loss.
You’re better off focusing on more impactful metabolism-boosting strategies like strength training, HIIT workouts, and getting enough protein in your diet.
Can infrared saunas help with fat loss?
Proponents also claim infrared saunas can help “melt” or burn fat directly. However, there’s no evidence that sweating in a sauna preferentially burns fat.
Sweating itself doesn’t burn fat — it’s simply water loss. You’ll gain back any water weight you lose after rehydrating.
The only proven ways to reduce body fat are being in an overall calorie deficit through diet and exercise. Some research does suggest saunas may help reduce waist circumference and body fat percentage — but only when combined with diet and exercise.
On their own, infrared saunas don’t directly target or reduce fat. The mild calorie burn may contribute slightly to a deficit to promote fat loss over time when paired with healthy eating and training. But the effect is small.
Can you lose weight with infrared saunas?
Based on the evidence, using an infrared sauna by itself will not lead to any significant weight loss.
The potential benefits for weight loss include:
- Mild calorie burn during each session
- Slight increase in metabolism afterward
However, the number of extra calories burned is modest. You can easily negate any calorie deficit from an infrared sauna session by eating an extra snack afterwards.
That said, when paired with a disciplined diet and exercise plan, infrared saunas may provide a small boost. Some research suggests infrared saunas enhance weight loss results when combined with lifestyle changes:
- One study in overweight women found using an infrared sauna 3 times per week for 4 weeks, along with diet and exercise, resulted in greater weight loss compared to diet and exercise alone.
- Another study showed 15 minutes daily in an infrared sauna for 2 weeks, along with diet changes, reduced body fat percentage in obese women.
So infrared saunas may provide some enhancement to weight loss efforts. But the benefit is likely minor and not enough to produce significant fat loss on their own.
Potential downsides of infrared saunas
While generally safe for most healthy adults, infrared saunas do come with some potential downsides and risks to keep in mind:
- Safety risk for those with certain medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes
- Risk of dehydration and overheating from excessive use
- May interfere with muscle gain when paired with strength training exercise
- Minor side effects like dizziness and headaches in some people
Additionally, some doctors note that frequent sweating from saunas can cause you to lose essential minerals like sodium, calcium and magnesium from your body. So it’s important to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes after infrared sauna use.
The bottom line
Research to date suggests infrared saunas can burn some extra calories and make a small contribution to weight loss efforts. However, infrared saunas alone aren’t an efficient or sole solution for losing weight.
The potential calorie burn is relatively low compared to vigorous exercise. Any boost in metabolism after sauna use is minor and temporary. And there’s no evidence saunas directly reduce body fat.
For weight loss, nutrition and exercise should be your primary focus rather than relying on infrared saunas. Saunas may provide an enhancement to diet and physical activity, but aren’t a replacement.
If you enjoy using an infrared sauna, there’s likely no harm in using it in moderation as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Just don’t expect dramatic fat loss from sauna use alone.
To lose weight sustainably and keep it off long-term, focus on being in a calorie deficit, eating nutritious whole foods, doing cardio and strength training, and making lifestyle changes to keep yourself accountable. Adding occasional infrared sauna sessions may provide a small boost when paired with these proven weight loss strategies.
|May burn some extra calories||Calorie burn is low compared to exercise|
|Some evidence it may boost metabolism temporarily||No direct fat or weight loss effects|
|May enhance weight loss when combined with diet and exercise||Can interfere with muscle gain from strength training|
|Relaxing and soothing||Safety concerns for some people with medical conditions|
While infrared saunas may provide some marginal calorie burn and metabolism boost, they are not an effective weight loss strategy on their own. Focus instead on consistent exercise, a calorie-controlled diet, and sustainable lifestyle changes for successful, long-lasting weight loss results.
Frequently asked questions
Here are answers to some common questions about infrared saunas for weight loss:
How often should you use an infrared sauna to lose weight?
There’s no exact frequency that’s been shown to produce significant weight loss. Limited evidence suggests benefits with infrared sauna use 3-5 times per week when paired with diet and exercise changes. But 30 minutes of moderate exercise instead of sauna use would likely provide more calorie burn.
How long should you stay in an infrared sauna to lose weight?
Sessions typically range from 15-30 minutes. Longer sessions likely result in more calorie expenditure, but also increase risk of overheating and dehydration. Stay hydrated and listen to your body. Don’t overdo it thinking more is better.
Do you burn belly fat in an infrared sauna?
No, infrared saunas do not selectively target belly fat. Spot reduction of fat from specific body areas is not possible. Overall body fat reduction only occurs in calorie deficit. But infrared saunas may help reduce waist circumference as part of weight loss efforts.
Can you replace exercise with infrared sauna?
No, infrared saunas do not provide nearly the same calorie burn or fitness benefits as exercise. The mild calorie burn from saunas is not comparable to what is achieved from cardio and strength training exercise.
Do infrared saunas improve cardio fitness?
No, there is no evidence that use of infrared saunas builds cardiovascular endurance or has the same benefits as aerobic exercise. To improve heart health and fitness, incorporate moderate cardio exercise like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming.
The bottom line
Infrared saunas can be a relaxing way to unwind, and in moderation may provide minor calorie burn and metabolism increase. However, they are not an effective weight loss solution on their own compared to traditional exercise and diet. Focus on sustainable nutrition, training, and lifestyle habits for long-term weight loss success, using saunas as an optional enhancement.