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How Hot is Too Hot? An Exploration Into What is a Safe Temperature Range For Sauna Use

There has been a lot of hype in recent years from celebrity sauna connaisseurs regarding the use of high temperature saunas. Individuals with large followings on social media, podcasts, as well as other platforms, have urged their audience to increase temperatures on their saunas with the explicit or implicit message being that the hotter the better, but is this actually safe?

A recent peer reviewed study published in late 2023 suggests that, in fact, there is a limit to how high the temperature in saunas should be while still remaining safe. So, before you get taken away by the star dazzled celebrities sponsored by saunas that can reach temperatures of 230 degrees Fahrenheit, make sure that you understand the research so that you and your family can gain all of the benefits from sauna use while still remaining safe.  

Saunas and other forms of heat therapy have been used by humans for thousands of years, and certainly long before temperature measuring devices as we know them today. Most likely our ancestors did not push the limits of their bodies to the point of harm, but rather understood intuitively a healthy range of temperature to induce the positive results of heat stress without damaging the body. 

Whether you are using an infrared sauna, a steam room, or a traditional sauna, it will be important for you to increase temperature enough to create a domino effect of incredible health benefits without overdoing the heat. Luckily, today we have thermostats, thermometers, as well as other measuring devices so that we can stay safe while we sauna. 

This article will provide you with the information ascertained from the most up to date peer reviewed research, as well as a guide to setting your sauna temperature so that you can support your optimum health. 

The Unveiling of Scientific Truths About Sauna Temperature: Extreme Temperatures May Harm More Than Help

As saunas increase in popularity, so does a wide range of important research performed at the highest levels to reveal the multitude of health benefits of sauna bathing. Alongside well-researched and peer reviewed journals comes a plethora of health claims from wellness influencers that may or may not be utilizing the scientific method fully. A very popular belief is that in order to get maximum benefits from a sauna the temperature needs to be very high:  In reality, the inverse is true. A healthy temperature range that stresses the body’s system enough to engage thermoregulation without overdoing high heat is ideal.  

The results of a study performed on 22 women divided into two groups was published in late 2023 by the National Library of Medicine. In this study both groups were using traditional Finnish saunas, but the temperature was set differently for each of the two groups. Both groups were in the sauna for 20 minutes. Here is what the study found:

“Exposure to a temperature of 80°C led to a significant increase in vigor with a simultaneous decrease in tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion. In turn, sauna bathing at a temperature of 120°C had an opposite effect on the above mood parameters. Vomiting and confusion were the main predictors of syncope that occurred in some of the surveyed women.” (1)

  • 80 Degrees Celsius = 176 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • 120 Degrees Celsius= 248 Degrees Fahrenheit 

It can be deduced that within the two extremes of the study that there is a healthy middle ground once individuals have adapted to the heat over a period of time. Most studies that use Finnish Saunas set the temperature between 80-100 degrees Celsius (176-200 degrees Fahrenheit). (2) To ensure that safety is maintained it would be best to set the temperature to between 170-190 degrees Fahrenheit when using a traditional sauna. This of course should be a temperature that is worked towards over the course of a least six weeks if saunas are being taken 3-4 times per week. 

The same study as mentioned above writes: 

“Sauna bathing is generally considered safe, and it is usually well tolerated by people of all ages, from children to seniors.” (1) (3)

Caution, however, ought to be taken with respect to children, pregnant women, and any individual with a health condition that may respond poorly to high heat. Even if you are in excellent health a sauna that is too hot may cause lasting damage to the body and brain. (1)

If you are using an infrared sauna instead of a traditional sauna you may be wondering what a healthy heat range for you will be. 

General Temperature Guidelines for Infrared Sauna Users as Compared to Traditional Saunas

Infrared saunas are heated using the radiant heat of the invisible spectrum of light called infrared. In contrast to a traditional sauna that uses convection heat to increase  the air temperature. Given the two distinct forms of heat a safe temperature range for an infrared sauna user will be much lower than that of a traditional sauna. 

A safe range for an infrared sauna (assuming the user is accustomed to the heat) is between 120 degrees Fahrenheit and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. In general, an infrared sauna should not be heated higher than 150 degrees. 

If you are going from a traditional sauna to an infrared sauna here is a basic guideline:

160- 170 degrees in a traditional sauna for 20 minutes will generally correlate to 120-130 degrees in an infrared sauna for a slightly longer period of time (30-40 minutes).

180-190 degrees in a traditional sauna for 20 minutes will generally correlate to 140-150 in an infrared sauna for 30-40 minutes. 

Ideally, each sauna user would be able to measure their core internal temperature rather than depending on the external temperature as each individual has a unique internal furnace or temperature regulating system. Your goal, if you would like to improve overall health and wellbeing by using a sauna (increased heat shock protein production, improved cardiovascular function, circulation, and so many other health benefits) should be to reach 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit and sustain this over a period of time per sauna session. This will guarantee that you are reaching an artificial fever to induce positive changes in the body from heat stress without damaging the body by increasing internal temperatures any higher than this. (4)

In order to attain the right temperature in the sauna for you, it is ideal to measure your own temperature rather than base it on the sauna’s temperature, but if you do not have access to a thermometer for inside the body then follow the basic guidelines above and always take time to work your way up your personal heat threshold. 

A Sauna That Is Too Hot May Damage The Body

Please remember that in spite of what some popular leaders in the field of wellness may be touting, it is possible to go too hot in a sauna. You will not receive more health benefits by using a sauna at 230 degrees Fahrenheit, in fact the inverse will likely occur. 

To re-affirm the words from the study introduced above: 

A 20 min sauna session at a temperature of 80°C increased vigor and decreased tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion. A sauna session at a temperature of 120°C exerted the opposite effects by inducing negative changes in the participants’ mental wellbeing. A temperature of 120°C in a Finnish sauna can induce symptoms characteristic of heat exhaustion and heat stress, including syncope, nausea, heavy sweating, fast weak pulse, high body temperature, and confusion.”  (1)

Please remember that there is a healthy temperature range when using a sauna if you would like to reap the many health benefits provided via heat stress without damaging the body. If you are unsure if sauna bathing is for you please consult a medical practitioner, and always stay well hydrated before, during, and after each and every sauna session. 

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