Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Infrared Radiation Bad For You?

Also Known As: IR radiation, infrared light



Short answer

The verdict on whether infrared (IR) radiation is bad for you is nuanced. Small, controlled amounts of IR exposure can have therapeutic benefits, including muscle relaxation and improved circulation. However, overexposure, especially to intense artificial sources, can lead to health risks such as burns, dehydration, and eye damage. It's crucial to practice moderation, stay informed about the sources of IR, and adhere to safety guidelines to minimize potential risks while enjoying its benefits.



Long answer

Understanding Infrared Radiation and Its Sources

Infrared radiation (IR) is one of the many types of electromagnetic radiation that exist in the universe. It falls between visible light and microwave radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, with wavelengths ranging from about 700 nanometers (nm) to 1 millimeter (mm). This means it has longer wavelengths than visible light, which is why we cannot see it with the naked eye, but it can be felt as heat.

IR is commonly divided into three categories based on its wavelength:

  • Near-infrared (NIR): 700 nm to 1,400 nm
  • Mid-infrared (MIR): 1,400 nm to 3,000 nm
  • Far-infrared (FIR): 3,000 nm to 1 mm

Each type of infrared radiation has different interactions with matter and thus has different applications and potential effects on health.

Sources of Infrared Radiation:

  • Natural Sources: The Sun is the most significant source of IR, and it is a natural part of our environment. Our bodies also emit infrared radiation, as do all objects with a temperature above absolute zero.
  • Artificial Sources: In today's world, there are many artificial sources, such as infrared saunas, heat lamps, fiber optics, IR cameras and night-vision equipment, remote controls, and some medical imaging devices.

Understanding these sources is crucial because they contribute to our daily exposure to infrared radiation. The level and type of exposure can influence the impact on our health. For instance, low-level exposure from natural sources usually doesn't pose any harm and is essential for certain bodily processes. Conversely, prolonged or intense exposure to IR, especially from artificial sources, might have different health implications, which scientists and health professionals continue to study.

Recent research provides insights into how IR interacts with our cells and tissues. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology reveals that NIR can penetrate the skin and may have beneficial effects on cellular repair and metabolism. On the other hand, excessive exposure to FIR, especially through high-intensity sources, could potentially lead to thermal injury. It's essential to understand that these effects greatly depend on the duration, intensity, and wavelength of the IR exposure.

It's also important to consider occupational exposure to IR, as some jobs may involve working near sources of IR radiation. Workers in glass manufacturing, metalworking, and some industrial settings could be exposed to higher levels of IR and should use protective measures to mitigate any potential health risks.

Regulatory bodies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provide guidelines to limit occupational exposure to IR radiation. Understanding these sources and regulations can help us navigate around IR in our environment and use it safely in various applications.

Differentiating Between NIR, MIR, and FIR: What Are the Risks?

Infrared radiation (IR) is a type of electromagnetic radiation that falls outside the visible spectrum. Infrared is commonly divided into three categories based on wavelength: Near-Infrared (NIR), Mid-Infrared (MIR), and Far-Infrared (FIR). Understanding the different types of IR is crucial as each has unique characteristics and, therefore, different risks associated with exposure.

Near-Infrared (NIR): NIR wavelengths range from 0.76 to 1.5 micrometers. This type of infrared is closest in wavelength to visible light and is used in various technologies such as remote controls, fiber optic communications, and some forms of therapeutic heating. While NIR is generally not harmful and can even be therapeutic in controlled doses, overexposure might lead to thermal injuries, particularly to the eyes. A study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology highlights that high-intensity NIR can cause cataracts and other ocular damages if proper safety measures are not taken.

Mid-Infrared (MIR): With wavelengths from 1.5 to 3 micrometers, MIR is mainly utilized in spectroscopy and environmental monitoring, as it is absorbed well by the Earth's atmosphere. The risks associated with MIR are relatively low for the general population; however, direct exposure in industrial settings without protective gear could potentially cause skin burns and eye damage. Experts from occupational health emphasize the importance of safety protocols in workplaces that use MIR-emitting devices.

Far-Infrared (FIR): FIR spans from 3 to 1000 micrometers and is well known for its therapeutic benefits, particularly in FIR saunas, which can promote relaxation and muscle recovery. Although FIR exposure is generally deemed safe, there is a risk of overheating and dehydration if FIR saunas are used excessively or without proper hydration. A review in the Canadian Family Physician journal advises users to stay hydrated and limit sauna sessions to ensure safe FIR exposure.

While the different types of IR have varied applications and associated risks, maintaining appropriate exposure levels is key to harnessing their benefits while minimizing potential dangers:

  • Always use NIR and MIR devices according to the manufacturer's instructions and wear protective equipment when necessary.
  • When enjoying FIR saunas, follow recommended session times and ensure adequate hydration before and after use.
  • Be aware of the signs of overheating, such as dizziness, nausea, or palpitations, and exit the sauna if these occur.

Risks associated with IR exposure largely depend on intensity, duration and the specific IR type. It is always recommended to consult with health experts or take safety training when using IR-emitting devices in a professional setting to minimize potential health hazards.

Thermal Effects of Infrared Radiation on Tissue

Infrared radiation (IR) is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is invisible to the human eye but can be felt as heat. It is commonly used in various applications, including heating lamps for pain relief, infrared saunas for relaxation and detoxification, and in thermal imaging. However, like any form of radiation, IR has the potential to cause biological effects on tissue, primarily through thermal mechanisms.

The thermal effects of IR on tissue can be both beneficial and harmful, depending on several factors such as intensity, exposure time, and the wavelength of the radiation. The interaction between IR and tissue leads to a rise in temperature which can affect cellular function.

  • Thermotherapy: At controlled levels, thermal effects from IR can be therapeutically used in what is known as thermotherapy. Heat can enhance blood flow, relax muscles, and provide pain relief. For instance, IR heat lamps are often used to treat muscle aches, rheumatoid arthritis, and to promote wound healing.
  • Tissue Repair: Recent studies have suggested that IR, particularly far-infrared radiation (FIR), might help in tissue repair by promoting cell proliferation and modulating inflammatory responses. The thermal effect plays a role in enhancing metabolic processes necessary for healing.

However, excessive exposure to IR radiation can lead to adverse health effects. These may include:

  • Burns: Intense IR radiation can cause burns, similar to thermal burns from direct contact with hot surfaces. These burns might not be immediately apparent as IR penetrates deeper into tissue.
  • Thermal Damage to the Eye: The cornea and lens of the eye are particularly sensitive to IR-induced heat damage, which can result in cataracts or corneal burns.
  • Heat Stress: Prolonged exposure to high levels of IR, particularly in occupational settings, can increase the risk of heat stress and related conditions, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

While the thermal effects of IR on human tissue can lead to negative outcomes, these are often the result of misuse or overexposure. Indeed, when used correctly and in moderation, IR can have therapeutic benefits. Nonetheless, it's critical to understand and adhere to safety guidelines regarding IR heating devices and exposure durations.

Research continues to evolve in this area, but current guidelines suggest minimizing unnecessary exposure and using protective measures when exposure is unavoidable. Empirical studies, such as those examining the relationship between IR saunas and heart health, offer valuable insights into the safe and health-promoting use of IR in different contexts.

Ultimately, respect for the power of IR radiation calls for a balanced approach to harness its potential benefits while avoiding possible risks. Whether employing IR for medical treatments, comfort heating, or any other application, safety should always come first, informed by the latest research and expert recommendations.

Infrared Saunas: Health Benefits vs. Potential Dangers

In the quest for wellness and detoxification, infrared saunas have gained popularity as a relaxing way to sweat out the stresses of modern life. The warmth you feel from infrared saunas comes from the infrared heaters that emit infrared light, which is experienced as radiant heat and is absorbed by the skin's surface.

Health Benefits:

  • Detoxification: By inducing a deep sweat, infrared saunas encourage the body to expel toxins through the pores.
  • Relaxation: The heat from infrared saunas can help to relax muscles and relieve tension throughout the body, potentially leading to stress relief and better sleep.
  • Improved Circulation: As the body's core temperature increases, the circulation improves, which can support healing and reduce inflammation.
  • Weight Loss: Some studies suggest that the increase in core body temperature may result in a higher calorie burn, similar to the effect of a moderate workout.
  • Pain Relief: Infrared heat penetrates tissue, joints, and muscles, potentially easing pain and reducing the discomfort of chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.
  • Skin Purification: The sweating process can help to cleanse the pores, potentially improving skin health and clarity.

While these potential health benefits have made infrared saunas an attractive option for many, it's important to consider the potential dangers as well. Ensuring responsible use is key to minimizing risks.

Potential Dangers:

  • Overheating: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to overheating, causing nausea, dizziness, and fainting.
  • Dehydration: Excessive sweating without adequate fluid replacement can lead to dehydration, which is especially dangerous for the elderly or those with kidney problems.
  • Medication Interference: Some medications may affect your body's ability to sweat or deal with heat and can increase the risk of adverse reactions.
  • Heart Conditions: Those with cardiovascular issues should be cautious, as the heat can strain the heart.
  • Risks for Pregnant Women: Pregnant women are generally advised to avoid saunas due to the risks of overheating, dehydration, and altering fetal development.
  • Impaired Judgment: Just like traditional saunas, the disorienting effects of extreme heat could impair one's ability to make decisions or operate machinery immediately after a session.

It's essential to follow the manufacturer's guidelines and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new health practice, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions or concerns. Moderation and responsible use are vital, whether you're exploring the benefits of an infrared sauna or any other health intervention.

Studies validating the benefits and outlining the potential risks of infrared saunas are ongoing. No definitive statements can be made without considering individual circumstances and underlying health issues. Hence, personal discretion advised by expert consultation is recommended in the pursuit of wellness through infrared saunas.

Long-term Exposure and Skin Health: A Concern?

The effects of long-term exposure to infrared radiation (IR) are an area of growing interest in medical research, particularly concerning skin health. Due to the ubiquity of sources of infrared radiation, from the sun to saunas to various electronic devices, understanding the potential impact of IR on the integumentary system - the body's largest organ - is crucial.

Infrared Radiation and the Skin: The skin naturally encounters infrared radiation as part of sunlight. Infrared A (IRA) radiation, which constitutes a wavelength range of 760 nm to 1 mm, penetrates the skin more deeply than UV light and can reach the dermis, where collagen and elastin reside.

Potential Effects on Skin Aging: Recent studies have suggested a possible correlation between IR exposure and premature skin aging, often referred to as 'photoaging.' The proposed mechanism is the induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the stimulation of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), both of which contribute to the breakdown of collagen and the degradation of elastin resulting in wrinkles and loss of skin firmness.

  • Study Reference: One study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that repeated exposure to IRA radiation caused a significant reduction in collagen production in the dermis.

Risk of Skin Cancer: Unlike UV radiation, IR has not been conclusively linked to skin cancer. However, there is a theoretical risk that long-term IR exposure could indirectly influence skin cancer risk by affecting the skin's immune function or by increasing the number of free radicals, which can damage DNA.

Thermal Damage: IR, being a source of heat, can cause thermal damage with excessive exposure. Microscopic changes in tissue can result from exposure to high levels of IR, potentially leading to inflammation and cellular damage over time.

Skin Response to IR: Some believe that IR may bolster the skin’s defense mechanisms through a mild and controlled elevation of temperature. This idea underpins the use of infrared therapies for potential benefits such as improved circulation in the skin and supporting wound healing processes.

  • It's important to differentiate between controlled therapeutic exposure, which can be beneficial, and uncontrolled, prolonged exposure, which has more uncertain implications for skin health.

Protective Measures: Despite the lack of consensus on the long-term effects of IR on skin health, taking preventive measures against excessive IR exposure can contribute to skin health. These may include using broad-spectrum sunscreen that can block IR, wearing protective clothing, and limiting the use of IR-emitting devices.

In conclusion, while there is evidence that points to potential negative effects of long-term IR exposure on skin health, the full spectrum of consequences remains inadequately mapped out. It's essential for ongoing research to continue to clarify these impacts. In the meantime, adopting a cautious and protective approach can help mitigate any potential risks associated with IR and maintain healthy skin.

Protecting Yourself from Excessive Infrared Radiation Exposure

While infrared radiation (IR) is a natural part of the environment and contributes to the warmth we feel from sunlight, excessive exposure, particularly to intense artificial sources, can pose health risks. To understand how best to protect oneself from overexposure to IR, let's explore practical strategies for safeguarding your health without compromising on life's pleasures and necessities.

Understand the Sources: Knowledge is the first step in protection. Common sources of IR include the sun, heaters, heat lamps, and some manufacturing equipment. Knowing where IR is likely to be present helps you take measures to minimize exposure.

Sun Protection: The sun emits a significant amount of IR along with ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are more widely understood as a risk to skin health. Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen that can block out both UV and IR light, and don sunglasses that filter out IR to protect your eyes. Seeking shade, especially during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., can also reduce your IR exposure.

Protective Clothing: When it's necessary to be outdoors or in areas with high IR levels, wear protective clothing. Garments with long sleeves, hats with brims, and fabric that has a tight weave can provide a barrier between your skin and IR sources. Some specialized clothing is even designed to deflect IR radiation.

Work Safety: If you work in an industry with high IR exposure, like glass manufacturing or metalworking, ensure that you're using protective gear. Face shields, thermal gloves, and IR-blocking goggles are key tools that can help prevent skin burns and eye damage.

Home and Leisure Safety: Infrared saunas are a popular wellness trend. While they offer health benefits such as relaxation and potential relief from muscle aches, it's crucial to follow guidelines. Limit sessions as recommended, usually between 15 to 20 minutes, and ensure the sauna is well-maintained to prevent excessive exposure.

Regular Eye Examinations: Because the eyes can be susceptible to IR damage, regular examinations are crucial for detecting any changes in eye health. Discuss any potential IR exposure with your optometrist or ophthalmologist to receive personalized advice.

In summary, while IR radiation is an unavoidable aspect of modern life, it can be managed with informed decisions and protective measures. Adopting these strategies can allow you to enjoy the benefits of warmth and technology while minimizing the potential adverse effects of IR.

The Balance of Infrared: When Is It Therapeutic vs. Harmful?

Infrared radiation (IR), a type of electromagnetic radiation, is a topic of interest in both health and wellness circles as well as in discussions about potential risks. It's essential to recognize that IR comes in different wavelengths, each with its effects. Broadly speaking, we can categorize infrared radiation as near-infrared (NIR), mid-infrared (MIR), and far-infrared (FIR), with NIR being the closest to visible light in the spectrum.

Therapeutic Uses of Infrared Radiation:

  • Near-Infrared Therapy: NIR is used for its potential to promote healing, improve skin health, and boost energy levels. Research suggests that NIR therapy can support cell regrowth and rejuvenation. A study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology indicates that NIR may have a positive effect on wound healing and reducing inflammation in the body.
  • Infrared Saunas: FIR saunas are a popular wellness tool to encourage detoxification through sweating and promote relaxation. They have been associated with cardiovascular benefits similar to those derived from moderate exercise. A review in the Canadian Family Physician journal extols the benefits of FIR saunas in managing chronic health problems, such as chronic heart failure and chronic pain.
  • Physical Therapy and Muscle Recovery: IR, particularly FIR, is used in various physical therapy settings to help alleviate muscle stiffness, increase blood circulation, and reduce pain. According to a study in the Lasers in Medical Science journal, FIR was found to help in reducing chronic low back pain.

Potential Harmful Effects of Infrared Radiation:

  • Overexposure: Excessive exposure to IR, especially without proper protective measures like eye protection, can cause tissue damage. Overexposure to IR can lead to eye damage, such as cataracts, and skin burns in extreme cases.
  • Thermal Injury: High levels of IR can raise body temperature and occasionally lead to hyperthermia. This condition, if not promptly treated, can result in heat exhaustion or heatstroke – both of which are potentially dangerous.
  • Long-Term Exposure: Chronic exposure to IR, particularly for outdoor workers or those using IR heat sources extensively, may have cumulative skin-aging effects and could potentially contribute to skin cancer risk, despite less direct DNA damage compared to UV radiation.

Balancing the therapeutic and harmful effects of IR requires careful consideration of several factors:

  1. Duration: Limiting the time spent under IR can mitigate potential negative effects. Therapeutic sessions, like those with NIR or FIR therapy, are usually conducted for a set period under controlled conditions.
  2. Intensity: The intensity of IR used in therapeutic settings is substantially lower compared to industrial or concentrated sources that might lead to burns or hyperthermia.
  3. Distance: Maintaining an appropriate distance from the IR source during therapy helps reduce the risk of excessive exposure.
  4. Protection: Using proper protection, such as wearing goggles in an infrared sauna, can help prevent eye damage.

It is evident that the health implications of infrared radiation can sway between therapeutic and harmful based on controlled application versus overexposure. Moderation, informed use, and safety precautions are key to harnessing the positive aspects of IR while minimizing risks. Individuals considering infrared therapy should consult healthcare professionals to tailor a safe and beneficial IR regimen.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, safety concerns exist when using infrared saunas for people with certain medical conditions. Those with cardiovascular issues, on medications that affect the body's heat tolerance, or pregnant women should consult health professionals. Prolonged exposure can lead to overheating, dehydration, and adverse reactions, especially if existing health conditions are aggravated by intense heat.

Yes, long-term exposure to infrared radiation, particularly Infrared A (IRA) from the sun, can contribute to skin aging. IRA penetrates deep into the dermis and can induce reactive oxygen species (ROS) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), potentially leading to a breakdown of collagen and elastin, resulting in wrinkles and loss of skin firmness.

Infrared saunas have been associated with several potential health benefits, including detoxification, relaxation, improved circulation, weight loss, pain relief, and skin purification. However, most claims are based on anecdotal evidence or preliminary studies, and more scientific research is needed to conclusively prove these benefits.

While everyday exposure to infrared radiation from natural sources like the sun doesn't typically require protective clothing, it is recommended to wear garments with long sleeves, hats with brims, and fabric with a tight weave when exposed to high IR levels or for extended periods outdoors. In professional settings with a high risk of IR exposure, protective gear, including face shields, thermal gloves, and IR-blocking goggles, is crucial to prevent burns and eye damage.

Ask a question about Infrared Radiation and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • thermal injuries
  • eye damage
  • skin burns
  • dehydration
  • overheating
  • impaired judgment
  • nausea
  • dizziness

Possible long-term side effects

  • premature skin aging
  • potential skin cancer risk
  • cumulative skin-aging effects
  • corneal burns
  • cataract formation
  • chronic tissue damage


  • enhanced blood flow
  • muscle relaxation
  • pain relief
  • cellular repair
  • metabolism boost
  • detoxification
  • stress relief
  • improved sleep
  • increased circulation
  • weight management
  • skin purification

Healthier alternatives

  • limited ir exposure
  • protective clothing
  • broad-spectrum sunscreen
  • controlled ir therapeutic use
  • adequate hydration

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-13-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 02-13-2024

Random Page

Check These Out!