EMF Health Concerns & General Recommendations for Saunas
EMF Health Concerns & General Recommendations for Saunas
Historically, steam saunas seem to have been first invented and most thoroughly studied by the Finnish. Traditional steam saunas used coals, heated rock and steam to deliver the intense heat required, though nowadays the coals have been replaced by wood stoves, electric heaters, or carbon/ceramic heating elements. Some of the reputed health benefits include detoxifying from profuse deep-tissue sweating, muscle relaxation from the heat, cardiovascular benefits from increased blood flow while dilated blood vessels and increased heart rate. Some of the reputed health benefits derive from the idea that a person is essentially inducing a low-grade fever on their body, thereby killing off cold viruses and the like. The traditional saunas of the Finnish have no electromagnetic frequency (EMF) concerns. But, with the advent of the infrared sauna there are now EMF health concerns for saunas.
Definitions of the 3 Types of Modern Saunas:
Typically operates at higher temperatures (185-200F) and the humidity ranges between 12% (dry) to 30-40% when water is used on the rocks. Heating effect is done by conduction, convection and radiant heating.
- User controls temperature and humidity: can be set from mild to intense.
- Some users find more comfortable due to the humidity control it allows.
- Warm humidity can help with some respiratory issues.
- Heating element intermittently turns on to maintain heat
- 20-30mins to heat, more expensive models have a 10 minute heat-up time.
- Can take more maintenance (leave the door ajar to allow humidity out when done, if not risk possible wood rot/mildew/mold issues, exhaust ventilation may be necessary).
- Those with more fragile health/constitutions might find the higher heat and humidity more difficult to endure.
Use infrared heating panels to provide the warmth with no steam present. Heating effect is primarily due to radiant heating. Room is typically 110-130F and the panels induce heating by radiant action into the first 1-1/2 inches of skin and muscle tissue.
- Operates at lower temperature (110-130F) with ambient humidity levels, which can be easier to endure for occupants with more fragile constitutions. Considered to be a more mild heating effect.
- There is no warm-up time when compared to steam sauna heaters, so you can be bathing as soon as you are ready to step inside.
- Much easier to maintain since high humidity does not need to be accounted for.
- Possible closer proximity to the far-infrared elements and electronics being housed under the seat. Closer proximity of the elements generally equals stronger magnetic field exposure.
- Far infrared elements must stay on continuously when being used. MF exposure is continuous
Hybrid Saunas have both types of heating systems inside allowing the user to use one element at a time or both depending on the preference of the individual(s) using the sauna at the time. The far-infrared elements allow an occupant to experience a mild dry heating effect, or to turn on the traditional heating element and use water to add humidity for a more intense heating effect. Both elements can be used simultaneously so that the far-infrared element provides a heating effect until the traditional heater has reached its operating temperature.
EMF/EMR Health Concerns in Relation to Saunas:
In regards to EMF/EMR (Electromagnetic Fields / Electromagnetic Radiation) risks relating to modern saunas, there are 3 sections that are normally considered: Electric Fields (EF), Magnetic Fields (MF) and Radiofrequency Radiation (RF).
Electric fields are present when there is an electric potential present (Voltage) however these are easily controlled with proper grounding and assembly of appliances (in this case, the heater or far-infrared element). As long as the installation and wiring of the sauna is performed correctly, electric fields would not be anticipated as a concern.
Magnetic fields are present when an electrical appliance is active and using electrical current. Magnetic fields are proportional to the amperage strength and the way a device is wired. That being said, heating elements and far-infrared elements are typically high amperage and, depending on the method of internal wiring, can create high magnetic fields.
RF radiation is present with many of modern day conveniences as Wifi, Bluetooth, wireless speakers and other such devices for work or entertainment. Saunas traditionally do not have such high-tech devices present in them and as long as they are left off as ‘upgrades’ to the sauna, there should not be a concern. The heaters and far-infrared elements in saunas operate at low frequencies that exhibit themselves as electric and magnetic fields, but not in the high frequency levels of RF radiation.
These being the cases, the MF levels are the main concern for modern saunas. MF levels do drop off quick with distance from the source, and so typically the locations closest to the heating, or far-infrared, element are likely to experience the highest levels.
The concern regarding EMF/EMR exposure that many proponents have is that there has been circumstantial evidence that long duration high magnetic fields exposures have a correlative leukemia, cancer or other health related risk. The US guidelines do not recognize this circumstantial evidence as other countries have done and therefore the US has set the highest allowable exposure levels for EF, MF and RF, if they have set guidelines at all. As such, Healthy Building Science uses the EMF/EMR guidelines set forth by the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology (IBE) for our clients as they are more concerned about possible health consequences of these influences.
|Traditional Heater by Finlandia||Clearlight low-EMF carbon/ceramic element|
|1 inch distance||> 5 mG||0.25 mG|
|6 inch distance||> 5 mG||0.06 mG|
|1 foot distance||> 5 mG||Indistinguishable from Ambient|
|18 inches distance||~ 2.5 mG||Indistinguishable from Ambient|
|3 feet distance||~ 0.25 mG||Indistinguishable from Ambient|
EMF Health Concerns for Saunas & General Recommendations:
We recommend Sauna Works – Clearlight Far-Infrared (FIR) Saunas. After having performed research on their showroom models and having talked with the research and manufacturing staff, it was evident that they had made great effort into reducing the EMF/EMR and VOC levels for their VOC sensitive and EMF concerned customers.
The traditional Finlandia sauna that was tested had moderate to high concern levels of MF within 2’ of the heater. While it would be difficult to be within 2’ of the heater just due to the heat and humidity, staying away from this close area essentially makes a 5-6 person sauna a 3-4 person sauna due to comfort and MF concerns. [/table]
The Clearlight Far-Infrared Sauna uses carbon/ceramic heaters that have been arranged so that the magnetic fields generated by each element negated each other and the wiring has been arranged so that the magnetic fields from the wiring is minimized as well. These are high-output elements, so it really does make evident how well they have negated the magnetic fields through the care of their wiring and element arrangement. Since a person can be up near the FIR element without heat/humidity or EMF concern, a 5-6 person sauna will actually fit 5-6 people.
From the research of other FIR brands who have not taken such care with arranging the elements or wiring, their low/medium-output infrared heaters generate magnetic fields strengths at these close distances (1” to 6”) typically 50 mG or higher.
Sauna Works has several stand-alone models that are prefabricated, though they can work with homeowners, designers and contractors to make custom room arrangements and sizes. They will readily design and fabricate the walls and heating units to suit your space if you inform them of the size requirements and do this frequently for residential and commercial customers.
While the wood selection of the traditional Finlandia sauna was wider, the Clearlight FIR sauna did use FSC certified grade “A” Canadian Western Red Cedar that seemed of good quality and they do have a Nordic Spruce option.
If you are interested in a hybrid option for the humidity, they have a Combo Infrared/Traditional Sauna using Harvia traditional heater parts housed in magnetic-shielding. This does take up extra space in the sauna and does create some magnetic fields close to the traditional heater.
Their far-infrared saunas have the option for wired CD/DVD/audio, so there are not Bluetooth/Wifi related RF radiation concerns if you do wish to go with an entertainment package option. They also include a ‘color-therapy’ LED lighting option.
From an EMF/EMR concern, FIR-quality and occupant-maximizing space standpoint, we recommend the Clearlight FIR Sauna.
Sauna Works – Clearlight Infrared Sauna
2130 Fillmore St. Suite 282
San Francisco, CA 94115
Recommendation from Dr. Helena Weil, Integrative Health Practitioner, Medical Psychologist and Nutritionist:
Far-Infrared Saunas have been found to provide the benefits of traditional saunas and, unlike traditional saunas, because of their mild heat and humidity have been shown to be beneficial to those people with asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease and more. Asthmatics and those with claustrophobia can still benefit from FIR saunas by leaving the door ajar as the heat is due to radiant heat, not convective heat. There have been studies in Europe and Japan as well showing that sauna therapy confers cardio protection and immune protective properties. Sauna therapy has been used for the workers of 9/11 to great results in reducing their toxic loads where pharmaceuticals were not effective. Clearlight FIR saunas are among the highest quality FIR saunas on the market. Canadian Western Red Cedar is one of the best sauna materials for those with chemical sensitiveness.
General recommendations for use:
- Use for 20-30 mins, 2-3 times per week for health benefits.
- Before using the sauna use a rough towel or dry brush on your skin.
- Always take a shower (soap not necessary) after using the sauna to rinse off the toxins. They will reabsorb into the skin if no shower is taken.
- Occasionally changes positions in FIR saunas. Your core areas contain most of the toxic load of the body. Only sitting in positions where your back is facing the FIR elements reduces the effectiveness of the sauna therapy.
- Do not use for over 30 mins at a time unless directed by a doctor.
- Always use the buddy-system. Do not use alone.
- Do not drink alcohol or take medication before entering the sauna.
- Do drink plenty of water, before and after.
Websites describing saunas in general:
Websites describing health benefits:
Websites describing health risks:
Who is Healthy Building Science?
Environmental Testing Services at HBS
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