The Best Near Infrared Incandescent 250W Heat Lamps for 2023 (and beyond)!

The Best Near Infrared Incandescent 250W Heat Lamps for 2023 (and beyond)!

What is the best 250 Watt Near Infrared Incandescent Heat Lamp? This updated 2023 review includes more brands of the most popular bulbs, advanced analysis, and new high tech measurements!

The popularity of near-infrared therapy has rapidly increased in recent years, especially from recent YouTube videos that claim it helps reduce inflammation for a recent viral outbreak of unknown origin, and helps reduce neuroinflammation.

As well, a popular new study showed Near-Infrared light stimulates subcellular (a.k.a. extrapineal) melatonin production.[8] Which is not only a hormone for sleep, but an important and powerful antioxidant.

Infrared Heat Lamps are often used for purposes such as workout recovery, skin health, energy, circulation, wound healing, and more!

These types of heat lamps are also made into the popular DIY Near-Infrared Sauna! This was popularized by Dr. Lawrence Wilson’s book and website. And you can find some other DIY guides on Quantified Bob’s website and from the Certified Saunas website.

DIY infrared heat lamp saunas can promote sweating, detox, and cardiovascular health! And you can save a lot of money by using affordable bulbs that we recommend in this blog.

It is good to note that although general-service incandescent lighting are being banned in the USA by 2/28/2023, that it seems heat lamps will be excluded from the ban and still be available for the foreseeable future. So no need to stock up… yet!

Precaution: These Incandescent Heat Lamps are much hotter than LED Red Light therapy. You cannot touch the bulbs for risk of burns, you must use them at a sufficient distance away to not overheat the skin, and consider putting a metal mesh in front of them in case they shatter.

Are 250W Incandescent IR Heat Lamps also Photobiomodulation?

Incandescent bulbs are a cheap, simple way to implement red and near infrared light therapy. However, a more recent scientific term for the research is called Photobiomodulation.

Photobiomodulation (PBM) is the study of the non-thermal interactions of light and biology. One article notes that this definition specifically excludes any heating devices like NIR heat lamps:

"The use of this term is key, as it distinguishes photobiomodulation therapy, which is nonthermal, from the popular use of light-based devices for simple heating of tissues as can be accomplished using near-infrared (NIR) lamps" [1]

Red and Near-Infrared light tends to be the most widely studied wavelengths for photobiomodulation due to their safety, effectiveness, therapeutic value, and penetration into the body.

Wavelengths from about 600nm to 1100nm are typically considered the optical therapeutic window where these wavelengths penetrate deeper into the body and activate several mechanisms that improve cellular and mitochondrial function.

"Red light or near-infrared light (NIR) are the most commonly used wavelengths in PBM (600–1100 nm)" [2]

However, several studies observe PBM effects from longer-wavelength Mid-Infrared and Far-Infrared.[3] Even at sufficiently low intensities that are non-thermal, there are often mechanisms like producing EZ Water that confer the PBM benefits.

One study using Carbon Arc incandescent lamps for wound healing stated the following about the effects of broad-spectrum incandescent therapy:

"The emitted light energy and heat directly act on the human body and are rapidly absorbed by the skin and subcutaneous tissue, thereby generating thermal and photochemical effects.
...

Compared with the low level laser with its narrow spectrum and monochromatic light source, the carbon arc is a broad-spectrum light source that may provide the therapeutic effect of integrated light." [5]

We need to appreciate that incandescent lamp therapy is not the same as PBM and LLLT, and the effects of combined light and heat are different than applying light alone like in PBM. It is generally accepted that incandescent therapy is beneficial, but we cannot oversimplify it to just it's basic components. It should be studied and considered as a whole.

Spectrum of Incandescent Heat Lamps

250W Incandescent Heat Lamps emit a broad spectrum as defined by Plank’s Laws. It is often difficult to measure the entire spectrum directly, but Plank’s theories have been widely accepted as being an accurate depiction of incandescent radiation for over 100 years.

One study managed to use 3 different spectrometers to measure the range of a standard incandescent bulbs, and even then, they only measured from 300nm to 2500nm. [4] Which the curve does resemble what Plank’s theory tells us.

clear infrared incandescent infrared heat lamp wavelengths spectrum

However, Plank’s equation would be applicable to a standard clear incandescent bulb. The red coating used on these incandescent bulbs modify the spectrum by blocking the blue and green light.

Here is the spectrum we calculated by combining Planks equations with our measurements of the red-coated heat lamps later in this review.

Red infrared 250w heat lamp nir ir wavelengths spectrum

So, we can see from this chart that about 23% of the spectrum from a Red 250W IR Heat Lamp is in the ideal 600nm-1100nm therapeutic range for photobiomodulation.

Unfortunately, as we discussed in a previous blog, these wavelengths suffer high reflection from the skin and only confer deep penetration when Laser or LED devices are held in contact with the skin. Which, you cannot do with a heat lamp because you would get burned.

Contrary to popular belief, the real workhorse of benefits from these incandescent heat lamps is the 77% of the spectrum that is 1100nm+. These wavelengths get superficially absorbed by the water in the skin, leading to heating and the EZ water mechanism effects. This is key for sauna efficiency since you want that heating effect on the body.

As well we can calculate the Near Infrared (IR-A) region of the red incandescent bulb spectrum from 780nm to 1400nm is about 38% of the spectral intensity. Which this is the traditional range used in physics to define Near Infrared (IR-A), not necessarily relating to biological effects.

It is important to appreciate the benefits of the entire spectrum of exposure, and realize there has been too much focus on the “PBM wavelengths” that are poorly absorbed and highly reflected from the skin with non-contact treatment.

Bulbs We Tested For This Review:

Spoiler alert: these are listed in order of our opinion and analysis from best (1) to worst (8).

  1. GE
  2. Therabulb
  3. Feit Electric
  4. Philips
  5. Satco
  6. Halco
  7. Westinghouse
  8. RubyLux
  9. SaunaSpace*

*SaunaSpace automatically gets the lowest ranking because they are too expensive.

**note, we have no affiliation with any of these brands, and purchased these bulbs for testing purposes.**

Where do you get Near infrared 250W heat lamps?

Here is where we found the ones we reviewed (click the highlighted word for hyperlink):

So we can see there are many places to purchase these bulbs from.

Hot Spots from Heat Lamps:

One major problem is light uniformity was not consistent for many of the bulbs. The bulbs have a “shadow” in the center of the target area, and a ring of a hot spot surrounding the shadow. This can be inconvenient for trying to use them for consistent dosing.

So, the primary ranking for this review is based on the light uniformity more than any other factor. The lamps with the best concentration of light in the center predictably have higher intensity measurements.

incandescent heat lamp beam angle light intensity

The Philips Bulb (left) has a wider beam spread and more pronounced shadow in the middle. The GE Bulb (right) has a narrower beam spread and more concentrated light in the middle.

If you want a red heat lamp outside of what we have reviewed, you can do a basic check yourself by aiming it at a wall and observing if it has a shadow pattern as we describe. But it should not really be a dealbreaker anyway.

Intensity of Incandescent Infrared Heat Lamps:

Measuring red light therapy intensity accurately has been elusive in recent years.

Many self-proclaimed “experts” and brands have erroneously used cheap solar power meters. Which solar power meters rely on photodiodes that have limited narrow wavelength ranges of measurements and are calibrated to estimate sunlight intensity, measuring only Red and NIR gives falsely high readings.

A Thermopile Power meter is traditionally used to measure broadband incoherent incandescent sources and is more reliable for higher powered heat sources. The concept was invented in 1831 by Macedonio Melloni, long before the invention of the laser in the 1960. Although many modern Optical Power Meters are mislabeled as laser power meters, leading to some confusion about their application.

Thermopile power meters were commonly used for measuring Carbon Arc and Xenon lamps, which were the incandescent predecessors that were used for therapy a long time ago. Like these three studies mention the usage of thermopile power meters for incandescent sources. [5][6][7]

Here is one quote:

“Using a thermopile power meter allowed the power output of the carbon arc lamp to be monitored before, during, and after the study."[5]

With our new VLP-2000-3W from Beijing Ranbond Technology Co., Ltd. on Alibaba; we can perhaps be the first in the industry to offer accurate intensity measurements for incandescent heat lamps! Now we can't guarantee the absolute accuracy of this tool either, but it is a small step forward for this industry to pioneer finding better tools and treating heat lamps like medical devices for proper phototherapy dosing.

Thermopile power meter for intensity infrared red light therapy led incandescent

This meter has a mostly flat spectral absorption from 355nm to 10,600nm; which is what makes it ideal to measure and represent broad spectrum incoherent light from incandescent or LED sources.

Intensity Measurements of NIR Heat Lamps:

The intensity measurements from the thermopile represent the entire spectrum from the incandescent bulb. As well we will report the milliwatts (mW) that our sensor displays, but then also divide it by the sensor area to estimate the intensity (the sensor area is 3.14159).

So when we want to know the popular photobiomodulation range from 600nm-1100nm, we multiply the result by the 23% factor from the spectral analysis we did earlier. This should give a good approximation of the intensity in popular PBM wavelength range.

These measurements were taken at 18 inches away from the bulbs and the sensor at the center point from the bulb. This means if the bulbs are casting a big shadow in the middle, it will seem to be emitting less intensity.

Brand

milliWatts

Total Intensity mW/cm^2

Calculated 600nm-1100nm intensity (mW/cm^2)

Therabulb

264

84

 18.5

GE

248

79

 17.4

Saunaspace Thermalight

176

56

 12.3

Feit Electric

108

34

 7.6

Philips

104

33

 7.3

Rubylux

76

24

 5.3

Westinghouse

72

23

 5.0

Satco

68

22

 4.8

Halco

68

22

 4.8

Although all the bulbs consume similar electrical power and theoretically are all emitting the same total optical power, the measurement at the center point shows how the light uniformity plays a big role. Having a big shadow in the middle led to many bulbs having seeminly low intensity with this method of measurement.

If you want more concentrated single-bulb targeted treatments, then you would choose one of the top 3. All of the other ones would be fine for a multiple-bulb setup or sauna because the overlapping rings of hotspots should “fill in” the shadows and ensure more coverage. The Feit and Philips brands emit a good balance of intensity and coverage area and are great for any purpose.

Spectrum of Incandescent Bulbs

With our HopooColor 350-SF we can measure the spectrum from 350-1100nm from each of the bulbs. We normalized the curves so they all fit on the same graph, and we are just comparing the relative spectrum.

red near infrared 250w heat lamp bulb light therapy photobiomodulation sauna spectrum

We can see how the Halco, Therabulb, and SaunaSpace Thermalight all deliver the optical illusion of a deeper red by blocking more orange light in the beginning. This is an asthetically pleasing result, but would not theoretically alter the benefits much.

The irregular squiggles on the graph at 950nm+ would likely be more of a failure of the measurement tool, and not represent the actual spectrum. A much wider range spectrometer would need to be used to properly measure the full spectrum.

But we can confirm that all of these bulbs are emitting essentially the same spectrums, with small variances based on the tint of the glass.

Conclusion:

All 250W Near-Infrared heat lamps with a red coating are fundamentally the same.

We consider that all of these bulbs in this review are the best, and the performance difference between the bottom-ranked ones to the top-ranked is only marginal. If you happen to have a bottom-ranked one already, it is not worth throwing out to replace for a top-ranked one. If you are shopping and can only find one of our bottom tier units, get it!

The only difference we found was in the optics of how the light spreads. Some lamps had wider spreads and more of a shadow in the middle, while others were more concentrated in the center - perhaps explaining why some brands claimed to have defied physics to make their lamps more powerful. When really it could be simple optics. We would like to see better diffusers in the front of these lamps like how many incandescent flood lights use, which would improve beam uniformaity and maybe even be easier on the eyes.

Don't fall prey to fancy marketing of medical claims, magical spectrums that defy the basic laws of physics, or overpriced products giving the illusion of superiority.

A generic-looking GE Bulb can perform even better than most of the brands with fancy packaging. And remember this is the same GE that makes aircraft engines and GE has been producing light bulbs for over 130 years. So if anyone deserves brand recogniton, it is them.

Truly, the only thing you should avoid is heat lamps labeled as “Shatterproof” or with a special coating that prevents shattering. That usually uses PTFE (aka Teflon), PFA, or Silicone which is a nice concept to prevent glass shards when they break, but people are concerned the plastic coating would off-gas due to the extreme heat.

250W infrared heat lamp PTFE Teflon Silicone Shatterproof dangers

If you can find alternative brands other than the ones we reviewed, as long as they do not use a “shatterproof” plastic coating, then basically any red 250W incandescent bulb can be equivalent.

So hopefully this helps explain the science, make it easier to find incandescent heat lamps, and learn some tips for evaluating them for shadows and uniformity.

References:

[1]

Anders JJ, Lanzafame RJ, Arany PR. Low-level light/laser therapy versus photobiomodulation therapy. Photomed Laser Surg. 2015 Apr;33(4):183-4. doi: 10.1089/pho.2015.9848. PMID: 25844681; PMCID: PMC4390214.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4390214/
[2]
Dompe C, Moncrieff L, Matys J, Grzech-Leśniak K, Kocherova I, Bryja A, Bruska M, Dominiak M, Mozdziak P, Skiba THI, Shibli JA, Angelova Volponi A, Kempisty B, Dyszkiewicz-Konwińska M. Photobiomodulation—Underlying Mechanism and Clinical Applications. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2020; 9(6):1724. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9061724
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7356229/
[3]

Bontemps B, Gruet M, Vercruyssen F, Louis J. Utilisation of far infrared-emitting garments for optimising performance and recovery in sport: Real potential or new fad? A systematic review. PLoS One. 2021 May 6;16(5):e0251282. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251282. PMID: 33956901; PMCID: PMC8101933.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8101933/

[4]

Elvidge CD, Keith DM, Tuttle BT, Baugh KE. Spectral Identification of Lighting Type and Character. Sensors. 2010; 10(4):3961-3988. https://doi.org/10.3390/s100403961

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223137703_Spectral_Identification_of_Lighting_Type_and_Character

[5]

Yan JX, Liao X, Li SH, Liu HW, Chang HY, Dong N, Wu YD, She WL, Xie GH. Effects of Carbon Arc Lamp Irradiation on Wound Healing in a Rat Cutaneous Full-Thickness Wound Model. Photobiomodul Photomed Laser Surg. 2019 Jan;37(1):17-24. doi: 10.1089/photob.2018.4447. PMID: 31050942.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31050942/
[6]
Tokuji Miyashita, Shinsaku Ugawa, Atsushi Aoki,
Photoinduced Electron Transfer Processes in Polymer Langmuir-Blodgett Films,
Editor(s): Yasuhiro Iwasawa, Noboru Oyama, Hironobu Kunieda,
Studies in Surface Science and Catalysis,
Elsevier,
Volume 132,
2001,
Pages 451-456,
ISSN 0167-2991,
ISBN 9780444506511,
https://doi.org/10.1016/S0167-2991(01)82129-7.
(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167299101821297)
[7]
Pitts DG, Cullen AP. Determination of infrared radiation levels for acute ocular cataractogenesis. Albrecht Von Graefes Arch Klin Exp Ophthalmol. 1981;217(4):285-97. doi: 10.1007/BF00429289. PMID: 6915724.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6915724/

[8]

Zimmerman, S. and Reiter, R. 2019. Melatonin and the Optics of the Human Body. Melatonin Research. 2, 1 (Feb. 2019), 138-160. DOI:https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.32794/mr11250016.

https://www.melatonin-research.net/index.php/MR/article/view/19


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