Infrared Radiation (IR), sometimes also referred to as Infrared Light, is a type of EMF that lies in the middle section of the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s right between visible light and radiofrequency. British astronomer William Herschel discovered IR in the early 1800s, and today it has many far-known applications.
But just how safe is infrared radiation? And is it better to use infrared products than radio frequency or RF-based ones?
That’s what we’ll find out in this post. But first, let’s take a look at what infrared is and how we use it.
Difference Between Near and Far Infrared
There are two kinds of infrared radiation — near-infrared and far-infrared. The kind that is used in your remote control is the near one.
The main difference between these two kinds of infrared is that the far one produces heat, and the near one produces light.
A real-life example of far infrared would be the heat coming from sources like sunlight, fire, and radiators. When you feel the heat, it’s actually the feeling of far infrared touching your skin. And because of its thermal nature, you don’t need any equipment to see far-infrared in action.
If you’re exposed to this for a long period, you may experience skin burn and other thermal injuries.
Near infrared’s traits are the exact opposite. You can’t see or feel near-infrared radiation.
Experts say that even though it sits higher in the electromagnetic spectrum, near-infrared doesn’t possess many health risks. This is only partly true because prolonged exposure to heavy near-infrared is harmful to health. However, consumer-level infrared devices use it in a super low amount, making these devices far safer than RF-based devices.
Near-infrared can’t be seen with the naked eye, but there’s a way you can see it in action. You can do this cool experiment at home – the only equipment you need is a TV remote and a cell phone camera.
Turn on your cell phone camera and point it towards the IR emitter on your remote. Now push any button on the remote, and you’ll see the IR emitter blink constantly. Those blinks send a command to the IR receiver in your TV, which executes your desired action (like changing the channel or raising the volume).
Your cell phone camera is able to “see” this infrared light because it’s more sensitive to it than the human eye.
Infrared was an accidental discovery. When Herschel passed sunlight through a prism, he wanted to measure the temperature of the seven colors – i.e., violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red – that the prism projects.
Red is the hottest color among these, and violet is the coolest one. But Herschel noticed that the thermometer measured a temperature even hotter than red in an invisible section beside it.
That right there was the discovery of infrared. Infrared is not the original term Herschel gave. He initially referred to it as “Calorific Rays.” The term infrared came in the late 19th century.
Even though this was an accidental discovery, it has a range of applications in the modern world. Some of the main infrared applications are scientific, military, medicinal, and consumer. Let’s have an in-depth look.
Our universe has billions of objects that are too cool to be visible through our high-tech telescope and camera lenses. But because of our understanding of infrared, we have built devices that enhance our ability to look through obstructions and unravel many mysteries of our universe.
The infrared tech in telescopes and cameras allows scientists to observe anything that has a minimal heat signature. In the last 100 years, scientists have been able to understand so much about the universe by looking at planets, stars, and nebulas through infrared technology.
Here’s one such example of the benefits of infrared tech in science. See the image below from Carina Nebula taken by the Hubble telescope.
On the left image, you can see massive clouds composed of gas and dust. But on close observation, the clouds are also being illuminated by something behind them. Scientists thought that the illumination was coming from the massive stars behind the pillars, and they were right.
But there was something more. When they used the infrared tech in the Hubble telescope, it filtered out the cloud, and they observed that intense radiation and fast streams of charged particles from those stars were causing new stars to form. The image on the right was taken using infrared tech.
It is because of infrared we’re able to see the birth of new stars.
Infrared tech is not only used for astronomy; it’s also used to monitor the earth’s activities. The image below of the California wildfires was taken from Aqua and Terra satellites.
Infrared cameras can see through obstructions like clouds and dust, due to which they can capture images like the one above. This kind of information can be essential for firefighting efforts.
One of the biggest obstructions in military operations is darkness. Obviously, soldiers can’t see at night, which causes a range of issues.
Infrared tech fixes this problem. Militaries worldwide now own state-of-the-art thermal imaging gadgets, which give them a day-like view even at night.
Infrared-based thermal imaging is not only essential for combat operations but, according to experts, it significantly reduces inaccurate guesswork in many situations.
For instance, with night vision goggles, a soldier can easily identify if a subject is carrying a weapon or a normal object. The view is so clear that they can also speculate the subject’s intent.
“If the suspect is indeed carrying a weapon, it is important to know if they’re carrying it in a relaxed or tensed pose. This is especially true for today’s conflicts where combatants and noncombatants are mixed together,” says Thomas Brown, director of the Directorate’s Ground Combat Systems Division in the United States.
Much like ELF-EMF, infrared is also therapeutically used in medicine. It is primarily used as a drug-free treatment to alleviate pain, but it also has other medical applications like:
- Tissue repair and wound healing
- Healing ulcers
- Hair growth
- Psoriasis control
- Side effect mitigation of cancer treatments.
Infrared is not a new technology — we’ve been using it for decades. A most obvious example would be TV remotes with an infrared emittter. There are many infrared-based devices available in the market, which I’ll talk more about in the later sections of this post.
Radiofrequency is Overtaking Infrared
Although infrared has impressive applications, the IR technology we use on our gadgets is limited compared to RF-based tech. For example, the infrared emitter in your TV remote needs an unobstructed view of the TV’s receiver, and only then can it send the command. But this limitation doesn’t apply to RF remotes. You can press a button from anywhere in your house, and if you did it within its range, the command would reach the receiver.
Range is one of the main reasons why consumers today favor RF-based remotes over IR-based. And the story is similar with infrared keyboards and mice.
We cannot deny the fact that the level of convenience provided by Bluetooth and RF-based devices is huge. But while these devices are convenient, they also expose you to their massive EMF emissions. This is not the case with infrared devices. I’m not saying that these devices don’t emit EMF – they do. But the amount of emission is minimal.
It’s widely established that heavy EMF exposure results in a range of health issues. If you’d like to learn more about the health effects of EMF exposure, I have a separate collection of posts that cover this topic in detail.
The health aspect of EMF exposure should be enough to prefer infrared-based devices over RF-based. But if you’re still not convinced, here’s another reason why you should choose infrared devices over RF — RF is exploitable.
RF is Exploitable
RF’s long-range and its ability to go through obstructions is what urges customers to choose it over infrared. But do you know that RF’s magnificent range is also what makes it vulnerable?
RF is easily interceptable, and devices like wireless keyboards and mice don’t have strong encryption. And since most of the time, the range of these devices goes outside your house, it leaves your device at a vulnerable state to malicious attempts from a close range. In simple words, if a hacker attempts to connect to your device from near your house, the connection is possible, and they can intercept and decrypt what you type on your wireless keyboard.
A 2016 report by a cybersecurity company mentioned that they found weak security encryptions in wireless keyboards from 8 well-known electronic gadget manufacturers. This enables hackers to eavesdrop on your every keystroke, including your credit card details and passwords.
Another cybersecurity company found a flaw in how data transmission happens between a computer and a wireless mouse. This company wrote a simple python code that can be executed with a device that costs as little as $15. This flaw allows the hackers to take complete control of your mouse.
This program named Mousejack is an attempt to make manufacturers aware of the flaws in their wireless mouse device. The company tested Mousejack on wireless mouses from 17 different companies, out of which only two were safe.
When it comes to infrared-based devices, this kind of malicious attempt cannot succeed, first because of its short-range, and second, because it’s almost impossible to intercept the signals even if the attacker places a device between your computer and the infrared keyboard. This is because they’ll have to find the exact frequency on which your keyboard’s infrared emitter sends the signals before decoding the encryption.
Interference-Free Sound with Infrared
Apart from remote controls, keyboards, and mice, infrared tech is also used in sound systems. Although they’re not massively popular, you can buy infrared-based headsets and sound systems online.
They still need an unobstructed view of the receiver, but some of their qualities make them superior to similar Bluetooth or RF-based headsets and sound systems. Here are some of those qualities:
- Interference-free sound. Unlike with Bluetooth or RF, the EMF in the surroundings can’t interfere with infrared signals. This results in crisp sound quality.
- Minimal latency, with 40 times faster sound transmission.
- Operates in a much lower frequency than Bluetooth or RF.
LiFi: Will it Replace Traditional WiFi?
You may not have heard much about LiFi (Light Fidelity), but this is a concept that can completely reshape the way we use the internet in our homes and offices.
A Dutch company named Philips is working on this idea which uses IR technology to replace WiFi in homes. Instead of a WiFi router, your lamps and other light sources will be your internet source.
In 2018 they successfully tested the beta version of LiFi, as they provided internet to an entire office only using light sources.
The company estimates that LiFi’s speed can easily go up to 100 Gbps when it is made available to the consumers. They say that in the future, cell phones and computers will come with an in-built light sensor and an infrared transmitter, which is not impossible as some phones already have an infrared emitter.
This concept is not far from becoming a reality. And with many advantages over the current internet structure in our homes and offices, there’s a strong possibility that LiFi will replace traditional WiFi.
The most noteworthy advantage would be that it will be much safer in terms of both security and health because of its shorter range and the use of visible and infrared light.
Are Infrared Saunas Safe?
Infrared saunas are trending right now because of their claims to prevent or mitigate the symptoms of health issues like high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, headache, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
A few research studies support these claims, but the research on infrared saunas is in its initial stages, and the authors of all those studies mention that more in-depth research is required to confirm or deny these claims.
So, right now, we don’t have enough facts to confidently say whether or not infrared saunas are safe.
I understand that there are not many IR alternatives to RF-EMF-based gadgets. But I urge you to explore the ones that are available right now. Replacing some of your wireless devices with Infrared-based gadgets will help you mitigate your overall EMF exposure and avoid EMF-induced health problems.
Speaking of which, did you know that minor changes in your tech use habits can significantly reduce your exposure levels? You just have to follow the two key rules of EMF protection: minimize use and maximize distance. As I always say, the best EMF protection is free.
You can visit our healthy living tips page to learn more ways to cut your exposure.