If you follow wellness trends, you might’ve come across the claim that an infrared sauna, which heats the body with light, is better for you than a traditional sauna, which uses radiant heat from a stove.
In short, this claim is a myth and is not supported by any strong comparative evidence. While there are differences between infrared and traditional saunas, the limited evidence we do have suggests both types of sauna are good for your health.
Radiant, warm light from the infrared sauna impacts the body to create transformation at the cellular level. It is therefore capable of providing a cascade of health benefits beyond the scope of what many other heat therapy modalities offer. Looking for Sauna Melbourne? Look no further, Portable Sauna has you covered.
Both the traditional sauna and the infrared sauna fall under the auspice of heat therapy and share the referenced name of ‘sauna’. However, traditional saunas and infrared saunas are very different from each other by virtue of the mechanism of heat generated, and therefore, produce significantly different results on human physiology.
Ultimately, the decision to engage in any form of heat therapy stems from a desire to maximise health and wellness. Finding the appropriate sauna for you begins with familiarizing yourself with the function of each type of sauna to gain insight into the body’s response to the respective mechanism of heat generation.
A Brief Sauna History
In Europe, saunas or sauna-like steam baths have been used for thousands of years to help bathers relax.
In Northern Scotland, specifically, a sauna structure was found in Orkney Island that dated back over 4,000 years. The earliest written account was recorded in the 1100s.
Travellers would often stop and visit public sweat baths in Northern Europe between global treks and adventures. Likewise, farmers would occasionally visit the steam baths to take a break from hard labour. By the 1700s, Finnish and Swedish bathhouses were the norm all around.
Originally, these steam baths were used for relaxation and cleanliness, as a modern bath or shower. As time went on, however, it became clear that wooden saunas have additional health benefits.
In addition to relaxation and social benefits, European bathhouses became near-religious status for the Finns who occupied them. In some situations, the famous bathhouses were even used for birthing practices.
By the 1800s, visitors in Scandinavia started to report saunas in everyday art and literature. Their traditional, log construction formats were a point of pride for the Finns as a natural part of relaxation.
Since this period, the popularity of saunas has continued to grow and grow over time. In the early twentieth century, the Finns moved from villages to cities, and the interest in saunas also spread with the people.
During World War II, additional forms of entertainment were essentially abandoned for the war efforts, which sent people back in the saunas for cheap relaxation. These days, of course, saunas are a global phenomenon.
While steams and saunas are still associated with their Scandinavian origins, the benefits have found their way around the globe.
Overview of the traditional and infrared saunas
First things first, what is the difference between a traditional Finnish sauna and an infrared sauna? A traditional Finnish sauna is a wooden room or structure that uses heated stones and water to create a hot and humid atmosphere capable of providing a number of health benefits. This room is often large enough to accommodate a number of people but ultimately can be built to be any size.
The traditional sauna is typically heated to between 70oC and 110oC, and it is the heat of the room that causes the person to become warmer and sweat. Water is poured onto heated sauna stones to create the distinctive löyly, or atmosphere, of a traditional steam sauna. This atmosphere can be as humidor as dry as the sauna bather desires – although typically it is kept to around 5% to 15%. Aromatherapy can also be used as part of a traditional sauna session, either occurring naturally due to the presence of birch whisks or a wood-burning sauna heater or with additional scents and oils which have been added to the water.
People using a traditional Finnish sauna will typically stay in the sauna room for anywhere up to 30 minutes. After that time, they may choose to get out and take a cold shower or ‘plunge’ (complete submersion in cold water) before repeating the process as many times as is desired. This cycle of sauna and plunge is used to improve circulation and muscle function, stimulate the immune system, and also release endorphins.
An infrared sauna sometimes called a far infrared sauna, or simply an IR sauna is a wooden or plastic box which uses infrared ceramic, Incoloy, or carbon panel heaters to emit far-infrared light. This light is then absorbed by the skin’s cells, which experiences it as radiant heat – causing the person to become warmer and sweat. In this way, the sauna utilises radiation in place of the convection and conduction used by traditional saunas.
Infrared saunas are usually much smaller than other saunas and can usually only accommodate between one and four individuals. The heat itself is usually kept between 50oC and 60oC, with no humidity unless a separate steam generator is added. The result of this is much longer, milder, and usually drier heating sessions compared to what you would experience in a traditional sauna.
How Does Traditional Sauna Work?
Traditionally, people who went to a sauna would sit in a log cabin structure around a fire pit with rocks laid over the top. When the fire warmed the rocks enough, these people would throw a bucket of water onto the rocks, creating a great deal of steam. This high heat and humidity were believed to provide a number of wonderful health benefits.
These days, traditional saunas still retain some of the same elements. There are heat and steam, which can be wonderful for both your mental and physical health. But most modern saunas use steam generators and glass enclosures, so their guests don’t have to throw steam on rocks anymore.
What Is an Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas are a more modern spin on the traditional sauna experience. These focus on the heat part of the sauna experience rather than the humidity part. There is no steam, only rays that heat the body without raising the overall temperature of the room. Also Portable Sauna Melbourne page which has everything Portable Sauna related that you might need
There are two basic types of infrared saunas: far-infrared and near-infrared. Far infrared saunas use rays that can’t penetrate the user’s skin and deeper tissues. Near-infrared saunas emit rays that can travel through the skin up to several inches deep, helping to increase their effectiveness.
The methods of action than traditional saunas and infrared saunas use are completely different. A traditional sauna heats the air around you to the degree that your body kickstarts its natural cooling process. This means bringing blood closer to the surface of the skin and opening the pores to release sweat.
Infrared saunas emit a wavelength of light that your body absorbs without heating the room around you. This absorption starts that same cooling process without having to steam you in the process.
One of the constant components of a sauna, whether traditional or infrared, is that they involve high levels of heat. In traditional saunas, temperatures can get above 185 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is very effective for producing the intense sweating saunas aim to achieve, that level of heat can overwhelm people who are more temperature-sensitive.
Infrared saunas can stay cooler because they focus on heating the body itself rather than using the room to do so. Infrared saunas keep the temperature between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much more tolerable for those who are sensitive to heat. However, the infrared rays do still induce the intense sweating that characterises a sauna experience.
As you might expect, traditional saunas have a much higher level of humidity than infrared saunas do—proponents of the traditional sauna point to this humidity as part of the benefits of a traditional sauna. The steam can open your pores and allow your skin to rehydrate, as well as promote better sleep later on.
Infrared saunas, of course, do not use steam and thus have a much lower level of humidity. Instead, they rely on the sweating mechanism for their benefits. Infrared sauna enthusiasts claim the intense sweating these saunas produce can detoxify the body and help promote weight loss.
If you’re considering installing a sauna in your home, one of the big questions you’ll need to look at is the energy requirements for each. Traditional saunas require more power than infrared saunas do since they have to heat water to boiling point. They can take as much as six kW of power to run for one session.
Infrared saunas only use power to run their heating elements, making them much less expensive from a power perspective. They use about 1.6 kW of power per session, about a third of what a traditional sauna does. If you plan to use your sauna often, this can start to make a big difference.
No matter whether you’re using a traditional sauna or an infrared sauna, there are some safety precautions you need to observe. In either case, you’re eliciting extreme sweating, so be sure you drink plenty of water before and after your session. If you start to feel unwell, leave the sauna immediately and get some water; call a doctor if you don’t feel better soon.
Infrared saunas are still new on the health scene, and so they are still being researched. Preliminary studies show that they don’t pose any significant risks, but they should be used in moderation. Stick to sessions under half an hour, and don’t use the sauna more than a couple of times a week.
Comparing Similarities of Traditional Saunas vs Infrared Saunas
First, let us look at the similarities between the rooms and the shared benefits. The goal of sauna bathing varies by person, but let’s assume your general goal is to enjoy the benefits of heat bathing: relaxation and stress reduction, sweating (with the associated detoxification) and relieving aches and pains. Both sauna types provide these benefits, although the conditions under which the benefits are achieved are quite different.
The benefits of heat bathing have much to do with the sauna creating a self-induced fever. As Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, observed, “Give me a fever, and I can cure every disease.” While this statement is hyperbole, it does point to the healing power of increased body temperature.
Both sauna types will be relatively dry. The far-infrared rooms tend to be close to normal house humidity levels unless it has been on for extended periods of time. The traditional sauna will be drier (10% or lower) until water is sprinkled over the rocks. The traditional sauna is the only bath in the world where the user controls both temperature and humidity, with humidity controlled to user liking by how much water is thrown on the rocks. In far-infrared saunas, you control the temperature, but the humidity is whatever it is
While perspiring in either sauna, you will experience deep relaxation, sore muscles are loosened, and aching joints will likely feel relief. The process of perspiration burns some calories, though the amount of calories burned is debatable and is dependent upon the individual. Most of the weight loss in a sauna is water loss and is regained upon rehydrating. However, without a doubt sauna can be an important part of a healthy weight loss program.
Public awareness and misinformation
Neither traditional nor infrared saunas are bad, and both can provide useful health benefits. However, there remains a lot of misinformation directed at bringing in sales as opposed to educating people about which type of sauna is best for them.
Infrared saunas, for example, are good choices for individuals who want a cheap and small sauna that can help with mild muscle relief and relaxation. What they cannot do, however, is provide detoxification (which is a job for the kidneys, liver, GI tract, and immune system – not the sweat-controlling autonomic nervous system), increase immunity, cause weight loss, or improve cellulite appearance. This is a common misconception, and most sauna websites that state otherwise (or pay well-known public figures to) are basing their statements on a desire to drive sales, rather than research and evidence.
Unfortunately, there is also much misinformation regarding traditional saunas in the UK. Many UK residents assume or have experienced traditional saunas to be dry and stuffy, and most would refer to a traditional sauna as a ‘dry’ sauna. However, this is a misnomer created by what are ultimately poor appropriations of proper Finnish saunas – saunas which are badly constructed with no ventilation, and with heaters that cannot have water poured onto them. When properly constructed using the correct equipment and following Finnish guidelines, a traditional sauna is neither dry nor stuffy. But unfortunately, this is an experience many UK residents using saunas in gyms or health spa will not get to enjoy.
Price and construction
One of the first things people notice when deciding between buying a traditional sauna or an infrared sauna is the price; when constructed properly, an infrared sauna will always be cheaper than a traditional sauna. Traditional saunas require expert knowledge to be made properly and are bespoke constructions that cannot be easily mass-produced. As such they are usually made by specialised sauna companies with knowledge of how to properly design, build, insulate, and ventilate a traditional sauna. Infrared saunas, on the other hand, usually come flat-packed and ready to be assembled, with no need for specialised knowledge or skill.
Then there is the matter of materials. Traditional saunas usually come in a much larger range of materials as they are being built and possibly designed from scratch specifically for the customer. Infrared saunas, however, are often far more limited as they are already constructed en masse before being sold.
Moreover, companies dedicated to making traditional saunas and following proper Finnish guidelines will use properly heat and moisture treated woods which have been sustainably sourced, usually from Finland. Using Finnish materials and equipment made by Finnish specialists ensures a high standard of product, as not only have they had thousands of years of practice at sauna construction, but their laws and regulations regarding sauna construction are far more comprehensive than those in the UK.
These standards, however, do not apply to many infrared saunas, which are designed to be cheap. This means customers run a higher risk of receiving lower-quality materials which have been mass-produced using unethically sourced materials in countries such as China. This is the case in most infrared sauna companies, who source their saunas from second party websites such as Alibaba.
More tips on choosing the best sauna
When you research your purchase, carefully read relevant information; consider for yourself how you plan to use your sauna and what health benefits seem relevant. Carefully sort out claims by some manufacturers of superior health or safety benefits. The truth is, both types of saunas have the benefits of heat bathing. Your goal is to find a sauna that fits your wellness plan, your space available and your budget. As I stated in the beginning, “The sauna you will use the most is the best sauna.” Check out our range of Portable Sauna Melbourne to help with your problem.
While infrared is gaining popularity, research is lacking, and the vast majority of published research relates to the traditional sauna (which itself is limited in terms of strong evidence).
The closest thing we have to comparative evidence is a recent systematic review – the first to compare studies of both traditional and infrared sauna. This review concludes that all positive outcomes are seen with infrared sauna reinforce what is already known about traditional sauna.
There is much still to be explored on the health benefits of sauna. In the meantime, the take-home message is to use whatever sauna you like. Try different things, and listen to your body. Maybe you prefer the calm, private, softer nature of infrared sauna. Or maybe you prefer the fuller sensory experience of a traditional sauna, including the heat, the steam, the smell, and the people.
Whatever the case, you will feel good afterwards. So get out there, and start sweating.