Sauna bathing has been a wellness trend for thousands of years. It is a type of thermotherapy for the body that promotes hygiene, social and spiritual purposes depending on the culture. The saunas that we use today are based on Finnish-style saunas with a blend of Turkish Hammams and Russian Banyas. You can tell the difference by the way they are constructed, heated and the level of humidity in them.
Saunas, traditional and infrared, are a source of relaxation and hence, stress relief. Some studies say there are cardiovascular benefits, improvement in blood pressure and help with respiratory illness when you spend some time in a sauna. So, a few sessions a few times a week might just give you the relief you need after a tough day or week.
With many spas and gyms encouraging members to take part in sauna sessions, this has become quite the rage. Now, many individuals have started to buy saunas and install them at home. That’s a great idea. The commute from work or home to the gym or spa for a 20-minute sauna session can be a stressful activity in and of itself. But before buying one, almost everyone asks the same question—traditional or infrared?
Some brands claim that infrared saunas are a lot better for your health than traditional saunas. Let’s find out the truth.
Those who have done deeper research into the subject suggest that there is no compelling comparative evidence to show that one is infinitely better for you in terms of health benefits. But the good news is that both are good for you. Let’s take a look into the many claims, how they are different for dry and IR saunas and which ones hold, scientifically speaking.
Many claim that saunas help detoxify and IR saunas are better at it because of the type of heat they produce. This comes from the fact that a little time in the sauna leads to sweating and that apparently pushes toxins out of your system. There is an element of truth to this statement but none so significant that it can be turned into a scientific fact. Scientists have said that the primary goal of sweat is to reduce the temperature of the body and maintain balance. And there is not enough evidence to show that sweating at a human level helps detoxification. In fact, all detoxification programs, even the ones that encourage sauna sessions, are combined with other activities that help push out toxins from the human body. And in that respect, there is no difference between the impact of a regular sauna and an infrared sauna. So that should not be the reason.
The second claim is that saunas are used for sweating and this helps lose weight. False! You sweat in a sauna but what you lose is water weight and you gain it all back when you hydrate after a session. If you skip it and think you’ve beaten the system, you are wrong. Longer sessions and skipping water intake will lead to dehydration. And that is just a small problem compared to the other side effects. Whether you install a traditional sauna or an IR sauna, you will not lose weight.
Both saunas are predominantly wooden rooms that generate heat and make you sweat. Regular saunas do this by using hot coals (or radiant heat from a stove) as the source of heat. They are much hotter and typically generate temperatures from 170 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also less energy efficient and not very cost effective. But some saunas are now being heated with fire, gas or electricity. They reach a temperature range of 150 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
Infrared saunas, while designed to look like traditional saunas, have heating panels in their walls and use IR radiation in light as a source of heat. This penetrates the body till about an inch and a half and heats the tissues directly, unlike a traditional sauna that heats the air in the room and then needs your body to do all the work. This is why the temperatures in an infrared sauna only range from 115 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. But they are just as efficient as regular saunas. Speaking of efficiency, since IR saunas use light, they are more energy-efficient than traditional saunas even if electricity is coal operated. They also cost less than traditional saunas.
While you can do sessions of 35-40 minutes in an infrared sauna, you ideally should not. The lower temperatures also mean your heart rate will be lower. So do not prolong that abnormality. This does not happen in a traditional sauna. So you might be able to do 45 minutes with breaks to cool down and hydrate. Still, it is not recommended.
Another big difference is that traditional saunas are typically meant for more than one person while most IR saunas are meant for individual bathing making them less social. Bigger saunas get more expensive. Also, since infrared saunas are based on light, many manufacturers give you the option of changing those colors. These different colors supposedly heal different problems of the body and mind.
Infrared saunas have gained prominence only in the last decade possibly because they are energy efficient but many other claims don’t have scientific backing. A lot of what we know about saunas is still about traditional saunas and all of those benefits apply to infrared saunas as well. Both saunas require you to cool-off and hydrate before, during or after a 20-minute session.
The health benefits of both saunas are the same. Short-term heat exposure increases skin and core body temperature. It activates thermoregulatory pathways, central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. This helps heart health and blood flow.
So if you don’t have a problem with the slightly higher temperatures and heating mechanism of a traditional or dry sauna, that will suit you just fine. But if you get an infrared sauna, you can pick different sizes and colors of light to get different results.