People have been using saunas as a way to bathe themselves in heat to improve their health for centuries. The first saunas were found in Finland, where large pits that were dug into slopes in the ground were unearthed. These pits were primarily used as dwellings during the winter months, as they provided shelter from the cold, ice, and snow. Fireplaces within these dwellings were used to hold hot stones, and water was poured on top of the stones to generate steam in order to increase the temperature and maintain safety and comfort. Legend has it that the temperature increased so much that those who dwelled within them had to undress. And thus, the first saunas were born.
In addition to the heat and protection that they provided, the Finnish noted that their health improved when they spent time in these rudimentary saunas, such as decreased muscle aches and pains, reduced stress, and improved energy levels. Fast forward to today and saunas have become a staple of functional medicine. Studies have found that regularly bathing in heat detoxifies the body, promotes relaxation, alleviates pain, improves the skin’s appearance, reduces inflammation, and may even improve cardiovascular health, minimize the risk of type 2 diabetes, boost physical fitness, and even reduce memory loss and promote a longer lifespan.
Given the many benefits that they can provide, it’s easy to see why sauna use is so popular. Everyone from athletes to everyday people who are just looking to ease their aches and pains and promote relaxation bathe themselves in the heat that saunas provide. Whether for detoxification, to alleviate your stiff muscles, or to boost your overall health and well-being, if you’ve been a long-time sauna user or you’re thinking about using one for the first time, there are two main options to choose from: traditional wet and dry saunas and near infrared saunas.
What’s the difference between these two types of saunas? Keep on reading to find out more so that when you’re researching “sauna near me”, you can choose the right option to best meet your needs.
What is a Sauna?
First, let’s discuss what a sauna is. Basically, they’re compact rooms or spaces that are filled with either hot air, steam, or light waves that increase the temperature within the sauna. The temperature can vary, but on average, can range from about 100 to 212 degrees F, and usually, they’re used for periods of a few minutes to up to ½-hour, depending on individual tolerance and desired effects. Some people use saunas in a rotational manner, meaning that they spend a few minutes in the sauna, exit back into room temperature, take a cold shower, or jump into a cool pool for a few minutes, and then return back into the sauna, and repeat the same process over a duration of time.
What’s a traditional sauna?
Traditional saunas, also known as radiant heat saunas, are most similar to those that were first used in Finland. The modern versions are wood-paneled (typically cedar) rooms that are equipped with stone-covered electric heaters, and the temperature within the room reaches anywhere from 160 to 212 degrees F, on average. These heaters produce hot air, which heats the body up from the outside. In some models, water can be poured over the rocks to produce steam.
Steam saunas can also be considered traditional saunas. The manner in which they function is similar to radiant heat saunas; however, the temperature is lower (about 110 to 130 degrees F, on average), and the humidity level is 100 percent.
What is an infrared sauna?
The manner in which an infrared sauna functions is quite different than the way a traditional radiant or steam sauna operates. Infrared saunas rely on the infrared spectrum of light to generate heat. Whereas hot air or steam is used to heat the body externally, in an infrared sauna, infrared light is used to heat the body internally. Infrared saunas operate at a much lower temperature than traditional saunas – about 100 to 130 degrees F, on average. They are also dry and promote the least amount of sweat on the body.
There are two primary types of infrared saunas: NEAR- and FAR-infrared. With the former model, incandescent heat lamps, which emit NEAR-infrared energy, are used to generate heat, and the light waves and heat penetrate the tissues within the body. The latter models feature metallic or ceramic heating elements, which emit FAR-infrared energy to generate heat, which doesn’t penetrate as deeply into bodily tissues, but may provide other health benefits.
Because NEAR- and FAR-infrared saunas are relatively new, standard temperatures and duration of use has yet to be determined and widely varies. According to advocates, even though infrared saunas don’t promote sweating, the benefits they provide are similar to traditional saunas.
Traditional and Near Infrared Sauna Benefits
When discussing the benefits that both types of saunas provide, it’s important to note that research concerning the benefits of sauna use is largely based on traditional radiant heat saunas and not infrared saunas, as infrared saunas are relatively new. With that said, however, and as noted, it is believed that the benefits infrared saunas provide are similar to the benefits of dry sauna and steam saunas, which have long been studied.
According to research studies, sauna benefits include the following:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Lowered oxidative stress markers
- Blood pressure reduction
- Pain relief
- Anxiety and depression reduction
- Improved sleep
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved memory
- Improved health among diabetics
- May reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
- May support weight loss
- Improved skin health and appearance
- May promote better physical fitness
- May be beneficial for cancer treatment
Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: What is Right for You?
So, which type of sauna is right for you? It really depends on your specific needs, including your purpose for using a sauna, your heat tolerance, and how you feel about sweating. How can you decide which one to use? We recommend giving both a try to see which you like better. A simple search for “sauna near me” on Google or DuckDuckGo will surely reveal several facilities that offer both options in your local area.