One of the most fascinating parts of the human body is its ability to react dramatically to extreme temperatures. As such, heat therapy has been studied and used for centuries, which eventually led to the invention of saunas.
Saunas started as a small room where people could experience and relax in dry or wet heat. However, their myriad of health benefits has led to the creation of new products like the infrared sauna. But because it’s a modern invention, does it mean an infrared sauna automatically has more benefits?
In this article, we will explore the differences between a traditional sauna vs. infrared sauna, including the benefits, risks, and best types, so that you can figure out which one is best suited for you.
Table of Contents:
- What Is An Infrared Sauna?
- What Is A Traditional Dry Sauna?
- Infrared vs. Traditional Sauna Health Benefits
- Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Are Infrared Saunas Better Than Traditional?
- Best Type Of Sauna To Choose
- Risks And Safety
What Is An Infrared Sauna?
While most people have heard of or used a traditional sauna, infrared saunas are less common. Infrared saunas are unique because they use infrared lights to heat the user directly, whereas a traditional sauna heats the air.
In contrast to a heater and hot stones to raise the temperature of the room, infrared saunas heat your body directly using infrared light. Infrared light emits infrared rays, directly penetrating the body to increase body temperature, leading to sweating and the removal of toxins.
These infrared rays allow infrared saunas to produce the same results at lower temperatures than a traditional sauna, between 110 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Is A Traditional Sauna?
In comparison, a traditional sauna is a small enclosed area, usually made from wood, that uses coal, wood, or an electric heater to heat stones and produce extremely high ambient temperatures.
While there are dry saunas, a traditional sauna usually has a 5-15% humidity. Users can pour water over the heated stones to create steam and warm the air further. This combination of steam and heat allows the body to relax and sweat excessively.
Traditional saunas typically have temperatures between 70 and 110 degrees Celsius (158-230 degrees Fahrenheit). If you’re experienced and hydrated, its possible to stay in the sauna for thirty minutes up to an hour.
Infrared vs Traditional Sauna Health Benefits
While both traditional and infrared saunas have several shared benefits related to increasing core body temperature, they also have unique qualities.
To start, traditional saunas share several of the same benefits as infrared saunas, including:
- Reduce stress
- Improved exercise performance
- Better muscle recovery
- Improved skin health
- Protection against certain diseases, including heart disease, rheumatic diseases, fatigue, and pain.
In addition, saunas can play an unintentional role in weight loss. To learn more about this, take a look at our article: Is The Sauna Good For Losing Belly Fat?
8 Infrared Sauna Benefits
While heat therapy in either sauna will help with the above, let’s look at some of the unique benefits of infrared vs. traditional saunas, starting with infrared. Here are 8 benefits of an infrared sauna.
1) Direct Heat Penetration:
One key difference between traditional and infrared saunas is the temperature. Infrared saunas are usually between 110-135 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas traditional saunas start over 150 degrees and can exceed 200 degrees.
Unlike traditional saunas, infrared waves can penetrate the body directly for a more gradual heating experience. Infrared sauna sessions are also usually shorter in duration.
2) Safer For Specific Individuals:
Some people may have conditions that are bothered by extreme heat, such as respiratory issues or heat sensitivity. Infrared can provide most of the same benefits without putting them at risk.
3) Detoxes The Body:
One of the top benefits of both infrared and traditional saunas is detoxification. Regardless of how it happens, both types of sauna elevate the body’s temperature and induce sweating.
Sweating is one the best ways for the body to rid itself of toxins and metals and usually requires intense exercise. Saunas provide an easy, convenient way to sweat without exerting energy.
4) Reduces Stress:
One of the main reasons people use saunas is to help relax, particularly after workouts. The elevated temperature helps relax muscles and reduce tension.
Several people use infrared and traditional saunas to relax their minds, reduce stress and improve sleep quality.
5) Improves Skin Health:
Both saunas can improve skin health due to sweating and improved blood circulation. In addition to removing toxins, sweat helps release bacteria that can damage the skin, such as acne or eczema.
6) Can Improve Heart Disease:
One of the top benefits of traditional saunas that also exist in infrared saunas is improving heart disease.
A study using patients with congestive heart failure found that only two weeks of Waon therapy, a type of infrared sauna treatment, significantly improved patients’ health. There were vast improvements in disease status, heart size, and a six-minute walk distance1.
7) Pain Relief:
While traditional saunas can help relieve pain, infrared saunas operate by penetrating the skin deeper. Targeting the tissues deeper provides additional pain relief in joints and muscles.
It also helps increase blood flow and reduce muscle tension, which increases relaxation. This can be especially useful for people with chronic pain in conditions such as arthritis, back pain, or fibromyalgia.
One study examined the effects of infrared saunas on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They found a significant reduction in pain, stiffness, and fatigue after four weeks of infrared sauna treatment2.
8) You Can Replicate Infrared Saunas In Blanket Form:
A unique product, infrared sauna blankets are just as they sound – a sauna in the form of a blanket.
These infrared sauna blankets look like a sleeping bag that the user gets inside and receives infrared radiation. You can learn even more about the perks of a sauna blanket in our article on the Top 5 Infrared Sauna Blanket Benefits.
And if you’re interested in this convenient and portable form of an infrared sauna, be sure to check out our article on the 9 Best Infrared Sauna Blankets!
5 Traditional Sauna Benefits
Several people prefer a traditional steam sauna due to the benefits of higher temperatures and humidity. The best benefits of a traditional sauna include:
1) Reduces High Blood Pressure:
Traditional steam saunas can help reduce blood pressure and other cardiovascular risks.
One study using men aged 42 to 60 found that regular use led to a lower risk of high blood pressure, explaining why saunas can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease3.
2) Improves Brain Health/Protection:
One of the top benefits traditional steam saunas provide compared to infrared saunas is its effect on brain health, specifically memory-related. Traditional saunas have been shown to help prevent brain diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia in a way that infrared can’t.
An observational study examined the effects of traditional saunas on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2,315 participants over 20 years.
They found a significant reduction in both diseases, especially in participants who used the sauna more often. People who used the sauna at least four times a week had a 65% lower risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease compared to once-a-week use4.
3) Reduces Risk of Respiratory Disease:
A critical difference between a traditional and infrared sauna is the air. Traditional saunas involve hot coals covered with water to create steam and humidity.
The warm moisture in the air is soothing to breathe and helps improve the respiratory system. Studies show that traditional saunas specifically reduce the risk of respiratory diseases5.
4) Reduces The Risk Of Pneumonia:
Pneumonia is a type of respiratory disease, so it makes sense that saunas can help reduce risk. Studies show that frequent use of traditional saunas can reduce the risk of pneumonia in middle-aged men6.
5) Improves Arterial Stiffness:
Arterial stiffness refers to the thickening of the arterial wall, typically related to hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Studies show that only traditional saunas can significantly reduce arterial stiffness and further protect against cardiovascular diseases7.
Infrared vs Traditional Sauna: Are Infrared Saunas Better Than Traditional?
So, what type of sauna is best for your health and is one better than the other? This is a complex question because it depends on you and how you benefit from different types of heat therapy. The answer is that the best type of sauna for you will depend on your goals.
Traditional saunas seem to win when comparing benefits. They have the same benefits as infrared saunas, plus a few other major ones including staving off diseases related to brain health, reducing the risk of respiratory diseases, and improving arterial stiffness.
However, an infrared sauna may be a better option if you are looking for deep-tissue pain relief. Alternatively, due to the humidity, traditional sauna heaters would be better if you want to release toxins and boost your respiratory system. Infrared saunas may also be a safer option for people with higher risks of dehydration or heat sensitivity.
Overall, infrared saunas may appeal to certain people because they are easier to tolerate and use at lower temperatures, while the traditional sauna results in the most benefits. It truly depends on what you’re looking for in your sauna experience.
What Is The Best Type Of Sauna To Buy?
Purchasing a sauna for home can be expensive, but it is an investment in your health. If you’re in the market, take a look at our top picks for each type.
- Best Infrared Sauna: Dynamic Barcelona DYN FAR Infrared Sauna
- Best Infrared Sauna Blanket: Heat Healer Infrared Sauna Blanket
- Best Traditional Sauna: Researched by PHDS Sweat Hybrid Outdoor Sauna
1) Best Infrared Sauna: Dynamic Barcelona DYN FAR Infrared Sauna
The highest-rated infrared sauna on Amazon is the 2021 Dynamic Barcelona DYN FAR Infrared Sauna. This product is an investment at $1,899, but it is a high-quality infrared sauna, made from the industry’s thickest, natural Canadian Hemlock wood planks. It also has industry-leading, energy-efficient infrared heaters and foot heaters to help evenly distribute the heat.
Dynamic Saunas operate in the 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit range, a safe and effective temperature to maximize health benefits, and can reach 140 degrees.
This sauna features a touch control panel and LED screen, both of which work on any standard 15 amp, 110-volt outlet, so there is no special wiring requirement. Their saunas are also large enough to fit two people safely and can play music via Bluetooth or MP3 aux connection.
Made from the industry’s thickest, natural Canadian Hemlock wood planks, Dynamic Barcelona FAR Infrared Sauna has industry-leading, energy-efficient infrared heaters and foot heaters to help evenly distribute the heat and heat it up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit…
2) Best Infrared Sauna Blanket: Heat Healer Infrared Sauna Blanket
Looking for something smaller and more affordable? An infrared sauna blanket may be a great solution for you.
My personal favorite is the Heat Healer Infrared Sauna Blanket, which has undergone rigorous testing and successfully met international standards, including Sunfire Testing for ensuring safe electronic emissions and radiation, as well as SGS testing for screening 197 harmful materials, among others.
Incorporating cutting-edge EMF (electromagnetic field) blocking technology, this blanket has been engineered to virtually eliminate EMF exposure throughout its entirety.
This advanced design not only offers natural heat therapy but also prioritizes safety to a remarkable extent. Portable, more budget friendly at $478, safe, and packed with benefits, you can’t go wrong with this infrared sauna blanket.
The Heat Healer Infrared Sauna Blanket delivers the world’s best portable sauna experience with unrivaled luxury and a set of product features not found anywhere else…
3) Best Traditional Sauna: Researched by PHDS Sweat Hybrid Outdoor Sauna
If you prefer a traditional sauna, the best available product is the Researched by PHDS Sweat Hybrid Outdoor Sauna. Designed for the outdoors; this sauna is perfect for people who want to try different kinds of treatment because it has a dry red spectrum heat option and a traditional stove steam option.
At a price of $2,400, it features eight full red spectrum heaters and a traditional sauna stove, giving you the best of both worlds. It’s made from high-quality natural cedar wood and energy-efficient heaters with elite insulation and airflow systems.
Also featuring an LED control panel and built-in speakers with Bluetooth, aux, and mp3 connections, this sauna is large enough to fit two people comfortably. Plus, its rapid heating system can evenly heat the sauna four times faster than other products on the market, helping your body reach its target temperatures much quicker.
The Researched By PHDS Outdoor Sauna features eight full red spectrum heaters, a traditional sauna stove, and is made from high-quality natural cedar wood and energy-efficient heaters…
While several types of sauna therapy are available, the choice between infrared saunas vs traditional truly comes down to personal preference and which is best suited to your needs.
What’s The Best Sauna To Buy? A Summary
Whether you’re interested in an infrared sauna, sauna blanket, or traditional sauna, there’s an option here for everyone.
Dynamic Barcelona Sauna
Canadian Hemlock wood planks
Heat Healer Sauna Blanket
EMF blocking technology
Researched by PHDS Sauna
Dry red spectrum heat option
Sauna Risks And Safety
Despite the long list of benefits, there are some risks associated with prolonged heat therapy, such as:
- Dehydration: One of the most important factors to consider before using a sauna is your hydration level. Regardless of what kind of sauna you use, the main objective is to induce sweating, which can lead to dehydration quickly in extreme temperatures. If you are dehydrated, stay in a sauna for twenty minutes at the absolute maximum, and ideally, stay away until you are properly hydrated. Dehydration can lead to other adverse side effects, including headache, fatigue, and dizziness.
- Heat-related illnesses: Besides dehydration, extreme temperatures can cause other issues such as heatstroke or heat exhaustion. These problems can cause other negative effects like nausea, headache, dizziness, confusion, elevated heartbeat, and possibly blackout.
- Skin sensitivity: Depending on what type of sauna you use, the extreme heat, dry air, or humidity could potentially cause skin irritation. Infrared saunas are likely the better option if you suffer from sensitive skin or other issues that can flare up.
- Hygiene risks: One of the easily-preventable risks of saunas is an infection caused by a dirty sauna. Unfortunately, public saunas, such as in a gym, can contain bacteria or fungi from other users if it’s not cleaned correctly. If possible, always ensure your sauna is cleaned and practice proper hygiene, including using a towel to sit on.
- Certain conditions should stay away: While saunas are a great way to help improve certain diseases, heat can trigger others. An example of people who should avoid saunas is those with respiratory issues, such as asthma, because the hot air can aggravate them. You should consult a medical professional before using a sauna if you have any health conditions.
- Dangerous for pregnant women/children: Just as people with certain diseases, pregnant children and women should avoid saunas. Pregnant women, especially in the first trimester, should avoid saunas because their baby is at risk for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and blood pressure changes.
To protect yourself from dehydration or any other negative outcome, follow these safety tips:
- Be sure to drink plenty of water before and after your sauna session.
- Start slow with 5-10 minute sauna sessions and gradually work your way toward longer sessions.
- If you start to feel weird, such as a headache, dizziness, or discomfort, you should immediately exit the sauna and seek medical attention.
- Please consult with your doctor before using saunas to ensure it is safe.
In this section, we will answer some of the most common questions we get related to an infrared sauna vs. traditional sauna.
How hot do infrared saunas get?
Infrared saunas use less heat than traditional saunas, only reaching temperatures of 110-135 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas traditional saunas exceed 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are infrared saunas good for you?
Yes, infrared saunas are good for you. They provide nearly all of the same benefits as traditional saunas.
Are infrared saunas safe?
As long as you don’t have any pre-existing conditions that high temperatures can trigger, then yes, infrared saunas are safe. They are safer than traditional saunas because of the lower temperature.
How do infrared saunas work?
Infrared saunas use infrared lights to emit electromagnetic radiation. This infrared radiation can penetrate the skin and elevate the body’s temperature without affecting the air temperature.
Do saunas detox your body?
Yes, a sauna room will detox your body very efficiently. Saunas cause the body to sweat profusely, which helps eliminate toxins and detox the body.
Infrared Saunas vs Traditional Saunas: Takeaways
Based on the research, both traditional saunas and infrared saunas have several health benefits. Traditional saunas use heated coals doused in water to create a sweltering, humid environment, whereas infrared saunas use radiation to target the body directly.
Certain groups may prefer to use infrared saunas due to the lower temperatures and better ability to target deep tissue pain, but the traditional sauna is still king. Traditional saunas have unique benefits to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and can help prevent brain diseases in ways that infrared can’t.
If you’re ready to benefit from saunas but don’t have the space or budget for infrared or traditional options, check out our round-up of the 9 Best Infrared Sauna Blankets, which are portable, wallet-friendly, and packed with health perks.
- Tei, Chuwa, et al. “Waon Therapy for Managing Chronic Heart Failure – Results from a Multicenter Prospective Randomized WAON-CHF Study –.” Circulation Journal, vol. 80, no. 4, 2016.
- Oosterveld, Fredrikus G. J., et al. “Infrared Sauna in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis.” Clinical Rheumatology, vol. 28, no. 1, 7 Aug. 2008.
- Zaccardi, Francesco, et al. “Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension: A Prospective Cohort Study.” American Journal of Hypertension, vol. 30, no. 11, 13 June 2017.
- Laukkanen, Tanjaniina, et al. “Sauna Bathing Is Inversely Associated with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in Middle-Aged Finnish Men.” Age and Ageing, vol. 46, no. 2, 2017. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27932366,
- Kunutsor, Setor Kwadzo, et al. “Sauna Bathing Reduces the Risk of Respiratory Diseases: A Long-Term Prospective Cohort Study.” European Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 32, no. 12, 13 Sept. 2017. link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10654-017-0311-6,
- Kunutsor, Setor K., et al. “Frequent Sauna Bathing May Reduce the Risk of Pneumonia in Middle-Aged Caucasian Men: The KIHD Prospective Cohort Study.” Respiratory Medicine, vol. 132, Nov. 2017.
- Laukkanen, Tanjaniina, et al. “Acute Effects of Sauna Bathing on Cardiovascular Function.” Journal of Human Hypertension, vol. 32, no. 2, 21 Dec. 2017. www.nature.com/articles/s41371-017-0008-z,