Infrared Saunas Vs Steam Saunas: Which One Is Better?

By Carla Oates

Did you know that saunas are at least 2,000 years old? Originating in Finland, people have been sweating it out in steam saunas for centuries, and feeling better for it.

The Health Benefits Of Saunas 

Spending time in a sauna can have similar health benefits to exercise—consider this your excuse to skip Pilates and book in for a sauna sesh instead—by helping to improve circulation, boosting your lymphatic system, strengthening the immune system and even producing a feeling similar to a “runner’s high”.

One 2018 study found that sauna use could help reduce inflammation in the body, which could in turn have positive effects on our gut health. Ongoing or chronic inflammation can cause a variety of uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea, and prevent your gut microbiome from functioning at its peak. 

By encouraging the lymphatic system to get moving while you work up a sweat, sauna use could be a useful addition to a Spring detox. Our body has natural and ongoing detoxification processes performed by your elimination organs—i.e. your liver, colon, kidneys, lungs, lymphatic system and skin—that work hard every day to effectively eliminate toxins from both internal and external sources. However, if you feel tired, sluggish or run down, you could try a sauna session or two to get the lymphatic system moving and encourage your body to expel toxins via your skin. 

Infrared Saunas Vs Traditional Steam Saunas

While traditional steam saunas are pretty old, infrared saunas are relatively new—and very popular. So should you switch out your standard steam session for an infrared sauna instead? Here’s what you need to know.

Steam saunas

Traditional saunas heat the air by creating a cabin-like environment for steam. Stones or sauna rocks are gradually heated until they are ultra-hot. When water is thrown on the rocks via a ladle, it turns to steam which distributes around the room. If you want to stay in a traditional sauna for a period of time, you’ll need to keep throwing water on the rocks periodically to keep the steam coming.

Infrared saunas

Infrared saunas use a safe wavelength of light to heat the body directly. They can be more comfortable and easier to stay in for a longer period of time. Often, they’re more private too as the majority of infrared saunas are made to cater one to four people. Infrared saunas are becoming increasingly popular and are relatively easy to find as they’re much easier to set up than a traditional sauna.

The Takeaway

So which one is better: infrared or steam saunas? Unfortunately, there’s no black and white answer. 

Fans of infrared saunas claim that this type of sauna is more beneficial, given that the ambient temperature is lower than a typical steam sauna—usually around 40º-60ºC—so it’s easier to stay for longer. Plus, the penetrating nature of infrared light means that your body reacts by sweating profusely and in this scenario, the more sweat the better.

On the flip side, the temperature of steam saunas can get as high as 70-90°C (ooft!) which means that cool-down breaks are necessary. However, The Conversation references Finnish studies that show positive effects of steam saunas from just 10-20 minutes of use.

What we do know is this: the best sauna is the one you will actually go to. Steam saunas have been long researched and the benefits are well documented; however, the science on infrared saunas specifically is still emerging. Regardless of which sauna you opt for, you’re going to work up a great sweat.

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