The difference between an infrared and traditional sauna

Having first emerged around 2000 BC in Northern Europe, the sauna has been an ever-present fixture in human health and hygiene - and for good reason. They promote relaxation, detoxification, and overall wellness. 

Of course, saunas have come a long way since their early iterations. The first saunas were man-made caves that were draped closed with animal skins and had a fire burning inside them during the day beneath a pile of stones.

Fascinating, but perhaps not too appealing to modern sensibilities…

Nowadays, there are now two main types of saunas available on the market: traditional saunas and infrared saunas. While both types of saunas offer similar health benefits, there are some key differences between them. 

In this article, we will explore the difference between an infrared sauna and a traditional sauna.

What is a traditional sauna?Sauna

Traditional saunas, as we know them, have been around for centuries and are often referred to as Finnish saunas. 

They are typically made of wood and use a stove or heater to heat the air inside the sauna, which in turn heats the body. The temperature in a traditional sauna can range from 65 to 90 degrees Celsius,, and the humidity level is typically low.

The heat in a traditional sauna can be dry or wet, depending on whether water is poured on the rocks to create steam. Steam can help to open up the pores and promote sweating, which can help to eliminate toxins from the body.

What is an infrared sauna?

The rise in popularity of infrared saunas has been striking to see - but not unsurprising given their effectiveness.

Infrared saunas use infrared technology to heat the body directly. Unlike traditional saunas, which heat the air inside the sauna, infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit radiant heat that is absorbed directly by the skin and tissues.

The temperature in an infrared sauna is typically lower than in a traditional sauna, ranging from 45 to 65 degrees Celsius. However, rather than limit their effectiveness, this lower temperature is more than sufficient since the heat is absorbed directly by the body. Indeed, users often feel like they are sweating more intensely in this type of sauna.

Depending on the type of heater used, different saunas emit different forms of infrared light - which may result in different health benefits. Check out our article on how to choose an infrared sauna for more information on this.

Different heating mechanisms and conditions

The main difference between how traditional and infrared saunas function, from a user perspective, is the way they heat the body. 

Traditional saunas heat the air inside the sauna, which in turn heats the body.

Infrared saunas, on the other hand, use infrared heaters to emit radiant heat that is absorbed directly by the skin and tissues, via ceramic, carbon, or hybrid heaters.

The type of heat produced by each type of sauna does feel different. 

Traditional saunas can produce dry or wet heat, depending on whether water is poured on the rocks to create steam (note potential benefits of this above). 

Infrared saunas produce dry heat that is absorbed directly by the body. Let’s look more closely at humidity differences between the sauna types.

As noted above, infrared saunas tend to be a fair bit cooler than the traditional equivalent. This is down to the nature in which the body is heated - yet users will not notice a difference in sensation.

It’s worth flagging, that although the infrared sauna environment is not humid (no steam is produced), users cite significant benefits when it comes to detoxification via sweating.

Are the health benefits the same?

For the most part, traditional and infrared saunas offer a similar range of health benefits, including relaxation, detoxification, improved circulation, and pain relief. 

However, the type of heat produced by each type of sauna can have slightly different effects on the body.

Traditional saunas are known for their ability to produce a deep sweat - particularly driven by the more humid environment - which can help to eliminate toxins from the body and improve circulation. 

Infrared saunas, on the other hand, produce a head that penetrates deeper into the body, producing an even more intense sweat and providing a potentially wider range of health benefits. 

It’s worth flagging that the type of heater used in an infrared sauna may result in different benefits. Note: a carbon heater is considered to emit infrared waves that penetrate even deeper into the body than their ceramic counterparts.

Are both sauna types equally safe?

Both traditional and infrared saunas can be safe when used properly. 

However, there are some safety considerations to keep in mind.

It goes without saying, if the temperature is too high or if the user spends too much time inside a traditional sauna, there may be risks. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to health complications or dehydration. Remember to stay hydrated and limit the amount of time spent inside the sauna to what feels comfortable.

Infrared saunas are generally considered safer than traditional saunas since their lower temperature and dry heat are less likely to lead to dehydration. That said, the same common-sense self-care practices apply.

Indeed, if you’re planning on beginning sauna therapy - either infrared or traditional, it’s worth checking in with your GP beforehand to ensure it’s suitable for you. 

Do infrared saunas require more maintenance?

Both traditional and infrared saunas require regular maintenance to keep them in good working order - with some slight differences.

Traditional saunas require periodic cleaning and maintenance of the heater and rocks, while infrared saunas require regular cleaning of the heaters and control panels.

Having been around for far longer, replacement parts for traditional saunas are generally readily available and can be easily replaced. 

Replacement parts for infrared saunas can be more difficult to find, especially for older models - so it’s worth reaching out to a specialist such as Athlete Recovery for support.

What are the differences between an infrared sauna and a traditional sauna?

We’re huge fans of sauna therapy, and both the infrared and traditional types can offer a wider range of health and well-being benefits. 

As our reviews show, users are more than happy with either type - and your choice should really come down to personal preference.

The slightly different environments in terms of temperature and humidity may be a factor in your decision - and our friendly, expert team are on hand to help figure out which is the right option for you.

Why not get in touch today?

February 20, 2023