What is the Healthiest Type of Sauna? Traditional, Infrared, etc.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Justin Ternes
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Saunas can be a great way to detoxify and destress. What you might not know is that there are different types of saunas to choose from. Each one carries with it its own benefits and downsides. So which one is better, and which should you choose if you are in the market for a new sauna system?

Every sauna does a similar thing to the human body: it heats it. If your body heats up, you get a thermogenic response which results in sweating. Regardless of sauna type, you will experience the health benefits of heat therapy.

When it comes to saunas, there are usually two types you’ll see on the market. Those are infrared and steam. While they are different, they do the same thing to your body at a basic level. That is, heating it up. But are there differences that you should know about when it comes to these sauna types? Read on to find out which one is right for you.

Which Sauna is Better: Infrared or Steam?

Wooden sauna with glass door

This is the big question. Do you want a dry heat or a wet heat? That is really the question you need to answer. When answering, there are a few things you need to take into account, and not all are about health.

The first is which type of sauna are you trying to buy? A big unit will most likely be a full-featured steam sauna, while most portables utilize infrared heat. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll still get the thermogenic effect that saunas are known for.

Another thing to consider is what you are using your sauna for. If you are just interested in relieving stress and muscle soreness, both units will perform well. But, if you want to reap some of the respiratory benefits, you might want to purchase a steam sauna. This is because the steam helps open up sinuses and can be a great way to relieve respiratory distress.

Infrared units might heat up faster, which could play into your decision. But when it comes to health benefits, both sauna types will help improve circulation, boost your immune response, jumpstart your metabolism, among other health effects. We have been using saunas for centuries for these health benefits. Whether you choose infrared or steam (our guide on the differences), you’ll get a similar experience.

Are Infrared Saunas Bad for Your Skin?

Empty Classic Wooden Infrared Sauna

You may be worried about this, but the type of radiation a sauna uses is the same kind of energy that transfers heat from the sun. While researchers have tried to link harmful effects of this kind of radiation, few have searched for the benefits.

Some people argue that infrared radiation actually benefits the skin, and there is some research to support this claim, in fact, we’ve argued before that it can help with weight loss. Additionally, some people argue that the particular wavelengths of light used in infrared help with the cell renewal process in the body.

There are also claims about anti-aging effects due to increased collagen production. Infrared saunas can have some bad effects too. One, in particular, is the effect on the production of melanocyte pigment in the skin. This can cause some inflammation in individuals.

Benefits of a Sauna Bath/Dry Sauna

While infrared saunas are a popular option for at-home sauna use, they aren’t the only dry saunas around. In fact, most saunas are dry saunas. They utilize dry heat like coal to bring the temperature of the room up.

You might see steam, but water poured onto hot sauna rocks causes this, not the heating element. There is actually some good research to back up the health benefits when it comes to dry saunas. Let’s take a look at some of those benefits.

  • Cardiovascular health 
  • Immune boosting
  • Relief for chronic pain syndrome
  • Relief for some depressive states
  • Help with clearing airways and lungs

The dry air in the sauna provides some unique benefits over steam saunas. They can quickly cause your body to enter the thermogenic state that saunas are known for. This helps increase blood flow, boost your immune system, and relieve pain.

Are Saunas or Hot Tubs Healthier?

It might come as no surprise that saunas aren’t the only way people get their hot-fix. Hot tubs have long been a staple in backyards across the world. From Kyoto to Helsinki, hot baths cross-cultural boundaries just like sauna use. But do hot tubs offer different health benefits than saunas?

When it comes to which is better, saunas usually outperform hot tubs. This is because when you use a hot tub, you don’t sweat as much. Because sweating is where all the benefits of a sauna come from, you just won’t get the same results with a hot tub. This is the same for weight loss.

As the dry heat and sweat are what bump up your metabolism, a hot tub just won’t have the kind of heat you need to lose weight. That isn’t to say you won’t get any benefits from a hot tub, but they will be limited in comparison. When it comes to areas like sleep benefits, you’re going to see some similar benefits.

Overall, hot tubs are great for relaxing and de-stressing. They don’t have the same benefits as other forms of heat therapy like saunas, though. For some, the heat of the tub is preferable to the kind of heat you get in a sauna, so personal choice is always a factor.

What is the Healthiest Type of Sauna?

Traditional Scandinavian water floating red wooden sauna

When it comes down to it, the best sauna is one you want to use regularly. Most of the benefits we have listed in the above sections only work with regular use. If you don’t like the dry heat of an infrared sauna, then the health benefits will be minimal as you won’t use it as often.

This is the same for any sauna type. If you prefer one over the other, that is a good enough reason to purchase that type. This goes for portable saunas, full-sized units, and even hot tubs if that’s what you like.

The benefits all come from regular use, especially the cardiovascular benefits. It’s almost like exercising. Sure, one session can help, but you really see the results when you keep to a regular schedule. With sauna use, it’s a bit easier than heading to the gym, but the consistency principle is still king.

How Can You Optimize Sauna Use for Health Benefits

While you might love using your sauna when the mood strikes to get the best health benefits, there are some tips to follow. First, you want to make sure you have the right temperature. Making sure the environment is conducive to sweating but not too hot to overheat is important. But let’s take a look at a few more strategies to implement.

  • Shower before and after use — Not only is this going to keep you clean, but it can also help bring blood to your skin. This can help prepare your body for the sweat session you are about to endure. Additionally, sweat clogs pores. To keep your skin clean, a shower is a must.
  • Frequency — You want to make sure you are using your sauna often. While you might think once or twice a week is okay, for the best benefits, try and find three to five sauna sessions a week.
  • Cold dips after a session — Many people swear by a cold shower after a sweat sauna session. This can be great to help cool the body down and help even more with cardiovascular health. 
  • Stretching — A sauna is a great place to relax your muscles. When your muscles are nice and relaxed, then that is the perfect time to stretch. Stretching during your sessions can help relieve muscle tension and increase flexibility.
  • Go nude — Going in your birthday suit is a great way to help increase the amount of heat your body is exposed to. Additionally, towels can hamper proper sweating. This can cause things like gland infractions.

Wrapping Up

The best way to get the most out of your sauna is to use it regularly. Whether you use a steam sauna or an infrared, the best sauna to use is one that is the most comfortable. Additionally, there are some other things you can do like stretching that can add even more benefits. No matter how you cut it, saunas are a great way to relax and stay healthy. 

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