Is A Traditional Steam-Based Saunas too Hot for you?

Posted by : Rocky Mountain Saunas Team


Basking in the warmth of a sauna is one of the best ways to relax, lower your blood pressure and improve your sleep, studies show.  In fact, there is growing evidence that regular sauna use will lower your risk of major diseases and extend your life.  But not everyone can stand the high heat of your average home sauna.  Temperatures typically range from 150 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  For some consumers, especially those with chronic health conditions, excess heat in that range over a 20-minute or more period may pose a genuine health risk -- or be too much to bear.

 But not all saunas require high and uncomfortable temperatures.  An increasingly attractive alternative is an infra-red sauna, which does not rely on the steam from hot rocks but instead applies heat directly to your body.  As the name suggests, an infrared sauna relies on infrared light.   About 80% of the heat generated by this light goes directly into your body.  The heat penetrates your body more deeply, which means that you need not expose yourself to the same high temperatures as a traditional sauna.  The typical temperature range of an infrared sauna is just 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is safer and more comfortable for those with an aversion to high heat. 

Moreover, infrared saunas appear to provide the same health benefits as a traditional sauna.  For example, a small 10-person study found that people with chronic fatigue syndrome benefited from using an infrared light therapy sauna as part of their overall treatment.  Another 10-person study found that infrared saunas helped decrease muscle soreness and increase recovery from strength-training sessions.  In addition, several studies have found that infrared saunas may help reduce blood pressure, just as traditional saunas do.

The light from an infrared sauna may have additional health advantages.  Studies show that infrared light can heal a number of brain disorders by restoring tissue damaged due to strokes, traumatic brain injuries or Alzheimer’s disease.  While more research is needed, infrared sauna users might position their head close to the infrared light to enjoy these special healing benefits which are not found in traditional steam-based sauna use.

Are Infrared Saunas Safe?

Infrared saunas are perfectly safe if used properly.  However, it is important to distinguish saunas that rely on “near” versus “far” infrared light.  Near infrared light is light that exposes the user to more intense penetrating light rays that may be quite harmful.  Research indicates that near-infrared can cause cataracts and skin cancer and premature aging.  The effects are similar to those from excess exposure to harmful waves of ultraviolet light.  

Some infrared sauna manufacturers claim to provide “full-spectrum” exposure to infrared rays, which includes near-infrared rays.  Are these saunas still safe?  Their manufacturers, like District Cyro, claim that they are.  They say that the deeper, more intensive infrared exposure merely increases the saunas’ healing effects.  However, manufacturers like High Tech Health, which has been designing far infrared saunas longer than any other sauna company disagrees.  High Tech Health is a small, family owned company that claims to have the trust of more health practitioners than any other sauna company.  According to High Tech’s brochure, over 6,000 health practitioners refer their patients to the company.  

Even if you choose the right infrared sauna manufacturer, some basic health advisories still apply.  For example, if you have a heart condition or another major disease, you should consult a doctor before using an infrared sauna -- or any sauna, in fact.  Exposing yourself to excess heat may be ill-advised.  Second, do not use alcohol or drugs.  While inebriated or “high,” the excess heat could cause health complications, including dizziness and vertigo.  Finally, do not use the sauna when you are extremely tired.  Falling asleep can lead to permanent skin damage, dehydration and even death.  Set a timer and stay alert.

Cost Considerations

One of the perceived advantages of infrared saunas is their relatively low cost compared to traditional saunas.  Traditional saunas require expert knowledge to be made properly and are difficult to mass produce, even for home use.  Typically, their manufacturers are specialised sauna companies with knowledge of how to properly design, build, insulate, and ventilate a traditional sauna. Infrared saunas, by contrast, usually come flat-packed and ready to be assembled, with no need for specialised knowledge or skill.   Infrared saunas are designed for just 3-4 people which means they are much smaller than traditional saunas which may accommodate large groups. Infrared sauna also utilize simpler and less expensive construction materials 


Traditional sauna companies generally adhere to so-called Finnish guidelines in their construction.  Finland is the world’s leading producer of saunas.  The country adheres to strict laws and regulations regarding sauna construction.  These standards, however, do not apply to most infrared saunas, which are designed to be cheap.  Consumers run a higher risk of receiving lower-quality materials which have been mass-produced in countries like China that do not adhere to emerging “sustainability” guidelines. 


Due to rising consumer demand, infrared saunas may well be the wave of the future.  Not all consumers have the time or the resources to construct a traditional steam-based sauna. Infrared saunas appear to have the same health benefits and may even provide additional ones.  Traditional saunas have a special feel that appeals to consumers with Old World sensibilities and sustainability concerns.  They are custom-built using natural wood and stone materials and may be adapted to a variety of indoor and outdoor environments.

The main issue may be safety which is related to cost.  Choosing an appropriate infrared supplier that has tested its equipment and its effects on sauna users is essential.  The jury is still out on near-infrared and full-spectrum infrared. Consult a health safety expert before buying any ready-made infrared sauna system.   However, whatever path you choose, with more regular sauna use, get ready for a healthier more satisfying life.


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