Traditional saunas have been around for thousands of years1, but infrared saunas have only been around for a short period of time (by comparison). This is because infrared saunas are much more technologically advanced and rely on electricity to function, whereas traditional saunas only really need wood, fire, and coals. Despite the large gap in their ages and how exactly they work, traditional and infrared saunas have a lot more similarities than they do differences, in terms of what they’re used for.
In this article, we’ll go over how each of these saunas works, their pros and cons, their varying price points, and who should choose one over the other. Remember, both types of saunas can be dangerous for certain people, so be sure to check with your doctor before jumping into the sauna.
Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional Saunas
What’s an Infrared Sauna?
As the name implies, infrared saunas use infrared light waves2 to create heat. Infrared light waves are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and in fact, we encounter these kinds of light waves every day, though we can’t see them.2 Instead, we can feel them as heat. In fact, it is infrared light waves that are used for turning on the T.V. with a remote control, to create thermal imaging, and to see distant stars.2
So how are infrared rays used in a sauna and why?
In the late 1800s, John Harvey Kellogg discovered that, unlike other sources of light, light bulbs that produced infrared light penetrated the skin membrane more deeply and could effectively induce a quick and profuse sweat.1 Kellogg had dedicated his life to various wellness practices and was no stranger to traditional saunas. With that, the first “incandescent light baths,” or infrared saunas, were born.1
Modern infrared saunas use broad-spectrum infrared light and work by heating the body directly3 without warming the air around you — unlike a traditional sauna, which makes the air in the room very hot. This also means that infrared saunas can still make you sweat without feeling as hot as a traditional sauna.3
Infrared Sauna Pros
- They may be more comfortable for some4 because they reach lower temperatures
- Easier to use at home4
- They tend to be less expensive4
- Improvement in blood pressure and heart conditions3
- Can help with dementia and Alzheimer’s symptoms3
- Can reduce headaches and arthritis pain3
- Can reduce some symptoms of type 2 diabetes3
- Promotes relaxation3
- May boost elastin and collagen production5 to improve complexion
Infrared Sauna Cons
- Less research has been done on infrared saunas4
- There is a potential risk for electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation4
- Can worsen skin pigmentation issues6 like melasma
- It can take you longer to start sweating than in a traditional sauna5
- May be dangerous for anyone with metal or silicone implants5
- Some people may experience impaired breathing, heart pain or discomfort, low blood pressure, temporary pain, and a temporarily reduced sperm count4
What’s a Traditional Sauna?
A traditional sauna7 is a small room that is heated by either burning wood or conventional electric heating. The main difference between a traditional sauna and an infrared is how hot they get and the methods they use to heat up. While infrared saunas use light to heat your skin directly, traditional saunas heat the air around you and can reach much higher temperatures than infrared saunas, sometimes reaching as high as 212 degrees Fahrenheit.4
Traditional saunas have also been around for much longer, dating back to about 2,000 B.C.1
Nowadays, you’ll often find these types of saunas in gyms and spas.
Related: How to Use a Sauna
Traditional Sauna Pros
- Can feel like more of an “authentic sauna” experience
- They have been more heavily researched4
- There is no risk of EMF radiation with a traditional sauna4
- They reach higher temperatures4
- Sessions can be shorter because it tends to take less time to break a sweat in a traditional sauna5
- They are considered safer for those with metal or silicone implants8
- Have been shown to improve heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, arthritis, chronic fatigue, muscle soreness, and stress levels7
Traditional Sauna Cons
- They tend to be more expensive4
- They can be more complicated to use at home4
- The higher temperature may be less comfortable for some people4
- Could lead to impaired breathing, heart pain or discomfort, low blood pressure, temporary pain, and a temporarily reduced sperm count4
Infrared Sauna vs. Traditional Sauna Cost Differences
As mentioned, infrared saunas tend to be less expensive than traditional saunas if you’re buying one for your home. So what exactly are the price differences?
Unfortunately, there is no exact number as the price can vary widely depending on the sauna you’re getting. If you do a Google search of infrared saunas, you can a good amount of options between 2,000 and 3,000 dollars. Meanwhile, we’ve found that traditional saunas tend to run closer to 5,000 dollars or more.
Additionally, infrared saunas are a bit less expensive to run9 each month.
Who Should Use a Traditional Sauna?
If you’re looking for that “classic sauna” experience, complete with a very hot room, steamy rocks, and the smell of wood or aromatherapy, you should opt for a traditional sauna. These are also a better fit for people who can stand higher temperatures and prefer the sauna type that’s been more researched. Additionally, they’re better for anyone with silicone or metal implants, as well as people with melasma or pigmentation issues.8,6
Who Should Use an Infrared Sauna?
Infrared saunas may be a better fit for those who want to have their own sauna at home as they tend to be more cost-effective and easy to use. They’re also a good fit for those who want the health benefits of a sauna but don’t enjoy the intense heat that comes along with it. Plus, they may be able to improve skin elasticity.5
Are There Health Risks to Using a Sauna?
Saunas are generally considered safe, but certain people are more at risk10 for overheating, a plummet in blood pressure, fainting, cardiac arrest, or even sudden death. The following people should avoid both traditional and infrared saunas:
- Pregnant people11
- People with low blood pressure10
- Those with uncontrolled high blood pressure12
- Those who use nicotine patches10
- People with heart disease12
- Those who are ill12
- Anyone who has been drinking alcohol, taking any sort of stimulant, or any other substance or medication that can impact your heart rate, blood pressure, or ability to sweat10
Infrared Sauna vs Traditional Sauna FAQs
What type of sauna is healthiest?
Infrared and traditional saunas have many of the same health benefits, including stress reduction, muscle recovery, detoxification, improvement of cold symptoms, lowering of blood pressure, improvement of heart health, and more.7 The only slight difference in their health benefits is that infrared saunas may pose more of a risk to those with metal or silicone implants5 and those with hyperpigmentation conditions like melasma.5,6
Is it okay to use an infrared sauna every day?
Most experts recommend using any type of sauna just two or three times13 a week. If you’re using the sauna more than this, be sure you’re hydrating with plenty of water and electrolytes14, before, during, and after your sauna sessions since you’ll be losing a lot of sweat.
Should you shower after an infrared sauna?
You’ll likely be sweaty after an infrared sauna, so yes, you should take a shower. If you’re at the gym and you’ve just had a workout, you should also rinse off before getting into the infrared sauna.
Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.
- Andra-Warner, Elle. “A brief history of saunas”. Northern Wilds. https://northernwilds.com/a-brief-history-of-saunas/. 2022.
- “Infrared Waves”. NASA. Webpage accessed October 12, 2023. https://science.nasa.gov/ems/07_infraredwaves/.
- Bauer MD, Brent A. “What is an infrared sauna? Does it have health benefits?”. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/infrared-sauna/faq-20057954. 2022.
- Ruscio DC, Michael. “Infrared Saunas vs. Traditional: Which Is Better?”. Dr. Ruscio DC. https://drruscio.com/infrared-sauna/. 2021.
- Tantry MD, Tanya. “Infrared Sauna: Dangers and Benefits”. Flo. Last modified November 4, 2019. https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/lifestyle/hygiene-and-beauty/infrared-sauna-dangers.
- “Is Infrared Good or Bad for Your Skin?”. Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology. https://derm.net/2019/01/is-infrared-good-or-bad-for-your-skin/. 2019.
- “Benefits of sauna bathing for heart health”. UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/benefits-sauna-bathing-heart-health. 2023.
- “Can You Sauna With Silicone Breast Implants?”. Saunas.org. https://saunas.org/can-you-sauna-with-silicone-breast-implants/. 2022.
- “INDOOR INFRARED VS TRADITIONAL SAUNA: A QUICK COMPARISON OF THE TWO”. My Sauna World. Webpage accessed October 12, 2023. https://mysaunaworld.com/blogs/my-sauna-world-blog/indoor-vs-outdoor-traditional-sauna.
- “Are Saunas Good for You?”. Poison Control. Webpage accessed October 12, 2023. https://www.poison.org/articles/are-saunas-good-for-you.
- “Is it safe to use a sauna or jacuzzi if I’m pregnant?”. National Health Service. Last modified December 22, 2022. https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/is-it-safe-to-use-a-sauna-or-jacuzzi-if-i-am-pregnant/.
- “Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful?”. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/saunas-and-your-health. 2020.
- “HOW THE SAUNA AND STEAM ROOM CAN HELP YOUR HEALTH”. YMCA. Webpage accessed October 12, 2023. https://www.ymcamidtn.org/health-and-fitness/articles/how-sauna-and-steam-room-can-help-your-health.
- “What Time Of Day Is Best To Use Your Sauna?”. Saunas.org. https://saunas.org/sauna-time-results-benefits/. 2022.