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Conventional Steam Saunas (or “traditional hot rocks”) vs. Infrared Saunas

Which Is Right For You?
The health benefits of steam saunas have been recognized for centuries, beginning with sweat lodges, traditional Finnish saunas, and other methods of heating the body and producing perspiration that cleanses the cells and pores. Typically, a heat source such as a wood, electric or gas sauna stove is used to produce the heat in a sauna. But in recent years, a technology known as far infrared has been used to replace the traditional steam sauna with infrared saunas, and some people feel that the result is superior.
How Does A Far Infrared Sauna Work?
Manufacturers say that far infrared saunas use infrared light to heat the skin directly, rather than warming the air first. In an infrared sauna, a heater produces this radiant energy, which is similar to the heat from the sun. Most of these heaters draw on technology developed in 1965 by Dr. Tadashi Ishikawa, a member of the Research and Development Department of Fuji Medical.
Infrared sauna promoters state that unlike UV radiation or atomic radiation, infrared radiant heat is safe and beneficial. When infrared rays hit your skin, they transfer heat energy, which proponents say penetrates more than an inch and a half into the body to heal and stimulate tissues.
In addition, the heat causes you to sweat, thus achieving health benefits similar to those from a conventional steam sauna. In fact, some say that the more penetrating and intense heat of a far infrared sauna makes you sweat 2-3 times more.
Reasons to Choose a Far Infrared Sauna
Those who favor the use of the far infrared sauna say that the right frequency of infrared rays triggers a process called resonant absorption, wherein toxins are removed from the cells in our bodies at a higher rate than with a steam sauna.
Perhaps one of the most important differences between conventional saunas and far infrared saunas is that they function at a lower heat setting.
In addition, the heavy, thick air can be difficult to breathe, and the evaporation can dry out membranes in the nose and eyes. Sometimes the exceptionally high temperatures make the wood benches and any metal surfaces extremely hot as well, creating potential for burns.
A far infrared sauna functions between 100F and 130F. Claims state that less than 20 of the infrared energy from the heater goes into the air, so not only does the body receive 80 of the heat benefits, some people find that the air is more tolerable. And other than the heaters, there are no hot surfaces to worry about.
Another claim of infrared sauna manufacturers is that an infrared sauna heater uses considerably less electricity than indoor or outdoor saunas that use electricity to heat. Plus, the sauna is usually warm within 10 or 20 minutes, whereas a conventional sauna can take near an hour to reach optimal temperatures.
And infrared uses no water, so you don?t have to plumb pipes or pay for that additional expense. In fact, many feel that infrared saunas are easier to assemble and they can be moved to a new location with relative ease.
The Other Side of the Sauna Story
On the flip side of the comparison, many people feel that a steam sauna provides benefits that can?t be matched by a far infrared sauna. Their main position is that the steam produced by a conventional sauna is essential to the healing process, especially in regard to respiratory health.
In response to those who say a steam sauna will dry out membranes, supporters of Finnish and other conventional saunas state that the steam is beneficial to those with sinus conditions and add that because they operate without steam, infrared saunas are drying and can irritate nasal and lung passages. In addition the dry heat from infrared saunas can cause hair to dry out and skin to become itchy and flaky.
Supporters of conventional saunas feel that information about the health benefits of saunas that operate with infrared have been exaggerated or claimed without proof. They refer to different studies that show a traditional sauna produces more sweat and removes more toxins.
And some say that any radiation, even infrared, is unhealthy and should be avoided. An infrared sauna has several heaters, and bathers must sit within a foot of the heat source in order to gain full benefits. In some cases, this has caused people to feel sunburned following an infrared sauna.
Others who prefer conventional saunas feel that a steam sauna simply feels more healthy and refreshing. And because you can control the steam, heat, and humidity by adding more water or moving to a higher or lower bench in the sauna, you can tailor the experience to match your needs and preferences.
Some people prefer a sauna that is heated with wood, allowing a traditional heat source as well as the option to add smoke to the sauna for additional purifying features. Others add aromatherapy oils to their sauna steam to create a dual cleansing and healing effect. This is typically not possible with an infrared sauna.
And there is the tradition and ritual that comes along with certain aspects of a sweat lodge or Finnish sauna that have been a part of different cultures for hundreds of years. For many people, a sauna is not only key to a healthy physical life, it is also important to overall spiritual health, and making the steam, or l yly (lou-lu), is an important part of that ritual.
Gain First-Hand Knowledge Before Choosing
When it comes to choosing between an infrared sauna and a steam sauna or one that operates with more conventional technology, it is best to try each type yourself and to talk with people who own them. Take time to fully research your options and talk to your doctor about health concerns with either type of sauna. In the end, the choice may come down to limitations in budget, space available, preferences in heating sources, or other personal factors.
No matter which you choose, you will be joining the ranks of millions of people who use and enjoy saunas to improve their health, provide relief and relaxation from life?s stresses, socialize with friends and family, and even find spiritual peace.

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