Health benefits of traditional and portable infrared saunas
Finland is considered to be a motherland of sauna. For 5 and a half million of Finland’s citizens, there are close to 3.3 million saunas in this tiny country. It means that Finns have at least 1 or 2 saunas per family!
Many sauna purists would tell you that a Finland-style sauna with a wood stove (shown above) is the only way to go. For many of us building an outdoor sauna or buying a pre-manufactured one would be either too expensive or simply impossible due to a lack of space. What can you do if you live in an apartment or don’t have enough space on your property or in your home? The answer is getting a portable infrared sauna!
Source: Prestige Saunas Ltd
If “infrared” sounds too technical or even dangerous, do your own research. Traditional Finland-style sauna with a wood stove emits the same infrared waves when it’s hot or warm. Those invisible rays are responsible for the majority of the incredible health and beauty benefits of an infrared sauna. Best of all, for those of us who move frequently, getting a portable version is the most logical and economical way to benefit from frequent infrared light therapy home sessions. The majority of portable infrared sauna models are very affordable. They can be easily folded and stored. Try taking and transporting your stand-alone outdoor sauna hut each time you are being relocated!
If your spouse or a partner would want to have an infrared light therapy session before going to bed there is no reason to wait or to take turns. Two-person portable infrared sauna units are also available that are large enough for two people, yet small enough to fit into an average room.
With numerous choices of portable home saunas on the market, it’s hard to decide which ones are the best and safest in terms of features, efficiency, and EMF radiation. There is also a lot of confusion regarding Electromagnetic Field (EMF) radiation levels. Another “hot” topic of discussion is which type of sauna has more benefits: an infrared sauna or a traditional one?
Let’s start with defining the differences between different types of saunas.
In general, bathing in some kind of closed room or tent in high temperatures is called Sweat Bathing. Finnish sauna often referred to as “dry sauna” is known for low humidity since Finns don’t sprinkle water on the stones heated by a stove. Turks and Russians, on the other hand, like bathing in high humidity, so they pour water on the stones to produce a lot of steam. Thus, the Turkish style of sauna with extremely high humidity is called a steam room.
Russian version of the sauna – “banya” is somewhere in-between Turkish steam room and Finnish sauna. One may start using “banya” with dry heat and then, later on, add water (sometimes with essential oils) and use birch branches for massage.
If Finland is the “Sauna’s Motherland” then France is the birthplace of Eau de Cologne (literally meaning ‘water from Cologne’) – a citrus oil concoction launched in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina and rightly considered the first French perfume. How are famous French Perfumes connected to saunas? You, probably, know that in the middle ages, even noble people at the French court didn’t have a luxury or a cultural sauna tradition of bathing daily, so they created a demand for developing stronger and stronger perfumes for masking the unpleasant smell of their unwashed bodies.
We should thank them for rejecting the bathing traditions of some of their “barbaric” neighbors from the North and the East!
Can you imagine if French nobles had a habit of bathing in steam rooms as Turks, for example? They wouldn’t need such strong perfumes to cover unwashed body aroma, and we would lack many of the wonderful French fragrances we all love and adore.
What is a Wood Burning Sauna?
The ancient Finnish saunas were built with wood-burning stoves inside for heating the rocks that, in turn, will heat the sauna room by radiating infrared light waves. The majority of the stoves used in these are continuously heated stoves. Older versions of Finnish dry saunas have wood-burning stoves without chimneys. Since the smoke went directly into the room this type of sauna got the name Smoke Sauna.
Some people still prefer Smoke Sauna to the one with a chimney. Several reasons come to mind why one would choose Smoke type over the Chimney one. Here is a couple. Hot smoke and air going into the room not only heat it more efficiently than the stove with a chimney but also sterilize all the surfaces with high temperature and microdroplets of evaporated essential oils from the firewood.
Naturally, for smoke saunas more pre-heating time is required for stones to accumulate enough heat to keep the room hot for some time after the smoke is aired out.
What is an Infrared Sauna?
Source: gin design group
Typically, we think that the sauna room would be built out of wood. In regards to infrared sauna health benefits, it doesn’t matter that much what material is used. Why? Because your body warms up directly through infrared rays as opposed to high air temperatures or hot steam. These infrared rays penetrate up to 1 ½ inch deep into the body and heat the body directly.
Of course, a sauna made out of cedar or pine would smell nice but it would be a lot more expensive than any portable infrared sauna that we are talking about here.
Because the infrared rays are warming from within, these saunas normally operate in the range of 115-130 degrees Fahrenheit which is lower than traditional saunas with operating temperatures between 170–200 degrees Fahrenheit. In spite of the lower temperature range, the very nature of heating the body within makes infrared saunas to be the most beneficial and effective healthwise.
What is a Steam Room?
Although most of the steam rooms nowadays are made of a non-porous material, such as glass or tile, there are plenty of examples where different types of wood are used. A steam generator boils water to make steam, creating a moisture-rich environment.
Source: Tassie pools and Spas
Average temperatures hover around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, although it may feel much hotter due to humidity levels that can reach up to 100 percent. As opposed to infrared saunas which heat the user directly, steam rooms heat the outside environment, warming the user from the outside in.
Health Benefits of an Infrared Sauna vs. Steam Room
Although both steam rooms and infrared saunas offer a range of excellent health benefits, they do vary by product. The difference in benefits stems from the contrasting heat methods used, as described above.
The following are the primary health benefits of each.Source: mindbodygreen.com
Portable Infrared Sauna Health Benefits
All infrared saunas produce infrared heat which creates a warm and relaxing environment. Infrared heat improves circulation and alleviates pain. In addition to these, infrared sauna’s health benefits include detoxification and weight loss.
Far infrared saunas promote more sweating than a steam room. As the infrared rays penetrate deep into the body, they increase blood flow, break up large water molecule clusters, and help to expel harmful toxins not typically released in a steam room.
It heats your tissues several inches deep, which can enhance your metabolic processes. It also enhances circulation and helps oxygenate your tissues.
Increases Metabolism and Decreases Cellulite
Infrared Sauna therapy raises your heart rate somewhat similar to exercise.
The high temperatures can drive heart rates to levels often achieved by moderate-intensity physical exercise.
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
Here is what Professor R. Beever wrote in his study published in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes:
Our results suggest that infrared sauna use may be beneficial for lowering blood pressure and waist circumference. Subject adherence to infrared sauna use is greater than adherence to other lifestyle interventions. The combination of favourable compliance/adherence, as well as effectiveness in improving blood pressure and possibly waist circumference, makes infrared sauna therapy an attractive lifestyle option.
Richard Beever, BSc MD CCFP (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Clinical Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine)
Detoxifies heavy metals and other toxins out of the body
We are living in a toxic environment where each person carries close to 700 pollutants in their bodies at any given moment. This study shows that more than 200 chemicals are found in newborn cord blood.
Far infrared wavelengths increase the production of collagen and elastin. It also improves the delivery of nutrients to the skin via increased blood flow.
Steam Room Health Benefits
Because of the heat and high humidity steam rooms are famous for a few particular health-related benefits.
Steam rooms provide relief from respiratory issues such as sinusitis and cold symptoms. Hot steam can open the nasal passages for easier breathing.
Detoxification through sweating
Of course, we know that the kidneys and liver are the main organs responsible for detoxing our bodies. Nowadays a number of wellness gurus are dismissing detoxification through sweating completely. Well, if it is just water and salt coming out with the sweat and there is no bad stuff in it, why do all these sweaty people in the gym smell so bad? Not a sea breeze smell, for sure.
Once you step out of your steam room, your body must begin working to cool you down. The relaxing properties of a steam room session, combined with your body’s efforts to lower the internal temperature, can promote a great night’s sleep — particularly in the REM sleep cycle stage. You will also get this same benefit with your infrared sauna.
How do you select the best portable infrared sauna?
To buy a portable sauna, you need to follow some critical rules to determine the quality and safety. The main concern is low Electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation.
Always ask the seller to confirm the level of EMF radiation of the particular portable infrared sauna’s model even if it says “Low EMF”. Anything below 3.0mG would be considered “Safe” simply because, there’s no zero EMF infrared sauna available on the market.
Nowadays, many home infrared saunas use carbon as a heating element, which gives a better result than the Ceramic used in old saunas. However, carbon emits higher radiation than ceramics. Later models have carbon chambers covered with protective layers.
Near-Infrared or Far Infrared?
The longer wavelength of the infrared light the closer it to the frequencies of a microwave oven, so you have to be really careful with the lengths of the sessions if you will choose to go with Far Infrared Sauna.
Below is an example of a Near mid-infrared portable sauna heating panel:
You can see that the heating element is an array of 4 infrared bulbs protected by the wire casings. If you are handy, you can just buy 4 bulbs, a piece of plywood, and electric hardware and build your own portable infrared sauna in a couple of days. You may buy a small tent-like this one and have the whole portable near infrared sauna built for around $250 instead of spending $2999.99 for basically the same thing on Amazon. More information on building a DIY sauna with near-infrared bulbs can be found here.
Stand-alone near-infrared lamp
Another way to test the water in the Near-Infrared spectrum would be by purchasing this German-made infrared heat lamp marketed for alleviating muscle pain and cold relief.
Beurer (the German manufacturer of this lamp) states this:
Our infrared heat lamp model number IL 50 has been approved for sale in the North American market. The IL 50 uses near to mid-infrared light. The complete wavelength range (spectral output) of the IL 50 infrared heat lamp is (in nanometers) from 500nm to a peak of 2500nm
By Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Medical School