I wrote here on the health benefits of sauna generally. But infrared saunas are touted to have the highest health benefits compared to other types of sauna. What is the difference between them?

Infrared vs Regular Sauna

Infrared and regular (or dry) saunas look very similar, in that they are both wood-based rooms. You can tell the difference by the presence or absence of hot coals as the heat source, found in regular saunas. Regular saunas have to get much hotter than infrared saunas to do their jobs, because they heat the air first, which then indirectly heats the body by convection. Typically temperatures in dry saunas range from 170–200 degrees Fahrenheit. For those who are especially heat-sensitive, this may not be a viable option. It also is less energy-efficient, and therefore less cost-effective, for the same reason (which might be an issue for those looking to purchase and run their own saunas at home.)

By contrast, infrared saunas are heated by non-visible wavelengths of light (in the infrared part of the spectrum—hence the name). Infrared light penetrates about an inch and a half into the body, heating tissues directly, rather than heating the air first. Because of this, infrared sauna temperatures can range from only 115-130 degrees Fahrenheit and still have a similar effect. This study also suggests greater health benefits due to the depth of wavelength penetration.

Benefits of Both Kinds of Sauna

Sauna bathing generally has its place in a lifestyle of longevity. This study shows a decrease in all cause mortality, including reduced risk of cardiovascular and congestive heart failure, and sudden cardiac death (and in fact, sauna’s cardiovascular effects are among its best established benefits). One theory for the reason for this is that sauna bathing improves cardiovascular function by making the vessels more flexible, improving blood pressure via vasodilation, and calms the autonomic nervous system.

This study also shows that regular sauna bathing reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

This study shows that regular sauna bathing reduces both acute and chronic respiratory diseases.

And, going along with the idea of reduced all-cause mortality risk, this study shows that regular sauna bathing reduces systemic inflammation.

Sauna bathing can assist with weight loss, according to this study. This is likely due to the caloric expenditure of heat and sweating. 

Benefits of Infrared Sauna Alone

I was only able to find one study from 2018 that compared and contrasted infrared and dry sauna for health benefits. Its conclusion was, “There is not yet enough evidence to distinguish any particular health differences between repeat Finnish-style [dry] and repeat infrared sauna bathing.”

So it appears that the primary reason to choose infrared over dry sauna, at least according to current research, has to do with temperature sensitivity and energy efficiency. Both types of sauna are beneficial from a health standpoint.