First, let us look at the similarities of the rooms and the shared benefits. The goal of sauna bathing varies by person, but let’s assume your general goal is to enjoy the benefits of heat bathing: relaxation and stress reduction, sweating (with the associated detoxification) and relieving aches and pains. Both sauna types provide these benefits, although the conditions under which the benefits are achieved are quite different. The benefits of heat bathing have much to do with the sauna creating a self-induced fever.
Both sauna types will be relatively dry. The far-infrared rooms tends to be close to normal house humidity levels unless it has been on for extended periods of time. The traditional sauna will be drier (10% or lower) until water is sprinkled over the rocks. The traditional sauna is the only bath in the world where the user controls both temperature and humidity, with humidity controlled to user liking by how much water is thrown on the rocks. In far-infrared saunas you control the temperature, but the humidity is whatever it is.
While perspiring in either sauna, you will experience deep relaxation, sore muscles are loosened, and aching joints will likely feel relief. The process of perspiration burns some calories, though the amount of calories burned is debatable and is dependent upon the individual. Most of the weight lost in a sauna is water loss and is re-gained upon rehydrating. However, without a doubt sauna can be an important part of a healthy weight loss program.
The temperature for a traditional sauna typically ranges between 150 and 185º F. The hottest point in the sauna—which is at the ceiling directly above the sauna heater—is typically between 185 and 190º F. Claims that a traditional sauna exceeds 200º F is simply not true and not applicable for electric saunas sold in Canada.
The temperature for a far-infrared sauna is usually set between 120 and 140º F; however, unlike the traditional sauna, the goal in and IR room is not to achieve a high temperature. Instead, in a far-infrared room, the bather wants the emitters to remain active because infrared energy is only being emitted (therefore providing the benefit of the deep penetrating infrared heat) when the emitters are on. Because of this, the temperature difference is almost irrelevant, since profuse sweating results in both sauna types, but the method of heating the body is different. In an IR sauna the bather will feel hot and will sweat profusely, but at much lower temperatures. Thus, if the goal is to spend longer periods of time in the sauna, the IR sauna is a good choice.
In a traditional sauna, perspiration is achieved when the bather enters a heated room. The process for heating the room most often involves an electric heater that heats a compartment of stones, which then radiate the heat throughout the room. When the high temperature is achieved, the elements cycle on and off to maintain the high temperature. Most traditional sauna users enjoy pouring water over the rocks to create steam to raise sauna humidity levels.
In a far-infrared sauna, the heat waves penetrate the body to effectively heat the body and raise the body core temperature. To achieve this increased temperature, Far-infrared emitters create infrared energy which is close to the same wavelength as that which the body naturally emits—often referred to as the "Vital Range” of 7 to 14 microns, so the energy is well received by the body. The infrared energy deeply penetrates the skin and warms the muscles and joints. When the energy enters the body, it causes the body temperature to increase and ultimately results in perspiration. In an infrared sauna it’s important for the emitters/heaters to remain on almost constantly.
Time Spent In Sauna
The length of recommended use for a Traditional Sauna is 10-15 minutes per session.
For an Infrared Sauna, due to the lower air temperatures and the ability to feel the effects of infrared heat faster than a traditional sauna, it is not uncommon for a person to spend a total of 30-45 minutes in an infrared sauna. There are many medical practitioners, especially in Canada, who prescribe 30-45 minute infrared sauna sessions for their patients.
*Regardless of which heat system is used, the bather must closely monitor how he feels while using the room, and he must be sure to drink plenty of water during the break between sessions.