We Need to Talk About "Infrared Saunas"
Savvy sauna marketers in the US created a new category of “fake saunas” that continue to sell like hotcakes because they can be made cheaper, are easier to install (no tricky electrical or sauna heating element), and buyers believe they are equal to (or maybe even better than) a traditional sauna.
First, let me make something clear, I have nothing at all against infrared. In fact, infrared heat has some very specific, and enjoyable, benefits – like reducing joint and muscle pain. But there is simply no reason it must be contained in a sauna-like room.
And, if you do any homework on “infrared saunas,” you’ll quickly discover there are as many questions as there are answers about the health and wellness benefits of using one. (Beware manufacturer claims, as that’s where all the “marketing speak” comes in.)
Let me clarify a few major “infrared sauna” misconceptions:
1. There’s literally no reason (except maybe convenience) to place infrared heat lamps inside a sauna-like room.
Infrared is a “therapy” not a thermal bathing experience. It requires 30-40 minutes of exposure to have any benefit at all to a user, and no one is equipped to stay in a traditional sauna heated to 80-90°C (or 175-194°F) for that long. Infrared cabins tend to have an ambient temperature of 40°C (or 104°F).
2. The most effective way for infrared to work is by targeting problem areas directly.
Which is why, in commercial settings, for example, infrared treatments will typically take place outside of a sauna. See this image of an infrared bench outside of a sauna at a spa.
3. Infrared isn’t a new therapy! It’s often completely overlooked that infrared therapy can be easily found outside of a sauna.
Infrared heat is used in the humble ceramic heated lounger, like this one from Sommerhuber. Arguably, this is more effective as the infrared heat is penetrating directly into the body.
Another way to affordably experience infrared therapy is via Inexpensive, lightbulbs that cost under $5 each. The light fixture pictured here is available on Amazon and is often used by physical therapists to easily position and administer infrared therapy.
Caracalla Thermae, a spa in Baden Baden, Germany, for example, has offered infrared therapy for over two decades by simply hanging four infrared lightbulbs in a row, in line with the spine, over their standard spa loungers. Guests are able to accessed them free of charge, but other spas have also monetized infrared therapy by creating special treatment rooms.
4. Hybrid saunas (a trend that combines infrared and traditional saunas) may have a place in an at-home wellness area, but not in a commercial property.
When a commercial spa owner/operator asks for an infrared sauna, we must disappoint them (and educate them on the above). This is because the only way a sauna can operate as both an infrared and traditional sauna would be by having it set to infrared and traditional on alternate days or infrared in the morning and Finnish in the afternoons. The reason for this is simple: you can’t cool down the room from traditional sauna temperatures to infrared temperatures easily or quickly.
The reason hybrid rooms work at home so much better is because private clients are able to heat the cabin to their personal preference/treatment. At DFL, we often create hybrid saunas for private clients using infrared seat backs and or other infrared panels.