Should I buy a Finnish or an Infrared sauna?


Should I buy a Finnish or an Infrared sauna?

By Laura Marbach from The Sauna Place team

We regularly get asked by sauna buyers about the health effects of “Finnish” or “dry” saunas (sometimes also called “traditional”) versus the infrared saunas. An infrared sauna emits infrared light waves that create heat within the body rather than heating the air around it, leading to sweating at lower temperatures compared to traditional saunas. In a dry sauna, on the other hand, heat is generated by a stove, either wood-burning or electric, that heats the air inside the sauna room. Stones placed atop the stove can be sprinkled with water to add a brief burst of steam, but the primary mode of heating remains dry.

There are multiple recorded health effects from sauna bathing, falling into the following categories:

  1. Improvement of cardiovascular health
  2. Reduction in neurodegenerative diseases (like dementia and Alzheimer’s)
  3. Detoxification
  4. Mental health and cognitive benefits
  5. Relaxation and improved sleep quality
  6. Increase in fitness and endurance
  7. Pain Relief and Muscle
  8. Recovery
  9. Reduction in inflammation and a boost to immunity
  10. Skin Health and
  11. Rejuvenation
  12. Improved respiratory function
  13. Weight loss (though please read on for nuance!)
  14. Reduction in all-cause mortality.

Dry saunas are by far the most studied to date and hence it is easier to speak to their health benefits, which we describe more in detail below. However, if you have a shorter list of goals like focusing on the reduction of muscle atrophy, helping with pain from rheumatic disease, detox, or wanting a simple relaxation ritual, an infrared sauna might be sufficient. We also sell hybrid saunas that let you enjoy the benefits of both infrared and dry heat. Naturally, this is not medical advice and please always talk to your doctor about your specific health conditions and goals before deciding what is best for you.

In addition to the original research papers most prominent of which are linked to in the article, we used the overview materials by Dr Rhonda Patrick (Sauna Use: Implications for Aging & the Brain), Dr Peter Attia and Dr Andrew Huberman – all are the doctors that we respect and have followed for years.

Improvement of cardiovascular health

The biggest studies of sauna-bathing come from Finland which boasts c. 3 million saunas while having a population of 5.5 million. A landmark study that lasted for more than 20 years has observed that frequent dry sauna use is associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, and a lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease. And the numbers are staggering. For instance, compared to men who used the sauna once per week, moderate sauna users (2-3 times per week) were 22% less likely to experience sudden cardiac death, and frequent users (4-7 times per week) were 63% less likely to experience sudden cardiac death.

The mean temperature in the saunas was more than 170F. Further research showed that most cardiovascular benefits start accumulating above 175F, which is the temperature way above the 110-135F that infrared saunas get to.

One way to think about it, as described by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, is that sauna use mimics moderate aerobic exercise, so a lot of the same physiological effects that happen when you are exercising take place when sauna bathing – increase in heart rate, increase in core body temperature, sweating, and then after the exercise/sauna – reduction in blood pressure and reduction in resting heart rate. Higher heat leads to stronger such effects and hence dry saunas’ ability to reach that heat is a relative benefit.

Still, infrared saunas do heat up the body too, and there is gradually more research coming about about the cardiovascular benefits among infrared sauna users as well. You could also opt for a hybrid sauna that has both infrared lights and a heater powerful enough to heat up a room to 175F+.

Resources: (1) Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events

Score: Dry sauna: 1 — Infrared sauna: O

Reduction in neurodegenerative disease

Normal cognitive function relies on sufficient blood flow to the brain and peripheral nervous system. So cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline often go hand-in-hand, and hence it is no surprise that sauna users have been shown to have not only a lower risk of cardiovascular problems but also a lower risk of dementia and of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another benefit could come from the fact that heat exposure (as well as exercise) increases the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), a protein that promotes neurogenesis – the growth of new neurons in the brain.

Positive cognitive outcomes occur in a dose-dependent manner, meaning the more frequent the sauna bathing, the stronger the health benefits. In major study from Finland (2) with a multivariable analysis adjusted for baseline age, alcohol consumption, BMI, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, Type 2 diabetes, previous myocardial infarction, resting heart rate and serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, physical activity and socio-economic status, there was a 67% risk reduction of dementia and 65% risk reduction of Alzheimer’s disease when sauna bathing 4–7 times a week was compared with subjects having 1 sauna session per week.

Again, the mechanisms of action are heat-induced and most of the studies are done on dry saunas, hence this is a second area in which our conviction is with them vs the infrared saunas.

Resources: (2) Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men

Score: Dry sauna: 2 — Infrared sauna: O


The intense heat from sauna bathing causes the body to produce sweat through the skin’s pores, which is one of the body’s natural ways to eliminate toxins such as cadmium, aluminum or even BPA. The high heat also increases blood circulation, which can help transport toxins from tissues to the skin’s surface, where they can be eliminated through sweating.

Due to the higher temperatures in Finnish saunas, individuals tend to sweat more voluminously. A study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that traditional saunas were more effective than infrared saunas at eliminating certain heavy metals from the body, such as mercury and cadmium. The researchers suggested that this may be due to the more intense and sustained sweating that occurs in traditional saunas (4).

However, the deep penetration of infrared heat is thought to mobilize toxins from fat cells to the bloodstream, from where they can be sweated out. This process is sometimes believed to be more effective for detoxifying because it can reach toxins that are stored deeper. The extent to which different toxins are eliminated, and the efficiency of these processes in Finnish versus infrared saunas, remains a topic for further scientific exploration, but this is the category in which Finnish sauna is not a clear winner as of now.

Resources: (3) Human Excretion of Bisphenol A: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study; (4) Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation

Score: Dry sauna: 3 — Infrared sauna: 1

Mental health and cognitive benefits

Infrared saunas have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression – such as improved appetite and reduced body aches and anxiety – in mildly depressive patients. 
Research in dry saunas has pointed to numerous pathways in which they also have the potential to help depressive patients – for instance, by increasing beta-endorphins that are part of the body’s natural painkilling system.

Other cognitive benefits shown from dry sauna use come from two key players in cognitive and mental function – norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter enhancing focus and attention, and prolactin, a hormone helping the brain function faster.

When young men stayed in a dry sauna that was heated to 80°C (176°F) until subjective exhaustion, their norepinephrine levels increased by 310 percent and their prolactin levels increased by 900 percent. Levels of cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with the stress response, were slightly decreased. Similarly, a study involving women who participated in 20-minute sessions in a dry sauna twice a week experienced an 86 percent increase in norepinephrine and a 510 percent increase in prolactin after the session.

In summary, both infrared and sauna use have recorded mental health benefits, but yet again there is more research done with dry saunas at heat levels higher than what infrared saunas get to.

Resources: (5) Repeated Thermal Therapy Diminishes Appetite Loss and Subjective Complaints in Mildly Depressed Patients; (6) Rise in Plasma β-Endorphin and ACTH in Response to Hyperthermia in Sauna; (7) Sauna Use: Implications for Aging & the Brain

Score: Dry sauna: 4   — Infrared sauna: 2

Relaxation and improved sleep quality

Sauna use, whether Finnish or infrared, can influence the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle over a 24-hour period.

The significant heat exposure from a Finnish sauna elevates the body’s core temperature. Following a sauna session, there’s a natural cooling process where the body works to dissipate the excess heat. This cooling effect mimics the natural drop in body temperature that occurs in the evening, signalling to the body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. This can help reinforce the body’s natural circadian signals for sleep readiness.

The intense heat also helps to relax muscles and reduce physical and mental stress including cortisol, a stress hormone, as mentioned in the previous section, further promoting a state conducive to sleep and optimal sleep patterns.

Infrared saunas allow for deep tissue warming, also leading to physical and mental relaxation that helps with sleep. However, they do not increase core temperature as much as dry saunas.

Score: Dry sauna: 5 — Infrared sauna: 3

Increase in fitness and endurance

During exercise, core body temperature increases, accelerating the athlete’s exhaustion. However, numerous studies have shown that adapting one’s body to heat via regular sauna sessions, helps better deal with subsequent increases in core body temperature during future exercise.

Heat has also been shown to help in muscle recovery post-exercise as well as in reducing muscle atrophy among athletes with muscle disuse following sports injuries. The good news for infrared sauna fans is that on this particular topic, there is a solid amount of research done to show that infrared sauna-level temperatures are effective in reducing muscle atrophy hence the traditional dry sauna is not a clear winner on this topic.

Resources: (8) Sauna Use: Implications for Aging & the Brain – Physical fitness and athletic performance

Score: Dry sauna: 6 — Infrared sauna: 4

Pain relief and rheumatic disease

There is evidence to suggest that saunas, both Finnish-style and infrared, may benefit people with rheumatic diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, as well as patients with chronic fatigue and pain syndromes.

Resources: (9) Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review

Score: Dry sauna: 7 — Infrared sauna: 5

Reduction in inflammation and a boost to immunity

Inflammation is a critical element of the body’s immune response, however, chronic inflammation plays a key role in the development of many chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. It occurs on the cellular level in response to toxins or other stressors and is often “invisible.”

A common way to measure inflammation is via a blood test for CRP (c reactive protein). In a study of more than 2,000 men living in Finland who used dry sauna, CRP levels were inversely related to the frequency of sauna bathing in a dose-response fashion, with lower levels linked to greater frequency. Interestingly, this study is often quoted on the websites of infrared sauna manufacturers even if it had nothing to do with infrared saunas.

One of the pathways that could potentially be behind the reduction of inflammation is IL-10, an anti-inflammatory protein in our body. A different study (albeit a small one, with 22 men) found that dry sauna users had an increased resting level for IL-10.

We did find a study that showed the effects of far infrared light therapy on the reduction of inflammation in mice. Which may or may not translate to humans, so we are giving the win to a dry sauna in this category.

Resources: (10) Sauna Use: Implications for Aging & the Brain

Score: Dry sauna: 8 — Infrared sauna: 5

Skin health and rejuvenation

Research into dry saunas has shown benefits such as increased ability to retain hydration in the skin as well as healthier ph levels.

The high heat and sweating induced by traditional saunas can help open pores and remove dirt and bacteria from the skin’s surface, which might reduce the occurrence of acne and other skin blemishes.

Dry saunas improve circulation, bringing more nutrients and oxygen to the skin. This enhanced blood flow can promote healthier, more vibrant skin and may aid in the repair of damaged skin cells, contributing to a more youthful appearance.

Given the relationship between stress and skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, the stress-reducing benefits of sauna use could indirectly benefit skin health by mitigating flare-ups related to stress.

Much of the evidence for infrared saunas comes from anecdotal reports and preliminary studies. Users often report improved skin texture, elasticity, and appearance with regular use, but more rigorous scientific studies are needed to confirm these effects, so infrared saunas get half a point in our scorecard.

Resources: (11) Effect of regular sauna on epidermal barrier function and stratum corneum water-holding capacity in vivo in humans: a controlled study

Score: Dry sauna: 9 — Infrared sauna: 5.5

Improved respiratory function

Studies have suggested that regular Finnish sauna use may lead to improvements in lung function, such as increased vital capacity and forced expiratory volume, particularly beneficial for individuals with asthma or chronic bronchitis. The high temperatures in dry saunas can help open airways, increase mucociliary clearance, and loosen phlegm. The warm and dry air can reduce congestion and improve breathing.

While specific research on infrared saunas and respiratory function is less prevalent than for traditional saunas, anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies suggest potential benefits in easing respiratory symptoms and improving overall respiratory health.

The lower temperatures and direct heat penetration of infrared saunas can be more comfortable for individuals with respiratory issues who might find the high heat of traditional saunas uncomfortable.

Resources: (12) Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence

Score: Dry sauna: 10 — Infrared sauna: 6

Weight loss

Most of the research recording changes in weight post a sauna use has been done more as a way to note how much water participants lose during a sauna session (and hence how much they should hydrate during it) rather than make any claims about sauna use as a tool for weight loss.

Finnish and infrared saunas (though to a lesser degree) can increase heart rate similar to what occurs during moderate exercise. This increased heart rate may lead to a slight increase in calorie burn. Some studies suggest that the body’s effort to cool itself in response to the heat can temporarily boost metabolism (13), potentially leading to additional calorie burn.

However, we would conclude that sauna bathing should not be relied upon as a primary method for weight loss, so no one gets a point in our scorecard.

Resources: (13) Some cardiovascular and metabolic effects of repeated sauna bathing

Score: Dry sauna: 11   — Infrared sauna: 6

Reduction in all-cause mortality

Last, but not least, frequent dry sauna users were found to be 40 percent less likely to die from all causes of premature death, regardless of age, activity levels, and lifestyle factors. It is likely a reflection of the compounding of all the health effects we mentioned above and possibly some that are still not known. To quote Dr Peter Attia regarding the benefits of dry sauna, “The burden of evidence is so strong, it is hard to ignore”. In addition to having a good time and a beautiful ritual, this is what makes us so excited about the sauna use.

Resources: (14) Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events

Score: Dry sauna: 11   — Infrared sauna: 6

Important disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice. No doctor-patient relationship is formed. The use of this information and the materials linked in this article is at the user’s own risk. The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they have, and they should seek the assistance of their Healthcare Professionals for any such conditions. 

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