Infrared vs Coal Saunas: Which Should You Choose For Your Spa?

What to weigh up, according to Sydney’s Wonder Health Spa CEO, Adie Robertson.

Designed to detox the body and help relax the mind, infrared saunas are undoubtedly one of the wellness world’s biggest trends of late. Interestingly though, traditional coal saunas are remaining steady fixtures on the spa landscape – proving they’re still in demand.

If you’re looking to add a sauna to your space, you may be considering which to choose – infrared or coal. There’s a lot to weigh up and – as you’ll discover below – comparing the two types of saunas is much like comparing apples and oranges.

In other words? Rather than it being a case of one being better than the other, the two in fact offer distinct advantages. In some cases, there might even be a strong argument for installing both – depending on your treatment menu and the needs of your venue’s clientele.

Here’s what to consider when making your choice with expert advice from Sydney’s Wonder Health Spa ​​CEO, Adie Robertson.

Traditional saunas are better suited to ‘contrast therapy’ practices

‘Contrast therapy’ – also known as ‘hot and cold immersion therapy’ – involves exposing the body to different temperatures in a series of rounds. Typically, one will start with a sauna before moving to an ice bath (or cold shower) and then back again in an alternating sequence.

If you’re keen on adding contrast therapy to your treatment lineup, a steam sauna may be the better choice on this front.

“Traditionally the Finnish sauna would be used for hot/cold therapy. With a steamy environment ideal, it works better to plunge into icy water and then return to the sauna whilst still dripping. An infrared sauna would require you to be dry to enter,” explains Adie.

But, if offering contrast therapy isn’t currently in your sights, you might want to forgo the steam in favour of an infrared sauna – which is thought to offer superior detoxification capabilities.

Infrared heat is more tolerable than steam-based heat with greater detoxifying benefits

As heat from infrared saunas more effectively penetrates the body than that of steam saunas (which instead heat the air around the body), infrared saunas can be used at lower temperatures. This means two things: Increased comfort, and better detoxification.

As clients can settle in for a decent sweat session in an infrared sauna – without having to endure excessive heat – they may be more likely to stay in longer, and use the sauna more regularly. In her professional experience, Adie has observed infrared as “the preferred choice for our health-conscious individuals.”

“Offering heat at a tolerable temperature, with less presence of bacteria, the infrared rays heat the body’s core temperature from within, resulting in a greater detoxifying benefit, warming the muscles and joints of the body more efficiently and providing an overall improvement in one’s complexion. It is easy to enjoy your sauna session with breathing easy,” says Adie.

“As a business with detoxification at our forefront, the infrared sauna works better for us producing therapeutic effects with dry heat. An infrared sauna produces sweat comprised of 80 per cent water and 20 per cent toxins, significantly more than 97 per cent water and 3 per cent toxins sweated in a Finnish sauna,” continues Adie.

With all that in mind, Adie suggests basing your decision on whether or not you’d like to offer contrast therapy. “If your spa business offers hot and cold therapy and plunge pools, a traditional sauna would work well in this situation alongside an infrared sauna,” she says.

Infrared styles can be fitted with ‘in-sauna entertainment’

Not to be forgotten is how one will pass the time while sauna-ing… While many clients are happy to be left with their own thoughts (or enjoy some meditation), others will squirm at the thought of sitting in silence for extended periods (this author included).

A couple of tech extras can be installed inside infrared saunas – but not steam saunas. Adie is a fan of including Bluetooth connectivity so that clients can “relax to [their] favourite tunes as well as chromotherapy AKA colour light therapy which might also help the rejuvenation process. The jury is still out on whether chromotherapy offers any substantial physiological benefits but researchers think it may be helpful as a mood booster.

Maintenance matters and cleaning concerns

Maintenance may be one of the less exciting points to consider but it’s a very important one. Having a sauna out of action could cost you both in lost booking opportunities and repair fees. According to Adie, infrared saunas come out on top here:

“Infrared saunas, and their heaters, require almost no maintenance versus the traditional heating elements in a Finnish sauna.”

Plus, infrared saunas are easier to keep clean. “Infrared saunas are dry saunas [and as such] they have been shown to reduce the level of surface contaminants, whilst Finnish saunas require repeated thorough cleaning to keep mould and bacteria at bay,” says Adie.

Space and energy consumption

Lastly, two key practical considerations are how much space you’ve got available for your new sauna/s – and what you’re willing to spend on running costs.

“Finnish saunas tend to require more space to house the heating element and are usually larger, designed to provide a more social experience,” says Adie.

On the other hand, she explains, “an infrared sauna will require less space generally than a Finnish sauna, usually only needing to accommodate one or two people. Infrared saunas are noticeably more energy efficient, with Finnish saunas generally consuming three times as much energy to create the sauna effect of steam and heat.”

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