Are far infrared saunas better (or worse) than other infrared saunas? You may not realize it, but the infrared sauna industry actually has two main "branches." These two "branches" of the industry can perhaps best be viewed as two different theories or approaches regarding the best and most effective means of providing infrared sauna therapy.
Although both approaches obviously involve the use of infrared energy, there are some differences, and each "side" has its proponents.
Some infrared sauna manufacturers/vendors promote the use of far infrared saunas (sometimes shortened to "FIR" saunas), while others claim that near infrared saunas are the type that offer more health benefits. Both sides believe infrared saunas can deliver significant therapeutic benefits, but they disagree on which type of infrared - FIR or near - does the better job. The situation is rapidly becoming even more complex, however, because "full-spectrum infrared saunas" which emit both types of infrared are now being introduced.
Naturally, the vendors that sell far infrared saunas will do their best to convince potential customers that FIR saunas provide more benefits than near infrared saunas, and that buying a FIR sauna would be a smarter purchase than buying a sauna that uses near infrared heaters. Just as naturally, near infrared sauna vendors will try to convince you of the opposite - that near infrared saunas provide more benefits and are a better choice. This fundamental disagreement on the best approach to infrared sauna therapy has led to a number of contradictory claims about the technology. As a result, many potential infrared sauna buyers are confused about which type of infrared sauna they should purchase.
Here's an example of the type of confusion I'm talking about. A while back, a man got in touch with me to get some clarification on infrared saunas and how they work. He just didn't understand how a sauna could produce far infrared energy when your body is so near the heaters when you're inside the sauna cabin. Now that's some confusion about the subject!
I explained that the terms near and far infrared don't have anything to do with how close your body is to the sauna heaters. Instead, the two terms pertain to the wavelengths of the infrared energy a sauna's heaters emit. It can get complicated, so I've explained the difference between the two types of infrared energy more thoroughly in a separate article on this site.
In this article, I'd like to focus on some of Dr. Lawrence Wilson's ideas about infrared saunas, because maybe they can help to clear up some of the confusion. Dr. Wilson is a medical doctor who happens to be one of the people who prefer near infrared over far infrared saunas. Among other things, Dr. Wilson explains that far infrared energy's wavelengths occupy a position in the electromagnetic spectrum that is close to the wavelengths of the energy emitted by cell phones and microwave ovens.
Dr. Wilson goes on to further explain that ceramic or metallic heaters are used in FIR saunas, and they primarily emit energy in the far infrared range. Typically, these heaters are small and are distributed throughout the sauna cabin, on all four walls. Some newer designs of heaters electrify large sheets of a black, carbon-based material in order to produce far infrared energy.
Due to the nature of most far infrared heaters and the fact that the heaters are distributed throughout the sauna cabin's walls, all four walls of a far infrared sauna cabin will typically contain electrical wiring. The extensive wiring in far infrared saunas means that they produce some low-level electromagnetic fields ("EMFs") in addition to far infrared energy. Dr. Wilson appears to have some minor concerns about these unintentional EMFs, saying that they could be problematic for people who are ill or otherwise sensitive to electromagnetic fields. He does, however, concede that the electromagnetic fields produced by far infrared saunas should not create any issues for individuals who are healthy.
Dr. Wilson goes on to explain that the situation is much different with near infrared saunas. The designs of near infrared saunas call for several near infrared emitters to be placed close to each other, in a single wall of the cabin. This design results in a more concentrated emission of infrared energy, and he believes this concentrated energy pattern is better than the diffuse energy emitted in far infrared saunas. Because the near infrared energy is originating from a single direction rather than throughout the cabin, the user of a near infrared sauna should rotate his or her body during the sauna session. This body rotation is supposedly responsible for increased blood circulation, which in turn should mean more weight loss can be achieved with a near infrared sauna.
I say "supposedly" because I just can't understand how the minor movements involved with rotating your body during an infrared sauna session can possible help you lose weight. I might be missing something, though, because Dr. Wilson's the doctor, not me.
Despite his minor concern about the EMF fields generated by far infrared saunas and his belief that near infrared saunas are better, Dr. Wilson does believe that far infrared saunas do provide therapeutic benefits and that far infrared sauna therapy is better than no infrared at all. In my opinion, you should try both types of infrared saunas for yourself and see which type gives you the most comfortable sauna experience. You might be able to do this if you have a nearby wellness center or day spa which offers infrared sauna sessions. Alternatively, there might be an infrared sauna therapy facility nearby. I believe the infrared sauna experience is intensely personal, and that whether you buy a far infrared sauna or a near infrared sauna will essentially boil down to which type you personally prefer. Infrared saunas have so many benefits it's really hard for me to see how someone could go wrong with either type.
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