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Do Dry Saunas and Steam Saunas Offer the Same Benefits?

June 23, 2017 by Kara Willingham

Many spas, fitness, and wellness centers offer heat therapy as an amenity to their guests. You may pass by and notice people inside, clothed with towels and sipping water. They sure look relaxed, don’t they? Spotting these healthy individuals in the locker room may lead you to wonder. Dry sauna, wet sauna, steam bath, steam room? What’s the difference? We’re here to help, so let’s talk saunas and sauna benefits.

Both dry saunas and steam saunas (also known as steam rooms) are a traditional spa offering.  To make it simple, let us start by saying the word steam indicates a “wet” treatment. You may also hear the phrase “dry sauna” which suggests the use of dry heat which in some cases can mean infrared.  Both steam rooms and saunas can help with relaxation and loosen up tight muscles. They can also assist with inducing sweat, unclog the pores and increase the blood flow, but the experience inside the rooms themselves can be quite different.

Steam Room VS. Dry Sauna

A steam room uses what is called a steam generator to boil water into steam and release it into the air. Steam is said to help open up airways, relieve congestion, help with detoxification and induce sweat. The room itself is airtight, allowing the humidity to build up, dampening the air, room and the persons inside. Steam rooms are often made with tiles, plastic or other non-porous materials, and the participant sits inside for about 10 to 15 minutes. This wet and humid heat may help those with acne concerns by balancing the production of oil, though experts warn against staying in too long to avoid dehydration of the skin and body. 

A dry sauna is most often a room constructed of wood with benches. The dry heat in a sauna can be helpful for pain relief, relaxation and improving sleep. A dry sauna gets substantially warmer than a steam room, though you most likely will be able to withstand the same session length in a steam room due to the evaporation of steam making your body feel hotter despite the lower temperature. The heat in a dry sauna can be administered through a stove, infrared heat or an electric heater. Participants can withstand a longer experience in a dry sauna, though most sessions top out at about 20 to 30 minutes. Experts say that more sweat is produced in a dry sauna than in a steam room.

Which is right for you? A steam sauna, dry sauna or infrared body wrap?

Which is more efficient, the sauna or steam room?

Hard to say! Some may enjoy the misty fog of a steam session, while others prefer the dry heat a sauna can provide. Those who participate in steam room sessions have noticed similar benefits to that of a dry sauna; it depends on the person and the benefits they seek.

How Infrared Body Wraps FIT In

An infrared body wrap session would be most similar to a dry sauna experience; however, infrared body wraps offer a longer session, a private experience, and a truly relaxing session as you are reclined instead of sitting upright. “In my experience, both infrared saunas and infrared body wraps can assist with wellness benefits,” explains FIT Bodywrap Clinical Director, Dr. Aaron Flickstein. “However, an infrared body wrap can be 25% more effective in providing wellness benefits than an infrared sauna.”

How so? Heat and specifically infrared heat seems to be more effective when it does not have to travel through as much space to reach the body. For example, the gap between your body and the radiant heating elements in a sauna may be from 6 inches to a couple of feet with the space lowering the effective amount of energy reaching your skin. During a wrap, the design permits gaps of 1 millimeter to perhaps 6 inches; less loss due to distance means more energy and more sweat. The session length is also longer, allowing the body more time to work up a sweat and release fats and toxins. This is possible because the participant is breathing room temperature air.

Furthermore, some infrared body wraps made of materials that are easily sanitized using a hospital grade disinfectant. Do keep in mind, not all wraps are made of this material, so do your research and choose a reputable brand! Wraps made of non-porous vinyl do not absorb the sweat that each client produces during their session. If a dry sauna or steam room is not cleaned properly, this can encourage the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew.

Which is right for you? The answer to this question depends on the wellness goals you want to achieve. You can utilize all three, though, we do recommend that you try them on different days and make sure you hydrate before, during and after any sweat-inducing activity! Regardless, taking the time to relax and look after your body is beneficial.

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