What is a sauna?
A sauna is a small room - and sometimes even a building - where people enter to experience dry or wet heat sessions.
What is the origin of the sauna?
The existence of saunas goes back to the stone age. The first saunas were pits dug into the earth, covered by animal skins. Fire pits were created outside the "sauna" and rocks heated in it. Once heated, they were taken into the animal skin covered pits in the ground making the temperature rise. Water was thrown onto the rocks, causing an outburst of humidity.
These fire pits evolved with time and were present in almost every culture. The Greeks learnt about sauna on their travels to the eastern parts of the Mediterranean. They adopted, but refined it passing their knowledge to the Romans. From there, sauna made its way to Northern Africa (called hamam ) southern and northern Europe.
In the Middle Ages the sauna culture went back as religious leaders disapproved bathing, cleansing and washing. The church forbid washing at certain times altogether and not washing oneself was heavily endorsed as christian behaviour forcing the demise of sweat bathing in Europe. We could say everywhere in Europe, besides Finnland, where sauna had an important social and health value. The savusauna's smoke contained tannic acid that sterilized the surfaces. It was used as an infirmary where women gave birth, where blood cupping, blood letting and minor operations were performed by the barber, surgeon or village apothecary.
So, this is probably why whenever we think of sauna we think of a finnish sauna.
Types of sauna
Traditional (Finnish) Sauna
The traditional wood-lined Finnish sauna is the standard to which other sauna types are compared. Your sauna experience in a Finnish type sauna is a combination of two factors: minimum heat level and humidity control.
In order to guarantee the relaxing effects of a sauna, the temperature must be at least 150ºF (65.5ºC), measured where sauna bathers sit. Saunas below this temperature do not offer a beneficial, traditional sauna experience.
Also essential for the traditional sauna experience is the use of water to control humidity inside the sauna. A bucket and a ladle belong to a sauna and are "the icing of the cake" for an enjoyable sauna experience.
Traditional Finnish sauna bathers control humidity levels according to the amount of water ladled onto heated rocks. A typical humidity level runs anywhere between 20% to 40% (the amount of steam/humidity that feels comfortable varies from person to person) and also depends on the temperature of the sauna. Higher temperatures = less steam and vice versa. Sauna bathing trends worldwide lean towards lower temperatures and higher humidity.
If water is not poured into the stones you might say that you are in a dry sauna. In a dry sauna humidity levels will often be below to 10%. It all depends on how you feel best with.
An infrared sauna's typical temperature range is between 120-140ºF (49-60ºC). It has close to normal house humidity levels as there is no humidity control (i.e. no rocks, no steam). An infrared heating system is designed to heat the user's body rather than the air being less of an "enveloping heat”.
The temperature for a far-infrared sauna is usually set between 120 and 140º F and has close to normal house humidity levels as there is no humidity control (i.e. no rocks, no steam). However, unlike the traditional sauna, the goal in and IR room is not to achieve a high temperature. Instead, in a far-infrared room, the bather wants the emitters to remain active because infrared energy is only being emitted (therefore providing the benefit of the deep penetrating infrared heat) when the emitters are on. Because of this, the temperature difference is almost irrelevant, since profuse sweating results in both sauna types, but the method of heating the body is different. In an IR sauna the bather will feel hot and will sweat profusely, but at much lower temperatures.
Infrared saunas offer the possibility of relaxing in a heated space, often with options to listen to music and read magazines and newspapers.
Check our FAQ on infrared saunas here
Which sauna is your type of sauna?
Both sauna types provide health benefits, although the conditions under which the benefits are achieved are quite different. Check the following links to further educate yourself before finding the right sauna for you: