Infrared Sauna vs Dry Sauna: The Science Behind How They Work

Infrared Sauna vs Dry Sauna?  This is a question most people ask themselves when deciding what type of sauna to purchase for their home. The President of SaunaRay, Rodney Palmer, has studied and absorbed himself in heat therapy for forty years, and has gained some considerable experience in both types of saunas.

“When deciding between an infrared sauna vs dry sauna the more important question to ask is:  How much heat can I tolerate?”  This is the most important factor to understand. 

Dry Saunas are hot.  Many people say too hot. They usually operate at 60-80C which is 140-175F.  Our bodies operate at 37C or 98.6F.  Breathing air temperatures significantly above that can cause many people to feel claustrophobic.  When you’re inside an infrared sauna vs dry sauna you can breathe normally. But in the dry sauna you feel the heat on your first breath. The feeling of claustrophobia is not due to the size of the room. Some people experience this fear in very large saunas. But when the room is so hot your body instinctively wants to flee, the nervousness that creeps into your mind feels like claustrophobia. It’s actually a legitimate instinct to get to a cooler space and save your organs from overheating. 

The Science Behind Dry Saunas:

The first symptom of overheating is stinging nostril hair. Those little hairs inside your nose are attached to nerves that are temperature sensitive. They are the first warning sign for your autonomic nerve which regulates your body temperature. Once that super-heated air enters your lungs the autonomic response kicks in almost immediately and starts pumping blood to your extremities to cool off the core organs and keep them at that ideal 98.F.  When your newly heated blood circulates close to your skin, it triggers your sweat glands to start releasing water in order to cool off your core organs. It’s part of your body’s natural genius that is constantly maintaining the same core body temperature for all of us. It’s the same reason your skin can go white if it’s too told. That’s when the blood circulation slows and concentrates around the organs in order to keep them warm and still maintain that 98.6F ideal. When your skin goes white it’s called frost-bite. When your skin goes red, it’s because the air is too hot for you. But it’s the same regulation provided by your autonomic nerve, both times. 

When you’re inside an infrared sauna vs dry sauna, the heat can be easily maintained below that 98.6 (37C) most of the time, and your autonomic response is not triggered. Your nose hairs don’t burn, and your lungs take in the beach-like warm air easily. 

In the dry sauna, the heat can sometimes get as high as 90-100C or 195-212F. That’s boiling point!  That means water (ie. YOU) can start to vaporize. It is too hot for humans to tolerate, but believe it or not some people like this – although not for very long. Usually just a few minutes is long enough to chase someone out of such a hot environment. There are cultures like those in Russia who expect the saunas to be at least this hot. People acclimated to this heat will often require it to enjoy a sauna. But that is rare.

The Science Behind Infrared:

Most people these days prefer an infrared sauna vs dry sauna. Medical grade infrared saunas use ceramic plate elements which are made from silica – ie. beach sand. Here’s the science on how infrared saunas work:   The silica inside the element reflects heat at exactly the same frequency where water absorbs heat.  That’s in the “infrared” region of the heating spectrum. “Infra” red simply means “below” red. That means it’s hot, but not quite red hot. Actually, just barely below red-hot. 

Since your body is largely made of water, you absorb that gentle heat through your skin super efficiently. Your skin warms quickly and triggers the sweat glands just below your skin very swiftly, before it gets too hot to burn your nostrils and trigger your autonomic nerve response. That means you sweat profusely but breathe normally.

Infrared Sauna vs Dry Sauna:  How long does it take to sweat?

It takes about the same time to sweat in an infrared sauna vs dry sauna. Here’s why: 

A dry sauna needs to get super-hot in order to work. You need those 60-80C temperatures in order to trigger your autonomic system to respond, heat up your blood and speed circulation. So, you have to pre-heat the dry sauna for at least an hour, sometimes 90 minutes. 

An infrared sauna, especially one that is medical grade and built with pure ceramic plate elements, will heat up to 25C (78F) in about 15 minutes. That’s the temperature of a warm day and plenty warm for humans to sit inside without any clothes on. The trick with the infrared sauna vs dry sauna, is that you sit inside while the heat rises. You don’t wait for it to get super-hot. By the time your infrared sauna reaches 40C (105F) most people are soaking wet with sweat and ready to come out and take a shower. 

In a dry sauna most people cannot tolerate the heat for more than 5-10 minutes. Their lungs overheat and their face gets red hot and their pulse starts pounding. They seek temporary relief by leaving the dry sauna and maybe jumping in a cold plunge pool or even taking a quick cold shower. Once their body temp has normalized somewhat, they return to the super-heated dry sauna environment and breathe the hot air again for another 5-10 minutes, and then repeat the cycle of cold water and hot air. This can last up to an hour in order to achieve a deep detoxifying sweat. 

In an infrared sauna vs dry sauna, you can achieve your profuse sweating in 20-30 minutes and you’re done. Also, your blood temperature has not been elevated because you’re only breathing 30-40C (85-105F) air, so there is no recovery time. In an infrared sauna vs dry sauna your body temp remains normal, you don’t crave a super cold shower, and immediately afterward you can put on your clothes and go to work if you want.

After a dry sauna your body temperature needs time to normalize. For some people it can take up to four hours before they feel normal again. It makes it difficult to put on clothes or even go to bed because your body is so hot you will continue to sweat for some time, until you slowly and naturally cool yourself down. 

“Both types of saunas have their advantages,” says Rodney Palmer, President of SaunaRay, which manufactures medical-grade saunas for leading medical doctors, naturopaths, professional sports teams, and fire stations across North America. “The super hot dry saunas are still loved by some of my friends who are NHL players, and some of my friends who were born in Russia. But the infrared saunas we build are loved by almost everyone. Especially people who don’t like being overheated.”

This is why SaunaRay only manufactures a medical-grade infrared sauna vs dry sauna. The dry saunas are common and available locally in most communities, often built by an excellent local carpenter. But a medical-grade infrared sauna is only available through

There is a model for every size and every budget.