Sauna for Health: Traditional Finnish or Infra-Red Sauna, Pick your Pleasure

by | Jan 23, 2024

Back in the winter of 1995, I stayed with locals while travelling in Northern Finland.  Increasingly excited to learn more about my Finnish roots (Lepisto means “grove of Alder trees” in Finnish), I had been raised with sauna in my childhood home. The most memorable of hosts was a 75-year-old man who remarkably skied 20K every day, taking traditional Finnish sauna every night. My first evening, he lit “Finn candles” along a snowy path (both a source of heat and light from a vertically set tree trunk, incised and burning in the middle). The tiny sauna was heated by a wood burner, allowing me a solo session complete with rolls in the snow. It was this experience along with sauna in one wing of a Swedish ice castle that solidified my plans to build my own one day. Fast forwarding to the fall of 2014, I completed construction of a large outdoor Finnish sauna (see photo) and began Sunday saunas that I continue to this day.

 Over the years I have heard discussion over which type of sauna is superior; traditional Finnish sauna (radiant heat) or IR (Infra-Red, both near and far). Given that sauna therapy in general is more difficult to access than other traditional physical medicines such as therapeutic contrast showers, I have come to believe that all saunas provide benefit and should be utilized when available. As you might imagine, Finnish researchers have studied “sauna bathing” extensively, distilling their research into known risk reductions of age-related impairments, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, metabolic dysfunction, and immunological decline (1).

While the research pool is less for IR sauna therapy, comparative analysis by Walter Crinnion, ND has demonstrated that “Overall, regular sauna therapy (either radiant heat or far-infrared units) appears to be safe and offers multiple health benefits to regular users” (2). IR saunas are favorable for exercise recovery in athletes (3), are more accessible and affordable than traditional units, and take less time to heat. Some of my favorite reputable companies for IR units are Clearlight, Sunlighten, Finnleo, SaunaRay and Heavenly Heat. Many of these companies also make traditional saunas, like my Finnleo unit.

Traditional Finnish saunas promote heat tolerance (4) and detoxification of some heavy metals (5).  Curiously, they promote excretion of aluminum, cadmium, cobalt and lead, but not mercury, which is primarily excreted in the urine and feces.

Personally, I enjoy a cold dip between rounds and have experienced both a heat and cold tolerance developed over regular sauna therapy. There is also a simple joy in sauna bathing, pouring water over hot rocks in a beautiful setting, breathing eucalyptus or other essential oil vapors, and relaxing in the Finnish tradition of silence (in church and sauna). No matter which type of sauna you prefer, I hope you and your patients can enjoy the benefits. The next time you find yourself in one of life’s simple pleasures, I send you “terveisiä saunasta” (greetings from sauna.)

  • Sauna use as a lifestyle practice to extend healthspan, Patrick RP, Johnson TL. Exp Gerontol. 2021 Oct 15;154:111509. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2021.111509. Epub 2021 Aug 5. PMID: 34363927 Review.
  • Sauna as a valuable clinical tool for cardiovascular, autoimmune, toxicant- induced and other chronic health problems. Walter J Crinnion1 Altern Med Rev – 2011 Sep;16(3):215-25.
  • Infrared sauna as exercise-mimetic? Physiological responses to infrared sauna vs exercise in healthy women: A randomized controlled crossover trial. Ahokas EK, Ihalainen JK, Hanstock HG, Savolainen E, Kyröläinen H.Biol Sport. 2023 Jul;40(3):681-689. doi: 10.5114/biolsport.2023.119289. Epub 2022 Sep 15.PMID: 37398966
  • M. Fortney, E. Miescher. Changes in Plasma Volume During Heat Exposure in Young and Older Men. Fluid Replacement and Heat Stress. National Academies Press, US (1994)
  • J. Genuis, D. Birkholz, I. Rodushkin, S. Beesoon, Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements, Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 61 (2011), pp. 344-357


Health Benefit of Sauna
Natural Health Benefit of Sauna
Naturopathic Doctor Christopher Lepisto

By: Dr. Christopher Lepisto  |  Naturopathic Doctor in Grand Junction, CO

As an outdoor enthusiast, I have a keen interest in understanding how to stay strong, fit and in shape through the natural wear and tear our bodies take. Through an investigative approach, I work closely with my patients to address the root cause of their health challenges, rather than simply treating the superficial symptoms. The natural solutions I provide are designed to give the body the necessary components to heal, regenerate and operate in peak form.

While I care for men, women, and children ages two to 102, I feel a strong calling to help men thrive as they age. I started a men’s group with whom I still meet after more than 10 years, and I also participate twice monthly in a men’s wilderness therapy group. These experiences give me a solid understanding of the strong bonds and particular challenges unique to men.

I have now been in practice for over two decades in the Grand Valley. I call it home and look forward to sharing my knowledge base as a guide on your new health journey.

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