Choosing a Sauna: What to Look For, What to Avoid

A good friend of mine with Breast Implant Illness who also happens to be a bargain hunter recently asked me if a discount-brand infrared sauna would be ok. She knows that detoxing with sauna is helpful for her and has experienced the benefits, but was wary about what she is being exposed to in a public sauna and was ready to invest in her health. But should she pay the big bucks for a name brand or would the one that she found at a substantial discount suffice? Here are the major things that I told her to look for and why.

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1) Type of Wood [Recommended: Basswood, poplar] The type of wood is particularly important for sensitive individuals and I recommend a low volatility wood (one that doesn’t release much natural chemicals into the air) such as basswood or poplar. Cedar is often used, but can released natural chemicals called terpenes which can add to a person’s body burden so I don’t recommend. Hemlock is affordable initially, but can be highly susceptible to bacteria and water absorption causing the wood to rot and warp over time essentially wasting your investment.

2) Is any other wood such as plywood or MDF (medium density fiberboard) used? [Recommended: No plywood or MDF, even if formaldehyde-free] Plywood and MDF can release formaldehyde which can be hazardous to your health as witnessed by some of the Katrina survivors who were housed in trailers with high formaldehyde levels. But even formaldehyde-free plywood or MDF can emit chemicals such as isocyanurate. This chemical does eventually clear (unlike formaldehyde which is permanent), but it can take several months or more dissipate - particularly if it’s underneath a solid wood layer. Third-party testing can determine if formaldehyde or isocyanurate are present. This testing of VOCs should also include testing for glycols.

3) Glues, finishes and stains [Recommended: water-based only] Glues and finishes can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can be hazardous to your health. But when those are heated, they can pose an even greater risk, reacting with nitrogen compounds in the air and creating ozone which can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems and is a criteria pollutant monitored by the Clean Air Act. So, make sure any glues, finishes, and stains used are water-based.

4) Heating unit – part 1 – Infrared or Conventional? [Recommended: Infrared for the most benefit and most comfort, but any heating source will give some benefit]Conventional saunas use indirect heat from hot air currents (convection and conduction) to warm the body. Therefore, the air temperature has to increase to a very high level within the unit to warm the body. Some people have difficulty tolerating such a high temperature and feel like it is difficult to breathe in the hot air. Conventional saunas also require 30 to 90 minutes to warm-up before use. • On the other hand, infrared saunas heat the body directly, resulting in deeper tissue penetration at a lower temperature. This allows you to sweat faster and tolerate longer sauna sessions. In addition, some infrared saunas only require 10-15 minutes to warm up, resulting in less energy use.

Almost all of the published studies on sauna use have been on conventional radiant heating units, so there definitely is benefit regardless of how you are heated.

5) Heating unit – part 2 - Near, far, or full spectrum? [Recommended: Full-spectrum Infrared for the most benefit, but any type of heating will have a beneficial effect]Full spectrum includes the entire infrared spectrum – near, mid, and far infrared ranges. • Near infrared: This is the shortest wavelength and is absorbed just below the surface of the skin, inducing sweating and promoting healing and relaxation. • Mid infrared: Longer wavelength than near infrared, this penetrates deeper increasing circulation to deeper layers of soft tissue. • Far infrared: This is the longest wavelength that has the potential to penetrate 1-1/2 to 2 inches or more into the body. This deep heat can help raise core body temperature faster, increases dilation of blood vessels which enhances circulation and is said to increase release of toxins stored in fat cells.

6) Heating unit – part 3 – Carbon or Ceramic? [Recommended: Personal preference, but check the quality of the unit]Carbon heaters produce high quality, long wave infrared heat but can be weak • Ceramic heaters produce a lot of heat, but tend to be shorter wavelength • So far one company (Clearlight) has created a combination carbon/ceramic far infrared heater Many heating units are manufactured in China and some have been found to have lead or put out high EMFs (see next section) which is a concern.

7) How much EMF/ELF is emitted? [Recommended: 3rd party verification that exposure is less than 1-3 milligauss where you sit] Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELFs) may create health effects and our exposure to these invisible fields have skyrocketed in recent times. Some people are extremely electrosensitive, particularly those with high toxic loads. (For more detail on EMFs see Zapped by Ann Louise Gittleman  and The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs by Nicolas Pineault) It can be hard to imagine these unseen fields, so see what happens when this gal measures the EMFs in her sauna here. And then when she purchases a new one here.

Some recommendations call for a threshold level of 1 milligauss and health effects have been found above 3 milligauss.  So, ask for FULL EMF shielding.  Heavenly Heat has been known to go above and beyond in terms of EMF shielding (both AC electric fields (millivolts) and AC magnetic fields (milligaus)).  I have not been able to do a direct comparison, but I am very happy with the EMF/ELF shielding offered by Clearlight. Units with extra gizmos (colored lights, music, dimmer switches, etc) may put out more EMFs since there would be more wiring in the unit to power these features. Of course you can opt to not use these features. Or check with an EMF-meter like this one to see if their use substantially increases your exposure.

8) What about portable saunas? [Recommended: don’t use] Many of these units have tents made from vinyl (PVC) which can release phthalates and is not good. Another one has foam in it which can also release volatilized chemicals and is also not recommended.

9) Is there an ionizer? [Recommended: don’t use] Use of an ionizer can increase ozone levels which, as I stated in #3 above, is not good.


What did I choose?  A Clearlight Sanctuary 2 Jacuzzi Sauna in Basswood.  For special pricing on Clearlight saunas click here.  And mention "Resilient Health" for a free, movable ergonomic Back Rest.

There's still time to win a free Clearlight Premier Infrared Sauna through May 20th.  No purchased required.  Enter the Resilient Health Sauna giveaway here.




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