Guide to Far Infrared Saunas
We've spent a fair amount of time looking into far infrared saunas over the last year, partly out of curiosity and also because it was the sort of product that we like to look at - health oriented and expensive enough that people take a fair amount of time researching before buying. And after all this time I hate to say that the picture I have is still very fuzzy. While I have personally used a far infrared sauna and like the experience, we just haven't been able to find the data to substantiate the various health claims (cleansing of toxins, etc) that far infrared manufacturers routinely make.
That isn't to say I don't think that far infrared saunas don't have some real benefits. They work at much lower temperatures than standard saunas, and so are much more comfortable to sit in for any period of time. I found I could routinely spend a half hour or so in the far infrared sauna, get a great sweat going, and feel pretty comfortable the whole time. A standard finnish sauna, on the other hand, is much hotter and, while I like the steam option when you pour water over the rocks, I find myself unable to stay in the finnish sauna for more than 5 - 10 minutes at a time before I need to cool down (and then go back in again). So from a ease of use and comfort standpoint, I do like the far infrared sauna (although I did miss the slap of heat that you do get when you throw water on the rocks in a finnish sauna).
The far infrared saunas also have a few other advantages over the standard finnish saunas - they are easy to ship and assemble, and they use a lot less energy to run. In addition, they don't have some of the maintenance issues associated with a finnish sauna (pouring water on the rocks of a finnish sauna can lead to wood damage issues - you don't have this problem with the far infrared saunas).
As for the main claim made by the far infrared sauna folks - that the far infrared saunas do a better job of cleaning the toxins out of your body - we really can't find any substantial evidence to support this. Even the basic notion, that you have toxins in your body that can cause health problems, is a very fuzzy notion at best. There simply isn't any real scientific evidence to support this idea that we are all carrying around damaging amounts of toxins. But even if we accepted this as a kind of common sense notion, there isn't any real evidence to suggest that a far infrared sauna can eliminate these toxins from your body in a way any more or less effectively than an ordinary sauna. The argument is that far infrared light can penetrate the skin more deeply and this allows you to more effectively remove toxins. Also, since you can use the far infrared sauna longer than an ordinary sauna (due to the far infrared's lower ambient temperature), this also allows for more effective toxin elimination. And while these arguments do, on their face, carry some weight, the bottom line is that we couldn't find any sort of independent tests to show that far infrared saunas do allow you to eliminate toxins any more effectively than the standard saunas. Hopefully, someone will test these claims rigorously in the near future, but for now these claims are just that - unsubstantiated claims.
Yet despite this kind of overreaching marketing approach, I do think that there are some good reasons to check out the far infrared saunas if you are thinking of getting the more traditional finnish saunas - the ease of use and different cost and maintenance factors. I know that I liked my time using one and especially enjoyed that I could get a good sweat up and yet not feel overwhelmed by the heat (as I often do in finnish saunas and also steam saunas).
If you are interested, look for a far infrared sauna with a good track record and also one that uses non-toxic wood in the sauna (solid wood preferable vs plywood). Different far infrared saunas use different types of heaters, we think ceramic heaters are the best way to go. Look for an interior height of 6' 6" so it is comfortable to get in and out. Also, since you may want to stay in the sauna awhile, it is nice to have the option of listening to music and many offer speakers and/or headphone jacks. If you want to get speakers in the sauna, look for vapor and heat proof speakers.
Other Accessories to think about: