—— DRAFT —–
One of my favorite museums is the Museum of Quackery and Medical Frauds. It’s amazing what Americans will believe and what vendors are able to foist on us. Sadly these snake oil folk are still with us today – in the sauna industry. There is a huge amount of misinformation about what sauna is, sauna design and especially the health benefits. Loosing 1000 calories by sitting in a sauna for 30 minutes? Don’t believe everything you read about sauna.
Going to sauna is quite wonderful and I highly recommend it. It is enjoyable, relaxing and a great time to socialize. And it does indeed come with a number of well researched and documented health benefits. But weight loss is not one. Nor necessarily sweating out toxins. Nor a number of other false and misleading claims. Further, sauna does not need all of these misleading things, it’s great just as it is.
The Federal Trade Commission is overloaded with cases of false, fake and misleading advertising. According to one person they believe they address less than 1/10 of 1% of the issues that they should. False claims about Covid became a hot item though and the false advertising in the sauna and IR cabin industry didn’t escape this time. In one example, here’s a letter from the FTC to Enlighten Saunas on their false health claims.
Interestingly, Enlighten still makes a number of false claims about sauna as we’ll see below.
A Worthy Defense
It’s interesting how people react to being misled. Some (and perhaps most of us in the U.S.) fall in to the worthy defense camp – we’ll defend our decision with great might to make ourselves feel better. We don’t want to feel like we made a mistake nor do we want others to think that we did. This is heavily on display with people who bought barrel saunas.
Some are in the misery loves company camp. ‘I got ripped off so I want others to as well’. One person actually told me that it’s not fair that someone buying a sauna today has better information than he did two years ago.
Some are in the justice for all camp. They don’t want to see others ripped off as they were, and they don’t want to see the company who ripped them off be successful ripping others off.
And finally, there are some who simply don’t care. This group though seems surprisingly tiny.
Three Legs Of Sauna Truth In Advertising
True Sauna, Authentic Finnish Sauna, is quite wonderful. It is enjoyable and comes with a bunch of medically proven health benefits. There are a number of good reasons why sauna and similar experiences are so popular and have been for centuries.
Unfortunately the U.S. and North American sauna industry is rife with false and misleading information.
Some of this is simple ignorance – we don’t know what we don’t know. We read that ceilings should never be more than 7’ high and we go with it. Several people ‘who have been building saunas for decades’ told me that they’d never build a sauna with a ceiling higher than 7’. Fresh air supply under the heater? Sure, why not.
Some of it is intentional – snake oil – U.S. consumers are gullible and easy to mislead so… ‘I’ll tell them all kinds of stuff that they want to hear so they’ll buy a sauna or sauna-like contraption from me’.
While I would like to believe that someone saying that you can loose 1000 calories by sitting in a sauna for 30 minutes is just ignorance, I can’t get there, extremely few are that stupid. That’s twice as many calories as a rider in the Tour de France, one of the highest calorie burning professional sporting events in the world, burns. It ain’t gonna happen sitting on your bum in a sauna.
The reality is just about zero – you loose some temporary water weight but you will and should replace that. You cannot have a Big Mac and a glass of wine and then spend 30 minutes in a sauna to sweat all the calories out.
Note: Some people have claimed that their smartwatch indicates that they’ve burned a gob of calories while in the sauna. This is inaccurate. The watch assumes that the higher heart rate is due to muscle activity which does burn calories. But it’s not, it’s based on heat, which burns about zero. (One medical research friend told me that she believes it’s actually about 1/55 as many. So when your watch says you’ve burned 500 calories in the sauna, reality is about 9. Or 3 M&M’s worth.)
Do you really want to buy from a place that is that misleading? Or that ignorant? Whichever it is?
More, sauna doesn’t need this misleading information. Sauna is wonderful as it is without lying about it.
There are three legs to this:
- Sauna Structure
- Sauna Routine
- Sauna Health Benefits
Leg 1 – Sauna Structure
There are a lot of details that are important to get right and easy to get wrong. I think that the two most misleading bits of information in the U.S. are that the ceiling of a sauna should never be higher than 7’ and so benches should be low, and ventilation for electrically heated saunas should enter below the heater and rely on natural convection. And these, along with numerous other bits of misleading information on building saunas, have been extremely prevalent in English.
However, there are some sources of accurate information:
Lassi Liikkanen’s book “Secrets of Finnish Sauna Design”.
Leg 2 – Sauna Routine
Sauna is not a jump in the sauna once and then go take a hot shower. For both enjoyment and health benefits it’s rounds of hot/cold/hot/cold/hot/cold. Sources of accurate information include:
Lassi Liikkanene’s “Secrets of Finnish Sauna Design”
Mikael Aaland’s ‘Sweat’
Garrett Conover’s ‘Sauna Magic’
Leg 3 – Sauna Health
There are many known and proven health benefits to sauna as well as many benefits that, though not proven, are generally believed by medical folk and others. There are also a lot of myths like the misleading weight loss claim above.
Mikkel Aaland had what appeared to be a relative accurate list on his website but I’ve been unable to find the original.
There is some limited info in Trumpkin’s Intro To Sauna.
More to come…
Dumb, Dumber and the Easy Button
Though this isn’t totally uniquely a U.S. problem it is primarily, and then a limited bit to the rest of the English speaking world.
Americans, and by this I mean U.S. Americans, have a reputation worldwide for being dumb. Before I go on, Finns have pointed out to me that there are dumb Finns (and dumb Finns who buy bad saunas). And Dutch have told me the same about Dutch. And I’ve heard similar from Italians and British and many others (except the French, there are apparently no dumb French).
But U.S. Americans are special. More ignorant and gullible than most. Guys in or near the tourism industry love U.S. girls. They’re overwhelmingly easier to get in bed than gals from any other country (and even easier to get nude selfies from). Retailers the world over know that they can sell almost anything to U.S. Americans – in local stores or online. Invent a diet, write a book about its supposed benefits, and you’ve a money machine. Weight loss quackery is perhaps the most prevalent from the Walton Vibrator (below) to the SlendoMassager.
There was the Electro Bath in the 1940’s and today the Fat Freezer (below) that you strap on and it ‘freezes away the pounds’. And here’s where we have to be careful – some quackery is based on reality. Cryolipolysis, performed by medical folk, can effectively reduce subcutaneous fat in some people. This is different than visceral fat that is the source of health problems and weight gain, and sometimes the ‘burned’ subcutaneous fat actually becomes visceral fat which isn’t good. There is also evidence that when we’re exceptionally cold the mitochondria in brown fat burn calories to keep us warm. Even snake oil is believed to have some actual benefits for Arthritis relief. But the Fat Freezer isn’t likely to do anything positive except for the sellers wallet.
There have been numerous sauna tents like the Reduce-O-Matic and my favorite the VibroSaun.
We love the easy button and we’ll readily fool ourselves to believe easy button solutions. But easy buttons rarely work.
And there’s a bunch of stats to back this up. Among all developed countries; We are the least healthy, most obese and have the lowest or second lowest life expectancy (and yet have the best healthcare system, spend the most on healthcare and spend the most on gym memberships). We have the most dangerous road system with the highest fatality rates (and spend more on transportation). We have the least stable families with the highest rates of failed families and single parent families (and of course the follow-on of highest rates of juvenile delinquencies). We are believed to have the highest rates of human trafficking of all developed nations. And the highest incarceration rates overall. We spend the most on education yet have low scores and attainment. And on and on…
And sauna vendors take advantage of our not ever really thinking about things.
Before you buy or build a sauna, do some homework. Be careful of what you read. Ask questions. If loosing weight is the primary reason you’re buying one then DON’T. Sauna can aid in improved health and weight loss but alone will do zero for weight loss.
The Hall of Shame
- How Many Times – They don’t seem to have a good understanding of what sessions and rounds are and how they are commonly used. Most important they don’t seem to understand the hot/cold/hot/cold/hot/cold element of sauna. But this is minor compared to…
- Burn 300-1000 Calories in 30 minutes – Really? For perspective, a rider in the Tour de France burns about 1,000 calories PER HOUR. It takes me bicycling at 22 MPH for 34 minutes with an average heart rate of about 151 bpm and producing an average of about 174 watts for that 34 minutes to burn 300 calories. Those tour riders are averaging 325 watts for 3-5 hours. Reality? About zero calories in 30 minutes.
- Sweating away those calories? Slimming that waist line? Up to 800 calories from a single session? Yep, never been easier, if only it were true.
- Ceiling Height – “7’ is ideal”. Interestingly they kind of get some of the stuff correct, ‘you should probably consider raising your benching’, but totally misunderstand the principles and why 7’ is actually bad and why you very definitely WANT to raise your benching.
- Ventilation – “They have little to do with moisture”. Well, actually, ventilation has a lot to do with moisture. After you throw water on the stones to create steam you want that moisture removed for the next throw and good ventilation is how this is accomplished.
- Ventilation – “it is not necessary to have a vent in a sauna”. Really?
- Ventilation – Overall they miss on pretty much every single sentence.
The Hall of Shame – IR
This is a special category for companies claiming that IR cabins are a ‘sauna’. They are not. A Sauna is a wood lined room heated by a mass of stones upon which bathers throw water to create steam that controls the humidity and combines with fresh air and heat to create löyly. IR Cabins are not that. Outside of the U.S. they are not called IR Saunas but more properly IR Cabins as people outside of the U.S. know better.
That said, I’ll note that IR Cabins are not necessarily bad. Some people do like IR Cabins and some may even prefer them to a sauna. There are likely some health benefits to IR cabins according to Mayo Clinic but these are as yet unproven.
- First on the list is calling IR ‘Sauna’.
- There is no such thing as sweating out toxins. Not with IR, not with Sauna, not with working out, not with anything. Sweat is water and salt. The tiny amount of toxins sometimes present in sweat is a rounding error compared to what your liver and kidneys deal with. Sweating in a sauna can though help to rid your skin of soap residue and the bacteria it causes, sun block chemicals, and PM from smoke (from being around a campfire or particularly for firefighters).
- They are partially correct on Saunas not having fresh air, but that’s only U.S. saunas with bad ventilation. Saunas in Finland and elsewhere have quite good fresh air and saunas in the U.S. could if builders would simply do it correctly. The thing is, IR cabins are identical and every one sold in the U.S. that I’ve seen has the same bad ventilation as U.S. made saunas.
- Detoxification? Weight Loss, Cellulite Removal?
- Plumbing is required for sauna? A lot of Finnish sauna builders might be surprised by that.
- Electric required? I wonder how the thousands of saunas in Finland and elsewhere without electricity work? They must be fake.
- Basically this list is hogwash.
- Infrared Sauna? This one is surprising because they are owned by Tylö-Helo, a Finnish company, who I don’t believe would ever claim that IR is Sauna anywhere but in the U.S.
- BTW, I got to try a Finnleo IR Cabin and as IR Cabins go it was quite nice. But it’s not sauna.