Various cultures have used saunas for physical purification and rejuvenation for over 2,500 years. Today, saunas are a staple in day spas, health clubs and gyms. Usually, the steam comes from pouring hot water over hot rocks. As water evaporates, it creates heat in the air. Read on to learn how saunas might help your skin, along with tips on staying safe.
- Boosts circulation to improve skin: In the sauna your pulse rate increases by 30 percent (or higher) and skin temperature rises to about 104 degrees. The boost in pulse rate lets the heart pump double the amount of blood every minute, which flows to the skin, according to Harvard Health Publications. This increase in blood flow to the skin delivers a “rosy glow” to your complexion, dermatologist Debra Luftman, M.D., tells Shape.
- Alleviates acne: A sauna might help with cystic acne, because "heat tends to help soften the cysts," according to Dr. Luftman.
- Might moisturize and protect skin. Recent research out of the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany found that regular sauna use “leads to a more stable epidermal barrier function, an increase in stratum corneum hydration as well as a faster recovery of both elevated water loss and skin pH,” reports Medical News Today.
This is particularly important, because the stratum corneum protects the lower layers of the skin. Hydration helps it function properly, keeping moisture in cells and enabling skin to repair itself. If the stratum corneum is damaged, “skin surface pH has been shown to increase, creating susceptibility to bacterial skin infections or skin damage and disease,” write Gil Yosipovitch, M.D., and Judy Hu, M.D., in The Importance of Skin pH.
- Stimulates sweating and might fight infection: Sweat helps to regulate your body temperature. And, according to recent research, your sweat might also shield the skin from bacterial infection. Researchers at Eberhard-Karls University in Germany found that sweat contains a protein called Dermcidin, which battles harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, also known as “Staph,” reports the BBC.
Sweating up a storm in the sweltering sauna may increase Dermcidin levels and arm you with additional defense against bacteria. However, you still need to protect yourself from these infections, particularly the antibiotic-resistant, potentially fatal Staph bacteria MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). When using a public sauna, sit on a clean towel and always shower afterward.
When you step out of the sauna, make sure to cleanse and moisturize your skin. This keeps pores clear and removes harmful bacteria.
Additional safety tips
Here are a few tips to keep you safe when using a sauna:
- If you have any medical conditions or are currently taking medication, consult your doctor to make sure it’s safe to use a sauna.
- Limit yourself to 20 minutes in the sauna.
- Drink plenty of water before entering a sauna as well as after to prevent dehydration from sweating.
- Skip the sauna if you’re sick.
- Avoid alcohol right before, during and after a sauna session. It has a dehydrating effect and can cause your body to overheat.
- Shower after exercise, before you enter the sauna. That’s because sauna heat can trigger yeast growth on warm, sweaty, oily skin. This can lead to the skin condition tinea versicolor, according to Dr. Luftman. A common condition, tinea versicolor appears as “small, scaly, white-to-pink or tan-to-dark spots,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Remember to take a shower after the sauna and apply moisturizer to your face and body.
- Stay away from saunas if you have sensitive skin or certain skin conditions. Because saunas dry out the skin, they exacerbate eczema and atopic dermatitis. Also, saunas aggravate rosacea, because the heat dilates blood vessels.
- Refrain from sauna use if you’re pregnant. In research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, sauna use during the first trimester was associated with neural tube defects.
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