Wellness

All The Benefits You Get From Sitting In A Sauna

The case for schvitzing.

What does the sauna do for you? Experts explain its many health benefits.
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If the idea of dunking yourself in an ice bath sounds unpleasant, then you might be more interested in a (much cozier) sauna session (much cozier). The classic wellness practice has been around for eons, but is currently trending on TikTok, where the hashtag #sauna has racked up over 820 million views. That’s where you’ll see folks stepping inside a warm chamber to rest, relax — and reap all sorts of health benefits.

So, what does a sauna do for you, exactly? According to Dr. Reid Maclellan, M.D., an adjunct professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and founder of acne brand Cortina, a typical sauna is a small, wood-lined room with temperature controls that can be toggled between 150° to 195°F. Unlike steam rooms, saunas offer a dry heat, says Dr. Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, LAC, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and owner of Charm City Integrative Health. The temperature range allows for people to stay comfortable and safe inside the sauna for about 15 to 20 minutes, he notes, which is the recommended amount of time for use. When your body is enveloped in such a high temp, you sweat... a lot. And that leads to both physical and mental benefits.

There are also infrared saunas that use light to make heat. “These saunas usually only heat up between 120 to 140℉,” Ingegno tells Bustle, which makes them a little easier to tolerate. Regardless of the type you choose to schvitz in, it’s said that regular sauna use can be good for your health. Ingegno recommends relaxing in a sauna two to three times a week. Have the option to pop into a sauna? Here’s what experts say it can do for you.

The Benefits Of A Sauna

One of the main draws of a sauna is the spa-like rest and relaxation you get from sweating it all out. Kicking back in a steamy room is an ideal way to combat everyday stress, says says Dr. M Kara, M.D., a medical doctor and founder of functional medicine brand KaraMD, which can be detrimental to your health over time. “Stress reduction is essential to living and feeling well physically and mentally, and saunas can be a useful tool for [that],” he says.

Studies have also found that saunas can help reduce joint and muscle tension, which in turn alleviates a host of body aches, Kara adds. Soak in the warmth on the regular, and it’s possible your lower back pain will start to go away. The heat has also been shown to dilate and relax your blood vessels, which increases blood flow to improve your cardiovascular health, Kara explains. In fact, Ingegno points to a 2015 study published in JAMA that found that regular sauna use actually reduces your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 40%. “Some benefits can be seen with just seven minutes per day,” he tells Bustle. Part of the benefit, he says, comes from the fact sauna use may also help to lower inflammation in the body.

That’s why you often see fitness fans on TikTok (and IRL) popping into the sauna after a workout. “It is recommended to go into a sauna as it can help speed up recovery,” says Maclellan, pointing to the way the heat increases blood flow and reduces inflammation.

On top of all that, Maclellan notes that regular sauna use is good for your skin, too. “Using a sauna has a wide array of benefits for your skin, like improving circulation, strengthening the skin’s barrier, decreasing inflammation, detoxing oil and dirt from your pores, and reducing cortisol levels, which can decrease the chances of acne,” he explains. Pro tip: After the sauna, he suggests using a body wash or cleanser to wipe away post-sauna sweat that can clog your pores, or at the very least giving your face a quick once-over with gently clarifying witch hazel.

What To Know About Saunas

If you haven’t been in a sauna before, stepping into the heat can come as quite a shock. That’s why Maclellan recommends starting off slow with a lower heat setting. Stay in for a few minutes to start, then gradually build up to the recommended 20 minutes over time.

While saunas are generally considered safe, they do come with a few precautions. “Young children, people who are pregnant, or those over 65 should avoid them,” Maclellan says. You should also skip out if you have problems with dizziness, hypotension, kidney conditions, or if you have heart disease or high blood pressure, he adds, as the heat could be too much. Maclellan also cautions against using a sauna the week you have your period since the heat can make you feel lightheaded.

If at any point you feel too hot, dizzy, or short of breath, cut your sauna trip short and get out. It’s also super important to stay hydrated, so have your water bottle handy. “Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after using saunas,” Kara says. As with anything, if you listen to your body, you should be able to make the most of your spa sesh.

Studies referenced:

Cho, EH. (2019). Dry sauna therapy is beneficial for patients with low back pain. Anesth Pain Med (Seoul). doi: 10.17085/apm.2019.14.4.474.

Hussain, J. (2018). Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. doi: 10.1155/2018/1857413.

Khamwong, P. (2015). Prophylactic Effects of Sauna on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness of the Wrist Extensors. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.5812/asjsm.6(2)2015.25549

Kowatzki, D. (2008). Effect of regular sauna on epidermal barrier function and stratum corneum water-holding capacity in vivo in humans: a controlled study. Dermatology. doi: 10.1159/000137283.

Kunutsor, SK. (2018). Longitudinal associations of sauna bathing with inflammation and oxidative stress: the KIHD prospective cohort study. Ann Med. 2018 Aug;50(5):437-442. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2018.1489143.

Laukkanen, T. (2018). Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improves risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study. BMC Med. doi: 10.1186/s12916-018-1198-0.

Mero, A. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus. doi: 10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5.

Zaccardi, F. (2017). Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension: A Prospective Cohort Study. Am J Hypertens. doi: 10.1093/ajh/hpx102.

Experts:

Dr. Reid Maclellan, M.D., adjunct professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, founder of acne brand Cortina

Dr. Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, LAC, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, owner of Charm City Integrative Health

Dr. M Kara, M.D., medical doctor, founder of functional medicine brand KaraMD