Wet saunas -- also known as steam saunas or steam rooms -- warm up a small, enclosed room with moist heat until the space reaches from between 100 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. Contrary to widespread belief, wet saunas don't cause you to shed pounds or release toxins from your skin; first and foremost, these steamy retreats serve as a form of relaxation. However, wet saunas do cause numerous changes in your body, which lead to a combination of both health-related and cosmetic benefits.
Steam and Skin
Because wet saunas cause you to sweat, your pores open up, leading to a temporary cleansing of the skin. Likewise, the heat dilates your blood vessels, increasing blood flow by about 100 percent after 10 or 15 minutes. This lends your skin a healthful, “glowing” appearance. Sweating in the sauna does cause your body to release excess salt, but no evidence exists to support a release of toxins from your skin during this period.
Mind and Muscle
According to Columbia University's “Go Ask Alice!,” the key health benefits of the wet sauna lie in its relaxing qualities. The heat lowers your blood pressure and your pulse, creating a soothing feeling and helping to fight the effects of stress. Wet saunas also help reduce soreness and encourage recovery by relaxing the muscles. Similarly, the TriHealth hospital system reports that heat exposure may help ease the symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Although dry saunas offer many of the same benefits as wet saunas -- including opening the pores and relaxing the muscles -- only wet saunas help out your sinuses. The moist heat thins mucous, frees up the sinus passages and opens the Eustachian tubes. If you've previously treated cold or clogged sinuses by breathing in steam, you'll likely experience similar success at the wet sauna. However, if you suffer from asthma, steer clear of a wet sauna, as an attack may be brought on by the wet sauna's moist air.
The Weight Question
While shedding water weight in the wet sauna may make you look trimmer, the effect fades quickly -- you'll regain the weight as soon as you take in more water. On the plus side, TriHealth notes that your time in the sauna does increase energy consumption, which in turn increases your potential for calorie burn and helps to promote weight loss. However, you'll only reap this benefit in conjunction with a regular exercise routine. Speaking to HealthTap, Dr. Michael S. Fisher says that the wet sauna can improve exercise tolerance and endurance, as it bolsters plasma and red-cell volume.
You'll need to take in plenty of water -- about two to four glasses -- before and after your time in the wet sauna to stay properly hydrated. Saunas serve as a hotbed for infection-producing microbes, such as those that cause athlete's foot, so always equip yourself with at least one towel and a pair of waterproof sandals. To maximize health benefits and feel your best in the wet sauna, avoid eating or drinking alcohol before you steam. Pregnant women and people with blood pressure or heart-related disorders should steer clear of saunas, as the health risks for these parties greatly outweigh the potential benefits. No matter how healthy you are, limit your time in the wet sauna to 10 to 20 minutes per session.
Dan combines his decade-long experience as a freelance writer and small business owner with hands-on experience in fashion, mixology, media production and more. Previously, he's published with Chron.com, Charlotte's Book, LIVESTRONG, Civilized Life, Hunker, Fortune, Salon.com, Out East Rose, Samsung, USA Today and others.