All original photos by Tracy R Stefan

A visit to the steam room can soothe what ails you as well as improve your appearance. While in a sauna, your blood flow increases as temperature and humidity rises. This profuse sweating in high humidity opens the pores of the skin, promotes circulation and expels toxins and waste. Increased blood flow brings nutrients to the skin surface, leaving it radiant and clear. The high temperatures kill pathogens that can't survive the heat.

An Ancient Technique

Hyperthermic, or steam room, therapy is almost as old as time. Native Americans, Scandinavians (perhaps most among the Finns) and Asian peoples each have a long tradition of using steam to heal ailments and to improve beauty. Saunas, or steam rooms, create an artificial fever in the body induced by high heat and humidity. The hyperthermic therapy, as it is called, operates when your body temperature rises to between 101 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit, which increases your pulse rate and triggers the immune system.

Hydration vs. Perspiration

Before taking a steam, it is important to be well hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids the night before and the day of the sauna. Bring water or juice and sip it throughout your session in the steam room. You can lose up to a pint of fluid in only 15 minutes in a sauna, so the infusion of liquids before, during and after the sauna to prevent dehydration and promote the flushing of toxins from your body is critical.

Preexisting Medical Conditions

Steaming your way to good health is a natural route to beauty and well-being. However, because the sauna's heat expands the blood vessels and blood flow, certain folks need to consult a doctor before using this therapy. Pregnant women, the elderly, little children and people with heart disease, cardiovascular trouble, high blood pressure or cancer should talk to a physician for sauna guidelines.

Showering in the Sauna

Before entering the sauna room, remove all metal jewelry as it will get hot and possibly burn you if you wear them in the intensely hot steam. Also, remove contact lenses as they can be damaged in high heat. You will need to shower before entering the sauna, and wear either a towel or a natural fiber swimsuit and a pair of rubber sandals. You will want to sit on a towel in the sauna to keep sanitized. If you have been exercising prior to the sauna, allow your body to cool down before starting.

Keeping It Humid

The science of the steam room is that it induces your body to sweat without it evaporating off in dry heat, which closes the pores. When using the sauna, keep the rocks wet by pouring a cup of water on them every few minutes, which will increase the humidity by 40 percent. Humidity is what you want in a sauna because it keeps your sweat from evaporating and your skin pores from closing. High humidity promotes a sustained sweat that provides a body cleanse because your sweat does not immediately evaporate, like it would outside the sauna.

Stay Comfortable

The top benches inside the sauna room are the hottest, so pick a seat that feels good to you. Sit or lie comfortably on your towel while in the sauna. Before you get too hot, step out of the sauna and take a cool shower. Return to the sauna for another five to 10 minutes. Do not stay in the steam room longer than 20 minutes as too much heat could cause you to become nauseated, light-headed or dizzy. Do not drink alcohol before, during or immediately after the sauna. Your metabolism is increased and drugs or alcohol will be digested more rapidly into the bloodstream, which could prove dangerous and even fatal. If taking prescription drugs, consult your physician as to whether or not you should take a sauna.

Can't Stand the Heat?

For the average healthy person, one 20-minute sauna a week is ample to improve health and appearance. The benefits accrue not only during the minutes you are in the sauna, but also the time you spend preparing for and recovering from the steam as well. It is best to not have anything planned after the sauna except rest and hydration. Avoid alcohol, strenuous exercise or labor directly after a sauna as the purging of toxins through your skin can leave you refreshed yet in need of rest to complete the recovery process. Your level of health is a determining factor in how often you should sit in a steam room. An extremely healthy or athletic person can withstand a sauna once or even twice weekly, but if your health is in any way compromised, consult a doctor regarding suggested frequency.

About the Author

Tracy Stefan

Tracy Stefan began writing professionally in 2007, with work appearing on various websites. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and performing arts from the Evergreen State College. Stefan is also a graduate of Dell'Arte.