Saunas and steam rooms are popular ways of relaxing and relieving stress in today’s hectic times and demanding lifestyles. Traditional and steam saunas are known for the numerous health benefits they offer, including stress relief, muscle relaxation, skin cleansing, and even pain relief. But how do you maximize your every sauna experience so you get all the benefits you can from it?
How do you make sure you avoid the possible risks while taking full advantage of the gains?
Well, here you’ll find all the answers
Here are the top 12 tips you should know to ensure not only your safety during saunas, but also guarantee your enjoyment and full benefit from the experience.
Set aside ample time for your sauna showers and baths
Saunas and steam baths are essentially relaxing experiences. Rushing and fretting over how much time you are letting pass by while in a sauna will defeat the purpose of the experience.
Schedule your saunas well and allow time not only for the period you’ll spend inside the sauna room but also for the time needed for the sauna room to heat up, which typically takes around 30-60 minutes.
While waiting for the sauna to heat up, you could gather the other materials you might need, such as a change of clothes and refreshments for later
For a traditional sauna, this may include preparing water that you’ll ladle onto the hot sauna stones—this will create the steam and humidity needed for the sauna to work wonders for your health.
Also, prepare a set of towels you’ll bring inside the sauna room. The number of towels you should bring is up to you, but usually, you’ll need at least three—one for covering your face if it feels too hot but the rest of your body feels comfortable, another towel to sit or lay on for hygienic purposes, and another to be placed beneath your feet to prevent sweat from falling to the sauna floor
Invest in accessories that can make your sauna experience more enjoyable and relaxing
Aside from the basic materials mentioned above, see to it that your sauna offers an extra touch of ease and luxury through headrests, footrests, and backrests for added support and maximum comfort.
Thermometers and timers are practical additions to help you maintain the room’s temperature at the appropriate levels and help you keep track of time spent inside the sauna room, respectively.
Gentle brushes and sponges are also great add-ons, as are aromatherapy oils to add a fragrant atmosphere of calmness and relaxation. Appropriate lighting and soothing background music are additional factors you may also want to consider for a sauna setting that’s imbued with a tranquil ambience.
These materials are used for pouring water over hot sauna stones, creating waves of heat that’ll penetrate into your skin and open your pores to help you sweat out all those unwanted toxins and slough off dead skin cells for smoother, more youthful skin.
Avoid eating a heavy meal right before taking a sauna bath
One of the benefits of saunas is improved blood circulation throughout your body. Eating a heavy meal will require a lot of your blood to be channelled and concentrated in your digestive system, so it can get in the way of achieving this benefit. You’ll want to have as much blood as possible freely circulating in all parts of your body, for a truly revitalizing sauna bath experience.
After eating a heavy meal, you’ll need to allow at least an hour before going into the sauna. If you should eat immediately before the sauna bath, opt for a light meal that’s easily digested instead
Drink water before and during a sauna, and avoid consuming any alcoholic beverage
Saunas will have your body soaking in high temperatures, which means fluid losses of approximately 2 cups of water for your body. So before walking into a sauna, make sure your body is well-hydrated.
Drinking a glass of water before the sauna should be enough; excess water intake can be counterproductive as it diminishes the efficacy of the sauna’s detoxification process. For lengthier sauna baths, you may also keep your body hydrated by drinking water during the sessions to continuously replace lost fluids.
On the other hand, steer clear of alcoholic beverages before and during the sauna. They greatly increase the risk of dehydration, and also pose other health risks as alcohol can affect your balance, movement, sensation, mood, judgment, and other mental capabilities
Wear as little clothing as possible, and remove metal jewellery and piercings
Saunas are beneficial to your body only if you let them do their job—that is, have the heat penetrate your body and open up your pores. Having a towel to lie or sit on is appropriate for hygiene, but having any other piece of clothing on will decrease the overall effectiveness of your entire sauna experience.
If you’ll be alone in a home sauna, then, by all means, strip off all clothing to allow the heat to soak in evenly in your body. If you’re uncomfortable doing so or are sharing the sauna with others, you can wear disposable underwear or light and loose-fitting clothes instead.
For safety reasons, you’ll need to remove all jewellery (rings, earrings, watches, bracelets, necklaces), as well as glasses and any metal piercings you may have. The metal will get hot when inside the sauna room and can cause burns in your skin, so this is an important safety precaution you must not forget before entering the sauna
Take a warm shower before starting your sauna session
Showering with warm water and a mild cleansing soap will allow you to maximize your sauna experience by preparing your skin better
Aside from hygienic purposes, a warm shower will moisten your skin, open your pores, and remove the excess natural oils your skin has produced throughout the day
It will also clear your skin of lotions and other creams you may have applied on your skin, allowing your pores to be clean and open for perspiration to run freely. In addition, the shower will unclog your pores of any dirt and dust that may impede sweat production.
After you shower, do not apply oils, lotions, powder, or any other product that may again clog up your pores
Start out slow
Though saunas will exert their most beneficial effects at 15 to 20 minutes into the session, you don’t need to start out by taking the full 20-minute session immediately. Research shows that a few minutes in the sauna can increase a person’s heart rate by 30 percent and elevate skin temperature to 104˚F. You’ll have to start slowly and see how your body reacts and adjusts to the sauna environment first.
For starters, time your initial sauna sessions to be five minutes long, max. This will allow your body to grow accustomed to the heat first and make for a more enjoyable sauna experience, not one where you’ll be agonizing over the discomfort of the heat.
Once your body gets more used to the heat, you can begin to slowly build up to 15-20 minutes per session, or whatever acceptable level you find yourself comfortable with.
Also note that the heat inside the sauna may make you sleepy, so you’ll benefit from having an alarm close by or taking the sauna with a friend
Falling asleep inside the sauna is potentially dangerous, so take caution not to make that mistake. Some home steam saunas are equipped with timers for your safety; they automatically turn off the steam supply after a preset time
If the space allows it, lie down instead of sitting on the sauna bench
Your position when in the sauna affects the distribution of heat on your body. The heat generated in the sauna rises, so lower levels will also have lower temperatures
If you’re alone in the sauna or a shared sauna is not that crowded, lie on the bench to allow a more even heat distribution over the entire length of your body.
Also, if the sauna has more than one bench in multiple levels, the lower bench will give you a lower temperature than the rest of the room. If you’re just starting out, lie on the lowest bench first and work your way up once your body has adjusted to the heat
Relax and focus on positive emotions
While in the sauna, stay quiet and relaxed. Avoid tensing your muscles and reflect on positive thoughts and emotions. Be present in the moment and keep your mind clear of worries about the things that are still on your to-do list. This is your time to unwind and relax
Dim lighting and calming background music can help your mental state sync in with your relaxed physical state to help you take full advantage of your sauna experience.
Another great way of promoting optimum relaxation is through aromatherapy. Soothing fragrances can uplift your mood and improve your overall well-being, and combining them with saunas is a perfect way to boost their benefits.
To combine aromatherapy with saunas, get yourself concentrated oil fragrances such as eucalyptus, peppermint, spearmint, lavender, chamomile, sage, apple, and birch. Scents such as lavender and chamomile promote relaxation and soothe tired, sore muscles
Eucalyptus, peppermint and spearmint open the sinuses and help relieve stuffy noses and coughs. Add a couple of drops of your favorite fragrance oil to the bucket of water you’ll use for pouring onto the hot stones throughout your sauna. The aroma produced will calm your senses and help you relax better
After your sauna session, get up slowly
Because of the heated environment in a sauna, your blood vessels are expanded and your blood pressure is lowered. This can lead you to feel lightheaded or dizzy if you suddenly change your position from lying down to standing up.
To avoid this, get up from your lying position slowly and sit up for a few moments first before finally standing up to exit the sauna room. If you do feel lightheaded or faint anytime during the sauna, leave the room even if your session is not yet finished so you can start cooling down
Take another shower after your sauna, either in lukewarm or cool water
Traditionally, sauna users in Finland would jump into an ice-cold body of water or roll into the snow right after a sauna to cool down
However, more people now prefer a more gradual change of temperature by taking a lukewarm shower or slowly climbing into a cool plunge pool rather than immediately diving in it
Either way, this after-bath lowers your temperature, rinses off body sweat, closes your pores, constricts your blood vessels, and reenergizes your body.
After showering, it is advisable that you allow your body to air dry instead of towelling it off. You can expect to continue sweating for some time after the sauna, as your body adjusts back to normal temperature. Sit or recline in a chair for about 10-15 minutes before getting dressed to allow your body time to cool down properly
Rehydrate and replenish your lost electrolytes
While resting after your sauna session, drink up water to replenish the fluids you lost. You can opt for plain water, or go for juices, power drinks and sports drinks to replace lost electrolytes. The Finns even traditionally ate a dill pickle after every sauna session to replenish the salt they lost during the sweating process
You may also want to do the same and have a salty snack afterwards to replace the electrolytes you lost while sweating it out in the sauna.
So there you have it—keep in mind and follow these 12 tips to make sure your every sauna experience is safe, enjoyable, relaxing, and beneficial to your overall health
Sauna and spa expert with years of experience in the field. You can see me featured in many leading publications as well as my own published research papers. Fitness, health, home improvement and Psychology are my main interests. I’ve worked in many roles from product designer to purchaser for spa products, garden furniture and tech to a hands-on webmaster.