Mani-pedis, massages, and facials are all great for your soul, especially when you see the right people. While home spa treatments are great for your health, it is very difficult to recreate a steam room at your home. Sure, there are DIY shower melts that you can drop in the shower, and you can create a facial steam tent with essential oils in a bowl of hot water. While these strategies are beneficial, they just aren’t the same as sitting in an enclosed, steamy space.
Steam Room vs. Sauna
Steam rooms differ from saunas in that they are heated with steam and not as hot. The big difference between steam rooms and saunas is the type of heat that they provide. A sauna uses dry heat, whereas steam rooms heat from a generator filled with boiling water. A sauna may promote relaxation and detoxification, but a steam room does that and more. Steam rooms mimic humid environments, maintaining 95% to 100% humidity. The temperature tends to rest somewhere around 110º F, which is only a few degrees hotter than your average hot tub. In contrast, saunas are very desert-like and range from 160-200º F, depending on which sauna you enter.
The practice of sitting in heat, or heat bathing, is an ancient practice across many cultures. From Russian banyas to Native American sweat lodges, heat therapy provides numerous health benefits. Within recent years, medical evidence supports these historical claims, and we’ll cover some of the most popular benefits below.
Helps Promote Decongestion
When you are congested, do you ever notice how much better you breathe after taking a hot shower? Take that feeling, amplify it by 10, and you understand that a steam room can help you breathe, especially if the steam is infused with eucalyptus essential oil. Inhaling moisture can help loosen nasal congestion, which clears up your breathing. Steam rooms may also break up congestion in the lungs, helping you breathe better and reduce cold symptoms. Just remember not to stay in the steam room for too long, as that can cause dehydration, which can increase congestion.
May Reduce Inflammation
Researchers agree that thermal therapy can help reduce systemic inflammation, which greatly benefits your overall health. Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world, so reducing inflammation can help reduce that statistic. Roughly three out of every five people die from chronic inflammatory conditions worldwide. Inflammation can cause stroke, cancer, obesity, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and heart disorders. Frequently entering a steam room may help reduce the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body. CRP is one of the leading blood markers of systemic inflammation.
Promotes Cardiovascular Health
Older research identified that being in a steam room can cause certain people’s bodies to release hormones that alter heart rate. Aldosterone is one of those hormones and it regulates blood pressure. When you sit in a steam room, aldosterone is released and it may help lower your blood pressure, which is one of the reasons that you feel tranquil and relaxed. A newer study from 2021 found that steam rooms may improve heart function by reducing blood pressure. The study observed reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in healthy test subjects that spent 10-15 minutes in a steam room once a week for 12 weeks.
When you want to wind down and escape the world, a common relaxation method is to soak in a steamy bath. One theory as to why steam rooms promote relaxation is that they help the body produce endorphins, which are feel-good hormones. Another theory is that time in the steam room can reduce levels of cortisol, the hormone the body produces in response to stress. When cortisol levels decrease, you feel more tranquil and rejuvenated. Future research is necessary to examine the effects of both short- and long-term steam room use and bodily performance and response.
Helps Eliminate Blackheads
If you have ever received a facial, then you know how the aesthetician opens up your pores with a steamer, or a hot washcloth. The warm humidity opens up your pores, softening the oil and dirt inside for easy removal. Your sweat flows freely in a steam room, so your pores release bacteria, dirt, and oil in the process. You may not be completely free of blackheads when you leave the steam room, but dermatologists agree that a steam session can aid with the removal of blackheads. If you have very oily skin, though, you may want to pass on a steam room, as the humidity may make your skin even more oil-prone.