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True or false: are saunas good for the skin?

True or false: are saunas good for the skin?
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Saunas have been around for many years, and their alleged detoxifying abilities are often touted as their greatest benefit. We discuss if they really are good for your skin.

How saunas affect the skin


Studies suggest that induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of many toxic elements from the human body[1].

A sauna uses dry heat to elevate the temperature of the room with very low humidity. Contrarily, steam rooms operate at lower temperatures but 100% humidity. Both are used to induce sweating.

However, the drying effect of saunas can cause a tightening and itching effect on sensitive skin. When entering a sauna, skin temperature rises, the pulse soars, and blood vessels become more dilated, as the heart begins to pump more blood, causing the person to sweat and increase blood flow to the skin.

The skin’s internal temperature causes a dilation of capillaries which increases blood circulation, which will result in most skin types becoming flushed and red. This increase in blood circulation boosts oxygen levels, which is good for the skin as it stimulates the body’s natural healing abilities.

While saunas do not dry the skin, sweating can act as a negative stimulant for some skin types

Which skin types should and shouldn’t go to saunas


Studies have proven that saunas do not cause drying of the skin[2], however, saunas and subsequent sweating can act as a negative stimulant for some skin types, and therefore there is no general recommendation for all skin types.

Saunas induce hydration of the stratum corneum[3] (the outermost layers of the skin), which can be beneficial for psoriasis sufferers[4], as psoriasis is commonly associated with dry skin[5].

For acne-prone individuals, sweating results in a decrease in sebum content on the skin surface of the forehead[6], which can be positive as breakouts and acne are often associated with excess sebum production[7].

Saunas should be avoided by those who suffer from eczema

Saunas should be avoided by those who suffer from atopic dermatitis - also known as eczema[8], as sweating is considered to be one of the most common triggers of itching[9].

The heat of the sauna can cause cholinergic urticaria to flare up - a rash sometimes known as heat bumps[10]


Saunas should also be avoided by people who suffer from rosacea and those prone to melasma. 
For people who suffer from rosacea, the skin already has a red appearance and is sensitive to stimulation, such as heat[11]
For those prone to melasma (dark brown patches on the skin induced by hormones), the heat may also increase the possibility of making discoloration more prominent as heat inflames the skin and wakes up melanin cells[12].

[1] Genuis, SJ. et al, 'Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements.' in Archives Environmental Contamination Toxicology 61.2 (2011) pp. 344-57 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21057782]
[2] Hannuksela, ML. et al, 'Benefits and risks of sauna bathing.' in American Journal of Medicine 110.2 (2001) pp. 118-26  [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553]
[3] Kowatzki, D. et al, 'Effect of regular sauna on epidermal barrier function and stratum corneum water-holding capacity in vivo in humans: a controlled study.' in Dermatology 217.2 (2008) pp. 173-80 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18525205
[4] Gelmetti C.'Therapeutic moisturizers as adjuvant therapy for psoriasis patients.' in American Journal of Clinical Dermatology 10.1 (2009) pp. 7-12 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19209948]
[5] Pacifico, A. et al, 'Evaluation of a skin protection cream for dry skin in patients undergoing narrow band UVB phototherapy for psoriasis vulgaris.' in Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia 146.3 (2011) pp. 179-83 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21566547]
[6] Kowatzki, D. et al, 'Effect of regular sauna on epidermal barrier function and stratum corneum water-holding capacity in vivo in humans: a controlled study.' in Dermatology 217.2 (2008) pp. 173-80 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18525205
[7] Makrantonaki, E. et al, 'An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne' in Dermato Endocrinology 3.1 (2011) pp. 41-49 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051853/
[8] Hannuksela, ML. et al, 'Benefits and risks of sauna bathing.' in American Journal of Medicine 110.2 (2001) pp. 118-26  [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11165553]
[9] Hong, J. et al, 'Management of Itch in Atopic Dermatitis' in Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery 30.2 (2011) pp.71-86 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704137/]
[10] Deacock, S.J, 'An approach to the patient with urticaria' in Clinical & Experimental Immunology 153.2 (2008) pp. 151-161 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492902/
[11] Del Rosso, J.Q. 'Advances in Understanding and Managing Rosacea: Part 2 The Central Role, Evaluation, and Medical Management of Diffuse and Persistent Facial Erythema of Rosacea' in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 5.3 (2012) pp. 26-36 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3315876/]
[12] Handel, A.C. et al, 'Melasma: a clinical and epidemiological review*' in Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia 89.5 (2014) pp. 771-782 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4155956/]

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