Real Talk: What Do Steam Rooms Actually Do?

Hint: Your skin will thank you.

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Free People

A solid sweat session in the steam room is a vital part of any good spa trip, right? In fact, it’s one of the (very) few times we’d actually embrace sitting in a humid, sweaty environment. We've all heard that steam opens our pores, but what does that really mean? Vague notions of it aside, there are actually more benefits to sweating it out in the steam room than we once thought. We love a good steam sesh here at Byrdie, and with nearly every spa therapist seeming to advocate a regular steam, we thought they must be onto something great. To get to the bottom of things, we’ve enlisted experts Natalie Hart, head spa therapist at Huddersfield's award-winning Titanic Spa, and Rupert Critchley, MD, a practicing GP and founder of London’s Viva Skin Clinics to tell us just how a steam room can improve our skin, clear our sinuses, and soothe sore muscles.

Steam Room vs. Sauna: What’s the Difference?

First things first, let’s clear up this crucial question—steam rooms and saunas are both super-hot rooms designed to raise our body temperatures, right? Well, yes, but the difference lies in the type of heat that saunas and steam rooms create. With hot rocks or piping stove, a sauna generates very dry heat, which although good for boosting circulation and easing muscles, may be uncomfortable for some. Steam rooms, on the other hand, are powered by boiling water, making them far more humid and full of "wet" heat.

It’s Great for a Glowing Complexion

We’ve surely all done the DIY facial steam (bowls of hot water, towels over your head) to banish a few blackheads, and a steam room works in exactly the same way—just on a larger scale. “Steam opens the skin’s pores and clears out any congestion,” explains Critchley. “Have you ever noticed that warm and healthy glow when you step out of the steam room? That’s because hot steam therapy increases peripheral blood flow, thereby improving your overall skin complexion.”

Steam Can Combat Problem Skin

If you suffer from dry skin or conditions that get easily irritated by extremely dry weather or sweating (hello eczema and dermatitis), then a steam room might be a far better friend to you than a sauna. Hart notes that the warm, damp air will work to drench skin in moisture, hydrating rather than stripping it. Oily, acne-prone skin might benefit, too, as the heat and humidity may work to simultaneously unclog and cleanse.

Sweating is a Brilliant Way to Detox

Sweating is one of the body’s key detoxification processes, helping to rid it of the things you no longer need. A good steam can help speed that whole process up, explains Hart, by increasing the body’s heart rate and temperature, thereby inducing more sweating.

Your Sinuses Will Thank You

Steam rooms have long been used as a way to open up and clear the airways. However, warns Critchley, it’s important to consult your GP first if you’re suffering from high or low blood pressure, any chronic disease, respiratory problems, or a heart condition. If you’re pregnant, it’s also a good idea to skip the steam room, as changes to your core temperature can affect blood flow to your baby and cause potential health defects, especially in the early stages of pregnancy.

Goodbye Post-Workout Aches

Just like saunas, steam rooms may help to loosen up stiff joints and sore, aching muscles by bathing them in heat.

It Could Help You Beat Stress

Just like sinking into a warm bath after a long day, a steam room session may work wonders in helping you relax and calm your mind.

Try finding a spa that infuses the steam with calming essential oils, like lavender, rose, or bergamot for an extra boost of relaxation.

Critchley also notes, “Steam rooms and sauna therapy have been used for centuries as a sanctuary of relaxation. It will help your body relax and reduce stress and tension, which is not only of benefit to your mind but also to those everyday aches and pains.”

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Sears ME, Kerr KJ, Bray RI. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic reviewJ Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:184745. doi:10.1155/2012/184745

  3. Konkel L. Taking the heat: potential fetal health effects of hot temperaturesEnviron Health Perspect. 2019;127(10):102002. doi:10.1289/EHP6221

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