Real Talk: What Do Steam Rooms Actually Do?

Updated 04/19/19
Steam room benefits

Get the benefits of steam rooms in quick bullet points by scrolling to the bottom of the story.

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 prolonged exposure to drenching humidity. But vague notions of it “opening up your pores” aside, do you really know what the exact benefits of a steam room are? What it’s actually doing to your skin or even your body in general? While we all love a steam sesh here at Byrdie UK, we have to admit, before delving into things for this article, we weren’t entirely sure either. But with every spa therapist worth their Dead Sea salt advocating a regular steam, we thought they must be onto something good. So to get to the bottom of things, we’ve enlisted two experts in the field: 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.

Keep scrolling to discover the benefits of a steam room and why you should book yourself in ASAP.

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

First things first, let’s clear up this crucial question—they’re both super-hot rooms designed to raise our body temperatures, so what’s the difference? Well, the answer lies in the type of heat that saunas and steam rooms create. With its hot rocks or piping stove, a sauna generates very dry heat, which although good for boosting circulation and easing muscles (of course, we’ve got a full list of sauna benefits) can irritate some skin types. Steam rooms, on the other hand, are powered by boiling water, making them far more humid and essentially wet heat. Keep scrolling for the health and skin benefits of steam rooms.

#1: It’s Great for a Glowing Complexion

We’ve surely all done the DIY facial steam (bowls of hot water, tea 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.”

#2: It Can Combat Problem Skin

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

#3: It's 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.

#4: Your Sinuses Will Thank You

Steam rooms have long been used as a way to open up and clear the airways. One study, which saw children suffering from respiratory infections undergo steam therapy, even found it helped to ease symptoms and discomfort during recovery. 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 in the early stages of pregnancy it’s also a good idea to skip the steam room, as changes to your core temperature can affect the blood flow to your baby.

#5: Goodbye Post-Workout Aches

Just like saunas, steam rooms can help to loosen up stiff joints and sore, aching muscles by bathing them in heat. One study found both saunas and steam rooms to be particularly effective in helping speed up recovery after strength-training sessions—meaning that hitting the steam after blasting the weights could save you from those dreaded next-day DOMS (aka delayed-onset muscle soreness).

#6: It Could Help You Beat Stress

Just like sinking into a warm bath after a long day, a steam room session could work wonders in helping you relax and calm your mind. Especially, says Hart, if you try a spa that infuses the steam with calming essential oils, such as lavender, rose or bergamot. 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.”

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Steam Rooms: The Short Story

Pressed for time or just CBA for the long read? Here’s the short take on the benefit of steam rooms, courtesy of Natalie Hart, Head Spa Therapist at Titanic Spa.

  • The humid heating sensation of a traditional steam room is particularly beneficial for the respiratory system and can help to soothe coughs and clear sinuses.
  • The steam increases the body’s heart rate and temperature, which induces sweating, thus contributing to the body’s detoxification process.
  • The level of humidity helps open up clogged pores and cleanse the skin to remove impurities, whilst also hydrating dryer skins.
  • Some steam rooms are combined with essential oils, which can help to induce relaxation and contribute to a better night’s sleep.
  • If you're pregnant or suffer from high/low blood pressure, any chronic disease, respiratory problems or a heart condition, then please consult your GP before heading for a steam.

Opening Image: Free People

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