Sauna Room Benefits
The sweat also helps to remove toxins and cleanses the body. In terms of reaping the benefits for your skin, the sauna is better for muscle relaxation and lowering blood pressure whereas the steam room will help with overall detoxification of the body—the preference is yours. When the volume of blood vessels and the blood increases, your body's blood pressure drops causing your heart to beat faster and more efficiently. This is one of the best benefits of using a sauna after a workout; you're getting a mild cardiovascular exercise (similar to walking) just by sitting inside a room. The difference between a sauna and a steam room can be summed up simply -- dry vs. wet. Saunas provide dry heat, while steam rooms generate moist heat. Both can open up your pores, loosen up your muscles and help you relax. Which one is right for you? It's mostly a matter of personal preference.
Dry or Steamy?
The dry heat of a traditional sauna starts with a heater that heats up a stack of rocks. Those rocks radiate heat into the room. In most saunas, you can pour water over the heated rocks to generate some steam and boost the humidity a bit --although nowhere near the level of a steam room. Saunas have a vent, usually found near the floor by the heater, that continually brings in fresh air and limits the humidity buildup. Some saunas, however, use infrared light rather than radiant heat.
Inside a steam room, a device called a steam generator boils water into steam and releases it into the air. Unlike a sauna, a steam room is nearly airtight, so the humidity builds to 100 percent. The air is so damp that water condenses on the walls.
Saunas Are Hotter
Saunas run considerably hotter than steam rooms, although because of the variance in humidity, your body may not sense the difference. A typical sauna will be set between 70 and 100 °C (158 and 212 °F).degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity level of 5 percent to 30 percent. Steam rooms top out at about 110 to 120 degrees, but the 100 percent humidity keeps your sweat from evaporating, making you feel much hotter. Whether dry or wet, hot air always rises. In both saunas and steam rooms, the higher up you sit, the hotter you'll get.
Have a Seat
Saunas are built of wood for a reason; metal benches or tiled walls inside the searing heat of a sauna would burn you. Plus, wood absorbs moisture, which not only keeps the surfaces cooler but also helps pull humidity out of the air. In steam rooms, however, the high humidity and constant condensation would cause wood to degrade fairly quickly. Steam rooms are surfaced with non-porous materials, such as tile, that can get wet without causing problems. Self-contained units, such as those for home use, are often plastic. Steam rooms usually have sloped ceilings, so that water will run down to the walls rather than drip all over the occupants.
Relax and Destress
Steam rooms and saunas share some therapeutic benefits. Above all, they both reduce muscle tension, promoting relaxation and general well-being. The heat helps improve circulation and, of course, promotes sweating, which opens up the pores and cleanses the skin. Steam rooms may be more comfortable for people with allergies or congestion in the chest or sinuses. Saunas are the better choice for people with conditions that can be aggravated by humidity, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
No Magic Effects
There's no evidence to support claims that "heat baths," a catch-all term for both saunas and steam rooms, detoxify the body. The heat will open up your pores, which may help your skin, but it doesn't draw toxins out of your organs through the skin. Similarly, the ability of saunas and steam baths to help you lose weight is greatly overstated. Spend a significant length of time in either environment and you'll sweat enough to make a difference on the scale -- but the loss is all water weight. When you replenish your body's fluids, you'll be back where you started.
Risks of Saunas & Steam Rooms
The benefits of bathing in a sauna or steam room include stress reduction, muscle relaxation and pain relief. Sweating in a sauna cleanses your pores and can make your mind and body feel energized. Saunas aren't right for everyone, however, and you should take some precautions when using a steam room or any kind of heat therapy.
Steam Bathing Time
You should never stay in a sauna or steam room for more than 15 or 20 minutes because the prolonged increase in body temperature can be dangerous. If you start to feel dizzy or nauseous, get out immediately, drink some cold water and cool off. Even if you feel fine after using a sauna, drink 2 to 4 glasses of water to replace the fluids lost through perspiration.
Babies and Pregnant Women
Babies under one year old do not have fully developed temperature regulation systems in their bodies, which makes steam rooms unsafe for them. Children can use steam rooms for short periods of time, but they should never be unsupervised. Pregnant women should also avoid using steam rooms because the steep increase in body temperature can cause serious birth defects, especially in the first trimester.
Men who are having trouble conceiving a child should avoid saunas or other types of heat bathing that raise the temperature in your scrotum. Sperm need slightly cooler temperatures than the rest of the body in order to thrive. The “International Journal of Andrology” reports that men who used a sauna regularly had lower sperm counts and their sperm had reduced motility. Since a man's body is always producing new sperm, these effects are not permanent, but they do temporarily reduce fertility.
The American Heart Association warns that if you have high pressure, you should be careful about using a sauna or steam room. The sauna's heat causes your heart rate to go up and makes your blood vessels dilate, which can cause chest pain or shortness of breath. It is safe to use a steam room if your blood pressure is under control, but you should get out immediately if you start to feel uncomfortable. Additionally, if you have suffered a recent heart attack, you should avoid using steam rooms or saunas. If you have heart or blood pressure problems, never alternate a sauna with a cold bath in quick succession.
Alcohol and Drugs
If you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, do not take a steam bath because the effects on your cardiovascular system can be increased. An intoxicated person may not pay attention to how much time has passed in the heat, or may not notice the early symptoms of over-heating, such as feeling lightheaded or nauseous. There is also the risk of falling asleep, which could be fatal in a steam room.