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Pros and Cons of a Sauna

author image Lisa Mercer
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.

A sauna is a wood-enclosed room, whose temperatures can be as high as 185 degrees Fahrenheit. The room is warmed by heated stones, on which water is tossed to produce heat. Sauna patrons sit or lie on wooden benches. Saunas are a mainstay at spas, where they are used for skin cleansing. Fitness enthusiasts enjoy their muscle-relaxing sauna sessions. Skiers and snowboarders often seek apres-ski warmth and possibly hot love within the confines of a sauna. Sauna sessions can be relaxing, but doctors are of mixed opinions about their benefits.

Speculations About Complexion Benefits

Many people enjoy the post-sauna healthy glow. Dr. Harvey Simon, editor-in-chief of Harvard Men's Health Watch, speculates that this may be due to the 30 percent pulse rate increase that usually occurs in a sauna. The increased pulse rate doubles the amount of blood that is pumped each minute. Most of this blood is shunted away from the internal organs and toward the skin, which may explain the "flushed" appearance. This rosy afterglow remains for a few hours after taking a sauna, thereby minimizing the need for makeup.

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Time Frame Dangers

Saunas are characterized by their dry heat and low humidity. This explains why people are able to tolerate them for extended periods of time. Twenty minutes of relaxation time may be healthy, but if you use a sauna when you're fatigued, you risk falling asleep. The excessive exposure to heat can cause dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Effects on Injuries

Muscle tension, caused by overuse, can be alleviated by spending time in a sauna. Injuries accompanied by inflammation require cold instead of heat. In fact, heat can actually exacerbate inflammation and prolong the healing period.


Weight lost during a sauna session is water loss, not fat loss. It will be regained as soon as you drink some fluids.


Some studies link sauna use to reduced susceptibility to the common cold. Researchers at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Vienna studied 50 adults, who were split into two groups. One group was told to use a sauna on a daily basis. The control group did not use the sauna. After six months, the sauna groups reported fewer colds.

Precautions for Pregnancy

According to the March of Dimes, pregnant women who use saunas have a greater risk of miscarriage. If a pregnant woman's body temperature becomes too high, her baby may have neural tube damage.

Expert Insight

Some people believe that saunas detoxify the body, but Dee Anna Glaser, a professor of dermatology at St. Louis University, argues that although trace toxins may be released through perspiration, cooling the body is the primary purpose of sweating. In fact, Glaser believes that sweating profusely may actually impair the body's natural detoxification system. The kidneys and the liver are really responsible for detoxification. If you sweat without replenishing fluids, you risk dehydration, which can impair the kidney's ability to function.

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