Saunas have become increasingly popular in recent years as a form of relaxation and wellness. But while there have been many studies on the general health benefits of sauna use, the effects of sauna on skin have not been extensively researched.
In this article, we will explore what research has been done on the topic and offer some insight on whether sauna use is good for skin.
Sauna use effects on skin
There have not been many studies on the effects of sauna use on skin. In fact, most texts about the topic only cite the following two studies on this topic:
- ‘The sauna, skin and skin diseases’ (1988)
- ‘Effect of Regular Sauna on Epidermal Barrier Function and Stratum Corneum Water-Holding Capacity in vivo in Humans: A Controlled Study’ (2008)
The first study is mainly referenced with the key takeaway that sauna bathing may be of benefit to patients with psoriasis.
The second one is more interesting. As a 2018 review of sauna health benefits summarizes, the study “suggested a protective effect of regular Finnish sauna on skin physiology as evidenced by stability of the epidermal barrier function, increase in hydration of the stratum corneum, and faster recovery of elevated water loss and skin pH”.
Let’s unravel these findings (and more) in further detail.
Better protection from damage and infections
Regular sauna use is linked with protective effect on epidermal barrier functions.
The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin and is responsible for protecting the body from external damage, such as UV radiation, bacteria, and other environmental toxins. It also plays a role in maintaining the skin’s moisture balance and regulating body temperature.
So, in practice this could mean:
- Reduced sensitivity and irritation: A healthy epidermal barrier can help protect the skin from environmental stressors and irritants, reducing sensitivity and irritation.
- Fewer breakouts: An impaired epidermal barrier function can lead to an excess of oil production, which can contribute to the development of acne and other skin blemishes. A more stable epidermal barrier function may help reduce the occurrence of breakouts.
- Improved skin moisture retention: When the epidermal barrier function is functioning properly, it helps the skin retain moisture, which can keep it hydrated and plump.
Improved skin blood circulation
Another key takeaway from the study is that a sauna use has a stimulating effect on skin blood circulation.
Increased blood flow to the skin can have a number of potential benefits for skin health. Here are a few examples:
- Improved oxygen and nutrient delivery: When blood flow to the skin is increased, the skin receives more oxygen and nutrients, which can help to support healthy cell growth and repair.
- Improved skin complexion: Improved blood flow can help to give the skin a healthy, radiant appearance and may also help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Increased collagen production: Collagen is a protein that plays a key role in maintaining the skin’s structure and elasticity. Improved blood flow may stimulate collagen production, which can help to keep the skin looking youthful and plump.
- Faster wound healing: Increased blood flow to the skin can help to speed up the healing process for cuts, scrapes, and other types of skin injuries.
Regular sauna bathing was also found leading in “increase in hydration of the stratum corneum”.
The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the skin and is made up of dead skin cells and a complex mixture of lipids (fats) that help to retain moisture and protect the skin.
Hydration levels in the stratum corneum are important for maintaining the skin’s moisture balance and preventing dryness and irritation.
Increased hydration of the stratum corneum could have a number of potential benefits for skin health, including:
- Reduced risk of skin infections: Dry skin is more prone to infections, so keeping the stratum corneum well-hydrated may reduce the risk of skin infections.
- Improved skin texture and appearance: Hydrated skin tends to look and feel smoother and more plump, which can help to improve the overall appearance of the skin.
- Reduced risk of skin aging: Dry skin is more prone to premature aging, so keeping the stratum corneum well-hydrated may help to reduce the risk of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.
Reducing wrinkles by boosting collagen production
Recent research has also shown that sauna use may have anti-aging benefits for the skin. A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science Supplement found that heat treatment at 40-42°C (104-108°F) can help repair wrinkles and sags in the skin by increasing collagen synthesis.
Collagen is a protein that gives structure and support to the skin. As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, which can lead to the formation of wrinkles and sags. By increasing collagen production, heat treatment can help improve the appearance of the skin and reduce the visible signs of aging.
Eliminate skin infectants
The high temperature of the sauna bath helps to eliminate dermatophytes, according to the study by Hannuksela et al. mentioned above.
Dermatophytes are a type of fungi that commonly infect the skin, hair, and nails. They can cause infections in healthy people and those with weakened or compromised immune systems. Symptoms of dermatophyte infections can range from mild skin irritation and redness to swelling and flaking of the skin.
Preventing acne & eczemas
Saunas are often used for their relaxing and stress-reducing effects. The heat and humidity of a sauna can help to relax muscles and improve circulation, which can contribute to a feeling of relaxation and well-being. In addition, the act of taking time to relax and unwind in a sauna can be a form of stress management in itself.
There is some evidence to suggest that stress can have negative effects on the skin. Chronic stress can lead to increased production of the hormone cortisol, which can disrupt the skin’s natural balance and lead to problems such as acne, eczema, and dryness. Stress can also weaken the immune system, making the skin more susceptible to infections and other types of skin damage.
By helping to reduce stress, sauna use may have a beneficial effect on the skin. In addition, the heat and sweating that occur during a sauna session may help to flush out impurities and improve circulation, which can contribute to preventing future acne outbreaks.
In conclusion, sauna use may have a number of potential benefits for skin health, including improved blood flow, protected epidermal functions, and increased hydration in the stratum corneum.
Regular sauna use may also be beneficial for people with dry skin conditions, potentially helping to improve the health and appearance of the skin.
Additionally, sauna use may help to reduce stress and improve relaxation, which can have a positive effect on the skin.
However, it’s important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the effects of sauna use on the skin, and the benefits listed here are based on the available research.
As with any skincare routine, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes. It’s also important to follow proper sauna safety guidelines and to listen to your body’s needs when using a sauna.
Overall, sauna use may be a beneficial addition to a healthy skincare routine, but it’s always important to use caution and seek guidance from a healthcare professional.