The sauna (also known as a Finnish bath), produces dry air and a high temperature. Hot air rises. Temperatures at the bather’s face can reach between 80ºC to 100ºC, while it may be as low as 30ºC at floor level. The rock-filled electric heater and the size of the room are designed to provide a balance between heat, humidity and ventilation. Pouring water over the hot rocks produces steam which gives the bather a sensation of increased heat.
There are many brands of saunas. Some places have safety regulations in place however others do not.
How does the body respond in a sauna?
The elevated temperature has significant effects on the cardiovascular system. People who are unaccustomed to saunas may feel uncomfortable. Those who regularly use saunas tolerate the heat more readily.
Health Hazards and Warnings
The elevated temperature and humidity can cause heat illness. Especially for those unaccustomed to saunas, nausea, nose bleeds, dizziness and fainting can occur. This is less likely the shorter the exposure time. Heat illness can be fatal. For more detail, see “Heat and Sun” in the Travel Advice drop down on Country Guides.
Anyone with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, high or low blood pressure or diabetes should consult their doctor before using a sauna.
Long term effects on health are unknown. Elevated temperatures can adversely affect male fertility. However some research suggests fertility is not reduced using saunas. If fertility is an issue, specialists often advise limiting or avoiding saunas.
If you are ill, or not feeling well do not take a sauna. Do not consume alcohol before, during or immediately after sauna use.
Avoid taking medications (and illicit drugs) that may cause you to be drowsy or interfere with your ability to sweat.
Only use saunas that are properly maintained.
What is safe?
Some places recommend spending no more than 10 minutes at a time in the sauna. Healthy adults should take a sauna for no more than 15 to 20 minutes.
Children should only use a sauna under parental supervision. They should be monitored closely for their reaction to heat, sauna conditions adjusted accordingly, and time limited in general to a maximum of five to ten minutes.
In general, cool down gradually and drink two to four glasses of water after your sauna.
Are there any positive health benefits?
Sauna bathers may experience a sensation of relaxation and an overall feeling of well-being. A few small studies have found that sauna bathing can alleviate pain and other symptoms associated with rheumatic disease. However, more research is needed. Overall, there is limited scientific evidence to prove that sauna bathing has any health benefits.
Is it safe to sauna while pregnant?
Consult your doctor for an individual assessment. Women who have a complicated pregnancy should avoid saunas.
Hyperthermia, especially in the first trimester, can increase the risks of miscarriage and birth defects. Some research suggests moderate sauna bathing may be safe for women who have an uncomplicated pregnancy and who are accustomed to sauna bathing.