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Steaming ahead: Why saunas are hot right now

When on holiday, Aussies try to escape the frantic scramble of everyday life and reset the balance through wellness, relaxation and just a little bit of spoiling.

Nothing embraces all three quite as neatly as saunas and steam rooms – a luxury few people get to indulge in regularly but which they know will do them good.

The art of stillness is a hard one to perfect in daily life, but when sitting in a steam room, concentrating on the hot air passing into and out of your lungs, the world beyond those wooden walls seems to disappear.

Besides the relaxation benefits, heat bathing has been used a treatment of numerous ailments for millennia. Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, is said to have observed: “Give me fever and I can cure every disease.”

Health benefits

Exposure to both dry and wet heat is thought to aid detoxification and weight loss as well as promoting relaxation. Some claim the heat exposure helps to strengthen the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells.

A steam room differs from a traditional sauna by stressing humidity over temperature. It uses water flashed to steam, typically done through splashing water on heated rocks, resulting in high humidity.

The humidity of a steam room is said to have a positive effect on a number of chronic conditions, including acne and sinus congestion, allergies and asthma. The steam is also said to improve skin health and circulation, while people with muscle conditions or chronic pain have experienced temporary relief from symptoms through steam exposure.

Because humid air transfers heat more readily, and because perspiration doesn’t evaporate as quickly in such conditions, a steam room can feel hotter than its actual air temperature. A dry sauna will use higher temperatures at a significantly lower humidity level.

Both allow guests to sweat out impurities and wallow in a pleasantly hot, tranquil environment. Which they choose to employ simply comes down to personal preference.

Infrared or traditional?

Saunas can be divided into two main types, far-infrared rooms and traditional saunas. 

Far-infrared saunas tends to create close to a normal home humidity level and this cannot be adjusted, whereas traditional saunas sit at a lower initial humidity level but that humidity can be varied by adding water to rocks.

The temperature for a traditional sauna typically ranges between 150 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas for a far-infrared sauna it’s usually set far lower at between 120 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Profuse sweating is the end result in both, but the method of heating the body is different.

Hot bods

© kichigin19 –

In a traditional sauna, perspiration is achieved when the bather enters a heated room. The inner walls are warm, the air temperature has achieved a set temperature and the rocks are super-heated.

The process for heating the room usually involves an electric heater that warms a compartment of stones, which then radiate the heat throughout the room. When a high temperature is achieved, the elements turn on and off to maintain that temperature.

In a far-infrared sauna, the heat waves penetrate the body and heat it up, raising the core temperature. Emitters are believed to create energy which is close to the wavelength of that emitted naturally by the body, so the energy is well received and deeply penetrates the skin to warm the muscles and joints.

Warm up

One of the drawbacks of a traditional sauna is heat-up time, around 30-40 minutes for a well-constructed sauna to properly pre-heat the rocks from cold. Far-Infrared rooms can be used immediately, since infrared energy is being emitted by the heaters from the get-go, although some users prefer to bathe once the higher temperatures kick in after some 15 minutes.

The length of recommended use for each room is approximately the same (10-15 minutes per session), but due to the lower air temperatures and the ability to feel the effects of infrared heat faster than a traditional sauna, it’s not uncommon for a person to spend 20-30 minutes inside.

Is big beautiful?

Traditional saunas/steam rooms tend to be bigger than their infrared rivals, making them a popular option for accom and better for groups to sit and socialise.

But if its personal, intimate and bespoke you’re after, perhaps incorporating some colour therapy or soothing music, infrared saunas are in the mix as a possibly more energy efficient option.

Of course, costs will vary depending on circumstance, and those looking to buy should get professional advice.

Whichever an accom operator opts for, they’re likely to experience a more blissed out guest on check out. The relaxing elements of a sauna session, combined with a body’s efforts to lower the internal temperature, are said to promote a great night’s sleep. 

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