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Healthy Indulgence: Sauna for Detoxification

Did you know your largest organ is your skin?

In fact, it’s your heaviest organ as well, weighing in at about 16% of your total body weight! If you were to spread it out, your skin would cover approximately 22 square feet. That’s a lot of surface area!

When it comes to detoxification, these facts matter.

Our skin acts as a second kidney, removing toxins from our bodies through sweat. Let’s look more closely at detoxification and other health benefits of the sauna. Finally, gather tips for how you can get started in a healthy sauna routine!

The Significance of Skin

We often take our skin for granted and concern ourselves about its health only when we’re dealing with the likes of acne, rashes, sunburns or flesh injuries. There are many critical functions our skin fulfills, however, including the following. 

  • Acts as a protective barrier against environmental insults (e.g. physical, chemical, microbiological)
  • Maintains our body temperature and fluid/electrolyte balance
  • Takes in sensory inputs that relay messages to the brain
  • Acts as an important component of immune, nervous, and endocrine systems
  • Assists the formulation of Vitamin D by way of sunlight
  • Removes waste from the body through sweat glands

The Importance of Sweating in Detoxification

Let’s look now at how a sauna affects our skin’s ability to detoxify. The sauna will raise the body’s internal temperature to stimulate blood flow for optimal detoxification of chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins through the skin. The controlled deep sweating that happens when we take time in the sauna helps remove these toxins via sweat.

A study by Lilley, S.G. et al showed sweat releases xenobiotics contained in our fat stores. In case you don’t know what xenobiotics are, they are any chemical compounds foreign to the human body. Some examples include drugs, medications, antibiotics, pollutants, pesticides, plastics, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons produced when you char your food while grilling. 

Another study showed the sauna’s potential for removing one of the most common heavy metals, mercury, through sweat. Mercury is found in our bodies as a result of our exposure to pesticides, dental fillings, vaccine additives and our ingestion of large fish. The highest mercury-containing fish are shark, tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, walleye, pike, and black bass. 

Along with these awesome detoxification benefits, sweating in the sauna has other benefits as well, including cleansing our skin’s pores and sloughing off dead skin cells. The result is an invigorating and vibrant skin tone, vitality and glow!

Starting Your Sauna Routine

Now that you know the health and detoxification benefits of the sauna, let’s get started! If you have high or low blood pressure, a heart condition, or are pregnant, please make sure to check with your physician to confirm whether the sauna is safe for you. Here are some guidelines to help get you started:

  • Seek out the dry sauna in your club – typically by the indoor pool or in your locker room. (If you don’t belong to Life Time, there are a variety of in-home options you can purchase, or seek out other sauna locations in your community.)
  • Start out slowly. Stay only as long as you feel comfortable. If you ever feel dizzy or “not right,” leave the sauna and shower.
  • Work up to a minimum of 3 sessions a week for 15-30 minutes. Most gym saunas are between 180-195◦ , which means you may need to shorten your stay. It’s best to stay longer in a more “moderate” temperature sauna at 125-145◦ for deeper detoxification benefits.
  • Follow your sauna session with a cool shower to rinse off the released salts and toxins (vs. towel drying them back into your circulation). The cooler temperature water following the hot sauna exposure will also reinvigorate your lymphatic system.
  • Drink plenty of filtered water to replenish fluids lost in the sauna.

I often get the question, “Which should I use: the dry or wet sauna (steam room)?” In response to that, I usually recommend the dry over the wet. Technically, they both work to detoxify the body. The sauna uses dry heat, and the wet sauna uses high humidity. The steam room is lower in temperature (~110◦) and therefore better tolerated by some than the dry sauna (~180-190◦) - unless you have an in-home infrared sauna in which you can adjust the temperature.

The steam room works great for those with respiratory problems (e.g. asthma, sinus issues, congestion); however, the risk of mold and bacteria in these rooms is elevated due to the chronic high humidity. The goal for detoxification is serious sweating, which is better achieved through the dry sauna.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Are you interested in taking advantage of these detoxification benefits? Stop by your club sauna today!

In health, Cindi Lockhart - Sr. Program Manager of Health and Nutrition Coaching

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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