Home saunas offer more than an opportunity to relax and sweat in the privacy of one's own abode. When used properly, they become a restorative health and beauty haven.
"Steam saunas and dry saunas are used to open the pores and detoxify the body," says Andrea Knaps, spa coordinator at Paris Parker Salon and Spa (citywide; www.parisparker.com). "In a sauna, the heat and steam are indirect, allowing pores to be opened without hot water landing directly on the skin."
Estheticians say regular sauna users experience numerous cosmetic and health improvements. "Steam rooms are most helpful in skin purification and are wonderful for softening skin and removing dead skin cells," says Beth Weiser, an esthetician at The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton (921 Canal St., 524-1331; www.ritzcarlton.com). "Saunas also relax muscles, relieve tension and improve blood flow."
There are two types of saunas available and recommended for homes, says Nick Jensen, a sales consultant at Saunas.com (800-906-2242; www.saunas.com). "Traditional saunas, which have been around for over 2,000 years, can run dry or you can add water for blasts of steam," he says. "Infrareds have been around for about 40 years, and they heat the body directly with infrared rays, which increases your body's core temperature, causing you to sweat."
While some people enjoy the feeling of soaking up warmth, there are options for people who want the benefits of the sauna experience without the intense heat.
"Infrared provides the heat-bathing experience at a very comfortable air temperature for a wide range of users," says Mark Raisanen, national sales manager at Finnleo Sauna and Saunatec Inc. "The traditional sauna is the most flexible since it can be used wet or dry, hot or cool and anything in between," he says, adding that traditional saunas are the most popular choice.
With prices ranging from $2,000 to $12,000, prospective buyers should make their own decisions according to the type of heat they favor.
"Benefits are pretty much the same, it's the experience that differs," Jensen says. "Traditional is high temperatures (140° F to 194° F) combined with humidity, and infrared is lower temperatures (100° F to 150° F) with no humidity. First-time buyers need to identify what type of climate they prefer."
Prior to purchasing a sauna, homeowners can prepare by determining the unit's size, location, user capacity, insulation, power requirements and mobility.
"For the larger traditional saunas, you may wish to have a tile, linoleum or cement area to place it, but saunas with built-in vinyl floors are also available," Raisanen says.
Prices for installation typically range from $200 to $1,500, with more complex projects costing more.
"Portable traditional saunas take about one hour to install; portable infrared (saunas) take 15 to 20 minutes, regular modular saunas take about four hours, and custom saunas take about eight hours," Raisanen says.
Once installation is complete, home saunas require minimal upkeep: Owners should clean the floor and benches once per month and occasionally replace the rocks, which crumble over time.
"They generally do not wear out other than occasional parts needing replacement, but the sauna itself lasts a long time," Raisanen says.
To get the most out of a sauna experience, Knaps recommends users remove makeup prior to entering in order to facilitate skin detoxification. Post-sauna, a cool shower will help remove sweat and harmful bacteria, as well as keep pores clear. Follow with moisturizer.
"Oily or dry, dehydrated skin types are best suited for sauna use, and those who have rosacea or more sensitive skin types should avoid saunas," Knaps says. "You should only spend 10-12 minutes in the steam. In a dry sauna, the process takes a little longer so you can spend up to 20 minutes in the treatment area."
If dizziness occurs at any point, exit the sauna immediately. Re-hydrating with water after all treatments is essential.
"Anyone with any health concern should visit with their doctor prior to using a sauna or sauna regimen," Raisanen says. "The good news is many people with health concerns can actually find a lot of benefits from using it."