That radiant glow: revealing the skincare benefits of saunas

Patients, family, and friends know that I champion a holistic approach to skincare. As the body’s largest organ, skin is the body’s window to wellness, and how you care for your overall health is reflected in your skin.

As temperatures drop across the northern hemisphere, many people are drawn to saunas—a warming treatment that offers loads of health benefits, from boosting circulation and stimulating the release of toxins to relaxing both muscles and mind as you surrender to the heat. And, as it turns out, saunas can also be a secret weapon for achieving radiantly glowing skin.

Here are a few of the ways that saunas can benefit you:

  1. Detoxification: Sweating out the impurities

High-temperature saunas induce sweating, which is a natural and effective way to rid the body of toxins.  As we sweat, our pores open up, releasing impurities that may contribute to skin issues. This detoxification process promotes clearer and more vibrant (healthier-looking) skin.

  1. Improved circulation: Nourishing the skin from within

Good blood circulation is essential for nourishing and oxygenating the body from the inside out. Saunas enhance blood flow by causing blood vessels to dilate, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the skin. This increased circulation not only contributes to a healthy complexion but also promotes cell renewal and collagen production, both key factors in maintaining youthful and resilient skin.

  1. Stress Reduction: A calm mind, glowing skin

For several decades now, I have been emphasizing how stress can affect our skin health. Many people find the heat of a sauna relaxing, while others may find the intense heat stressful. Ironically, the only way to deal with the stress is to relax into it. This is a good metaphor for dealing with other stresses in our lives, as well. As our bodies learn that stress can be beneficial, we don’t tense up and resist the stressors in our lives. Lower stress contributes to improved skin conditions by reducing inflammation, acne, and other skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. The calming effects of saunas align seamlessly with my emphasis on the mind-skin connection.

  1. Collagen stimulation: A natural anti-aging strategy

Saunas stimulate collagen production by promoting increased blood circulation and oxygen delivery. Collagen is crucial for maintaining skin elasticity and preventing the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Regular sauna sessions can be a natural and enjoyable anti-aging ritual.

  1. Hydration boost: Moisture from the inside out

My 40 years as a practicing physician convinced me that aging is a disease of hypohydration—or water loss. The plump, moisture-rich skin we enjoyed as infants and toddlers gives way to the dry, sagging skin we experience as we age. It may seem surprising, (wouldn’t sauna-induced sweating dehydrate your skin?), but saunas actually improve skin moisture content in two ways. Firstly, by opening up the skin’s pores, allowing for better topical moisture absorption. Secondly, it stimulates collagen production, which provides the underlying structure for the skin. Together, these benefits contribute to a plump and dewy complexion, a hallmark of healthy and well-moisturized skin.

And that’s not all saunas offer.

Saunas have also been shown to offer a wide array of overall health benefits, including:

Cardiovascular benefits

  • Reduced risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
  • Improved endothelial function
  • Reduced arterial stiffness
  • Modulation of the autonomic nervous system
  • Beneficial changes in circulating lipid profiles
  • Lower systemic blood pressure

Neurocognitive benefits

  • Reduced risk of neurocognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Production of heat shock proteins, which have a protective effect on brain cells

Pulmonary benefits

  • Reduced risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Improved respiratory function

Mortality benefits

  • Overall reduction in mortality
  • 24% lower risk of all-cause mortality


  • Reduced symptoms of arthritis, headaches, and the flu
  • Pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of heat
  • Improved circulation

And what about an icy plunge afterward?

Sometimes called “contrast hydrotherapy,” many sauna-goers swear by the benefits of an icy plunge following a sauna session. Here are the arguments in favor of this sauna complement:

A vascular ‘workout’

The sauna induces vasodilation, expanding blood vessels and promoting increased blood flow. Following this with a polar plunge, where the body is suddenly immersed in cold water, causes vasoconstriction, narrowing the blood vessels. This dynamic shift between hot and cold creates the equivalent of a circulatory “workout,” enhancing overall blood circulation and delivering vital nutrients to the skin.

A workout for your pores

The pores, too, get a workout from the rapid opening and closing in response to sudden and extreme changes in temperature. The sudden change in temperature from the sauna to the polar plunge prompts the skin to tighten and contract. Alternating hot and cold stimuli encourages the skin to adapt and strengthen, resulting in a toned and tightened complexion. The exchange between hot and cold temperatures also triggers the skin’s microcirculation, creating a natural glow from a revitalized and luminous complexion.

Finally, while the sauna kick-starts the detoxification process through sweating, the polar plunge takes it a step further. The cold-water immersion causes the body to shiver, an involuntary response that expends additional energy. This, along with the constriction of blood vessels, aids in flushing out toxins at an accelerated rate, complementing the detox benefits initiated in the sauna.

The ultimate endorphin rush?

As any polar plunge enthusiast will tell you, the end result of a sudden cold-water immersion is the release of invigorating endorphins, our natural feel-good chemicals. The dual experience of the sauna’s heat and the ice water’s cold provides a powerful stress-relief combination, contributing to healthier, more radiant skin.

So, while a sauna or sauna/plunge combination might seem beyond the reach of your usual skincare regimen, its benefits can be profound. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a sauna (at the gym or spa, or even an infrared sauna at home), consider indulging yourself once a week or more. If you can follow the sauna with a cold shower, a dousing with a bucket of ice water, a plunge in an icy creek, or a full body plant in the snow, give yourself bonus points. You’re not just indulging in a relaxing skincare treatment—you’re investing in your total health.

That’s #ModernWellness!


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