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What are heat treatments?

Heat treatments use wet or dry heat to improve circulation of blood and lymph to the skin, clear out toxins, and relax and soothe your muscles and spirit.

At a spa, heat treatments usually feature saunas, steam rooms or hot stones - also known as "thermotherapy".

The effect of heat is to cleanse, relax and relieve your body of aches and pains. In a steam room, hot wet air is pumped into the room. In a sauna, the heat is dry and either pumped into the room using vents or generated by stones being heated in the room. Hot stones focus heat deep into your muscle during a massage or facial.

What are heat treatments good for?

Heat treatments offer health and relaxation benefits for your whole body.

In saunas and steam rooms, perhaps the best way to think about it is to compare it with having a fever. A fever is one of your body's natural tools for healing itself. In many ways, heat treatments recreate your body's own natural state of fever, and offer the same benefits. The difference of course is that steam rooms and saunas are a pleasant experience, and you don't have to be ill to use them!

With hot stones, the heat works deep into the muscle to relax and relieve it.

Heat treatments can:

  • cleanse your skin by opening up the pores and drawing out dirt and toxins
  • stimulate your circulation, boosting your immune system and encouraging your body to heal itself of infections and scarring
  • remove calcium deposits from the blood vessels and so break down scar tissue
  • help shift a cold, opening your airways and helping you breathe more easily, and relieving headaches and sinus problems
  • ease back, rheumatic and muscular pain, as the heat warms and soothes the muscles and encourages better mobility in your joints
  • relax you, as stress and tension melt away.

Before you go

Some spas recommend that you avoid facials or waxing after a heat treatment as it may leave your skin feeling very tender. The dry heat of a sauna may do this, but only really if you stay in it a long time; a steam room is unlikely to make your skin sore, as it is so wet. Hot stones form part of some facials and therapies, so there should be no issue with these.

If you're going to a sauna or steam room it's worth finding out beforehand what you're expected to wear; some spas offer single-sex facilities and you're encouraged or welcome to be naked; in others you'll be expected to wear a swimming costume; some spas will provide towels for you to wear.

Precautions

You should avoid heat treatments if you:

  • are, or think you might be, pregnant
  • have a history of heart or respiratory problems
  • have problems with your circulation
  • have diabetes or an infection
  • have any other medical condition, or are receiving treatment of any kind
  • have had any alcohol
  • have a fever

Young children and older people are advised to avoid very hot treatments such as saunas. But whatever age you are, you can probably find a heat treatment that you will enjoy.

Drink plenty of water; you'll sweat a lot, and at the same time as you're sweating out toxins you'll also be losing fluid. Drink plenty of water to avoid being dehydrated; this will make sure you really flush your system.

Watch the time! Fifteen minutes is the maximum time advised for some steam rooms and saunas; in others (a laconium, for example) you can stay for as long as an hour. If you don't drink water or listen to your body when it says it wants a bit of cool air, you could be in difficulties. Only stay as long as you are comfortable.

Watch your step in a sauna or steam room, as you would in a swimming pool; the floor, and you, can get very wet.

Different types of steam room

There is an almost endless number of different kinds of steam room. The most common at UK spas are:

Steam rooms

  • hammams
  • rasuls or rhassouls
  • serails

Steam baths

  • Balinese multi-steam baths
  • Japanese salt-steam baths

Different types of sauna

As with steam rooms, the basic sauna concept is the same but there are many variations on the theme, largely depending on where in the world the sauna is! Different types of sauna include:

  • Tyrolean sauna
  • Finnish/Swedish sauna
  • Rock sauna
  • Bio sauna
  • Caldarium
  • Laconium

Afterwards

A heat treatment is a very sensuous experience that should leave you feeling really relaxed, and your muscles and joints very soothed. Your skin is likely to feel really good, and you'll probably look a bit flushed. It can be quite tiring having a heat treatment and it will probably help you to sleep better that night.

Cool off afterwards; try a swim or a cool shower. This will bring your body temperature back down again.

Other heat treatments

A wide range of different heat treatments is available, from Fangotherapy to Rasuls. The variety is enormous. Some add oils and herbs to steam or mud; others involve a massage or bath; some are hotter than others; some are regulated into different stages of the treatment. Find out as much as you can before you use one, and what its particular benefits are.

Courtesy of the Good Spa Guide

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