Saunas have been in use for centuries, and they are a widely popular way of sweating toxins from the body. Some benefits of regular sauna use are more well known than others, but quite a common question that gets asked is ‘Can saunas help to treat acne?’
Being a teenager can be difficult at times. The last thing that you need with all those hormones rushing through your body is to fall victim to significant acne. Of course acne is not just limited to teenagers. However old you are, let’s face it- you could probably do without the acne. There does seem to be some debate among dermatologists about how frequent sauna use affects acne, so let’s take a look to see what has been said.
Remember though, the information contained within this article is strictly for informational use only. We always recommend that you consult your health care practitioner before engaging in regular sauna use, and in this case we certainly recommend discussing with your dermatologist.
So What Does The Science Say?
Now, some dermatologists do believe that saunas can be helpful in treating acne because it can help to cleanse the skin. Nevertheless, some experts argue that frequent sauna use could actually make the pimples worse by causing inflammation of the skin or bacterial overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).
Propionibacterium acnes is the primary bacterium linked to causing acne, giving rise to acne lesions by producing p. acnes toxins in hair follicles and skin pores, and those toxins trigger an inflammatory response. Furthermore, oils produced by skin cells, known as sebocytes, are also a primary influencer in acne. The more sebocytes present, the more likely that acne is formed.
Generally, there is more evidence to suggest that sauna use is good for acne because they in fact help to treat inflammation and bacterial infection in the skin pores, but there's a debate about how frequent sauna use should be per week -- some experts say that too much sauna use can cause more harm than good, while others say they don't see any problems with multiple times a week. Excessive use could be linked to the inflammation and bacterial growth as mentioned before.
What’s more is that regular sauna use has been shown to reduce the levels of sebum production in the skin. This also influences the skin’s pH balance regulation, and could lower the pH balance levels, in turn strengthening the skin’s acid mantel which is responsible for its integrity and cohesion, thereby making it harder for those pesky p. acnes to overgrow.
And what about all that sweat? Well, sweat has been shown to be abundant in antimicrobial peptides, which can help to reduce bacteria’s ability to create RNA and proteins which they require to thrive. And how might this impact acne? Well, you guessed it- these antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) make it harder for p. acnes to grow all thanks to one such peptide known as Dermcidin!
AMPs essentially act as natural antibiotics by providing quick, broad-spectrum defense mechanisms against infection. Alterations in their expression have been found to be associated with increased susceptibility for skin colonization and/or expression by microbes, which is why it is so beneficial to have an abundance of AMPs by the way of sweat. Lower concentration levels of AMPs allow bacteria to survive, whereas an overexpression of AMPs may in fact result in improved protection against skin infections and conditions such as acne, psoriasis and rosacea.
A study conducted with 41 healthy volunteers, with ages ranging from 20-49 years in order to assess how sauna use might impact the skin’s physiology. It found that regular use resulted in a more stable epidermal barrier function, improved stratum corneum hydration, better regulated skin pH, and improved recovery from elevated water loss. The results suggested that there was a stronger protective effect in the skin’s physiology- particularly in its pH balance and stratum corneum water-holding capacity.
Could Sauna Use Worsen Acne?
Generally, there is more evidence to suggest that sauna use is good for acne because they in fact help to treat inflammation and bacterial infection in the skin pores, but there is room for debate about how frequent sauna use should be per week -- some experts say that too much sauna use can cause more harm than good, while others say they don't see any problems with multiple times a week. Excessive use could be linked to the inflammation and bacterial growth in certain cases.
Sweat produced as a result of high heat could contain more Interleukin-1 alpha and beta cytokines, which are inflammatory molecules that can recruit immune cells. These could make matters worse if they are able to infiltrate the epithelial barrier which would in turn cause inflammation, much like in the disruption found in atopic dermatitis.
A study of young men found that after bathing in a sauna for 45 minutes, measurements found a 55% decrease in amino acid content compared to after 15 minutes. This could influence dietary protein synthesis. This coupled with electrolyte loss (caused by sweating) could result in imbalances in the blood, so be careful if you have any heart or blood vessel related conditions. Nevertheless, studies have shown that sweat content is adaptive and could regulate over time with regular sauna use.
6 Tips For How Best To Use A Sauna To Treat Acne
So now that we have some context, let’s look at how we can treat your acne by using your sauna as effectively as possible in terms of treating your skin.
1. Get Prepared
If you aren’t fortunate enough to be able to enjoy your sauna in the comfort of your own home, then this tip may be most important for you. In terms of hygiene, you may not be able to control the cleanliness of your gym, spa or club, so we recommend that you take your own clean towels and clothes. The last thing that you want to do is to inadvertently introduce more dirt onto your skin; particularly if you have just opened your pores with the heat!
2. Drink Plenty of Water
We always recommend that you drink plenty of water before and after entering the sauna, regardless of your skin condition. It’s no secret that proper hydration helps to fight acne, so guzzle down plenty of water and make sure you are well hydrated, as you’re going to be sweating a lot in that sauna! You might also want to consider throwing some electrolytes in there to replenish your salts.
3. Wash Your Face Before Entering The Sauna
You’ll definitely want to wash your face before entering the sauna. With the heat, your pores will be opening to allow sweat to excrete. If you have a dirty face or have makeup on, you will in fact prevent this from happening and may even clog your pores even more.
4. Limit Your Session To 15 Minutes
As some evidence has suggested that excessive use could cause inflammation in cases of extreme acne, it may be better to take the safe route and finish your session after 15 minutes. It is recommended for all users to not exceed 15 minutes per sauna set anyway (you may continue for more sets after cooling down like the Finns do, if you like), but we would recommend only one set if you are acne prone.
5. Wash Your Face Post-Sauna
You don’t want your sauna to dry or for your freshly opened pores to get clogged, so you may want to consider washing your face while you shower after your sauna too. And don’t forget to apply your appropriate moisturizers to your face afterwards to properly care for that delicate skin!
6. Consider Incorporating Halotherapy
In case you haven’t heard of halotherapy yet, it may also be known simply as salt therapy. By utilizing a microsalt ionizer such as the SaltProX, you can release ionized salt into the sauna room. This essentially mimics environments such as the beach or coastline where there are higher levels of salt in the air. Evidence has suggested that salt therapy can improve other skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema too!
So there you have it, 6 tips for how you might want to use your sauna to treat acne. There is increasing evidence that suggests that saunas may be beneficial for your skin, by reducing the level of sebum production, regulating your skin’s pH balance, and increasing the concentration of antimicrobial peptides. Nevertheless, we understand the challenges that acne and other skin conditions can present, and empathize with the desire to seek the right treatment for you. But remember that every body is different, and it is important that you pay attention to what it is trying to tell you.
If you're experiencing fatigue and you're using the sauna frequently, it may be worth re-evaluating whether your current sauna routine is appropriate for your skin's needs. You might also want to consider avoiding any intense exercise for 2-4 weeks; if there are certain types of exercise that make your skin worse, then cut down on those temporarily, and let the inflammation subside before gradually adding back in the exercises that aren't causing problems with breakouts.
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