Natural Healing: Healing Saunas

Content Tools

There’s probably no quicker way to feel cleansed and rejuvenated than to spend time in a sauna. The deep, penetrating heat of a sauna relieves muscle tension, eases joint stiffness, alleviates respiratory congestion, and stimulates detoxification. Many toxins, including pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals, are eliminated through the skin. The regular use of saunas—once or twice a week—can help your body’s efforts to get rid of such noxious chemicals. On a lighter note, the heat of a sauna is also conducive to self-massage, skin polishing, facials, and hair-conditioning treatments. With a bit of advance preparation to gather essential oils, prepare herbal teas, and put together beauty treatments, you can turn your sauna time into a mini spa session. Saunas are generally safe for most people, but check with your doctor first if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, or if you are pregnant. To get the most out of a sauna, follow these suggestions.

Sauna basics

Prior to entering the sauna, take a quick, warm shower to remove surface oils and perspiration. For optimal results, a sauna should be moderately hot, between approximately 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it possible to stay in the sauna for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, which best stimulates detoxification. If you’re up for it, try two rounds of sauna sessions, with a brief, cool shower in between. Following your sauna, shower thoroughly to remove perspiration and toxins, and finish with a cool rinse.

Stay hydrated. While in the sauna, drink plenty of water to replace the fluids that you are losing through perspiration. Sip at least 16 ounces of water during a fifteen-minute sauna. To make the water more refreshing, add slices of lemon, lime, or orange, and a few sprigs of fresh mint.

Add healing aromas. Essential oils are a wonderful addition to a sauna. Add five to ten drops of essential oil (or a combination of oils) to a bucket of water and throw a ladleful at a time onto the hot rocks. If your sauna is not equipped with a heat source onto which you can throw water, you can use a spray bottle filled with 16 ounces of water and 20 drops of essential oil. Shake well, and spray into the air, keeping the mist away from your eyes. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) and peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita) have potent antimicrobial and decongestant action; lemon (Citrus ¥limon) and grapefruit (Citrus ¥paradisi) are uplifting and purifying; and frankincense (Boswellia spp.) has calming, soothing properties.

Purify with herbs. To enhance purification, sip a cup or two of herbal tea prior to entering the sauna or while in the sauna. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and peppermint both stimulate perspiration. To make a tea, simmer 1 to 2 teaspoons of finely chopped fresh ginger in 1 cup of water in a covered pot for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain, add sweetener if desired, and drink.

Polish your skin. While you’re soaking up the heat, brush your body with a loofah or a soft-bristled natural body brush. A brush with a long handle enables you to easily brush your back and shoulders. This increases lymphatic circulation and helps to slough off dry, dead skin cells. Brush vigorously, but use care not to irritate your skin. Always brush toward your heart, which is the natural direction of lymph flow. Avoid your face and any areas with irritated or broken skin.

Try a sauna massage. A sauna is a great opportunity for self-massage. Massage stimulates the flow of lymph, which bathes and purifies all of the tissues of the body. An oil massage is also excellent for moisturizing dry skin. Make a detoxifying essential oil blend by adding 10 drops of grapefruit and 10 drops of juniper (Juniperus communis) essential oils to 2 ounces of cold-pressed almond oil. Long, sweeping massage strokes in the direction of the heart will help move lymph through the lymphatic channels, which are just below the surface of the skin.

Deep-condition your hair. The heat of a sauna makes this conditioning treatment especially effective. Mix together 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 5 drops of sandalwood essential oil (Santalum album), and 5 drops of lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia). Dampen your hair, and massage the mixture into your scalp and hair. If you have especially long or thick hair, you may need to double the recipe. Following your sauna, shampoo your hair and rinse thoroughly.

Indulge in a facial. Apply a simple aromatherapy facial mask to refine and smooth the skin on your face and neck. Mix together 1 heaping tablespoon of thick plain yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of cosmetic clay, and 2 drops of lavender essential oil. If your skin tends to be dry, you can add 1/2 teaspoon of honey or jojoba oil to the mixture. Massage the mask onto your face and neck; rinse off after 15 minutes.

After-sauna body smoother. A gentle body polish following your sauna will leave your skin glowing. In a small plastic container, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of almond oil, and 5 drops of lavender essential oil. Using approximately 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time, massage the scrub into your skin with a gentle circular motion. Rinse thoroughly with warm water. Use caution when using this scrub, because the oil makes the tub or shower slippery. Use a rubber tub mat to prevent falls.

Replenish your energy. Following your sauna session, be sure to replenish your energy with fresh fruit or vegetable juice or a cup of mineral-rich nettle (Urtica dioica) tea. To make a tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried nettle. For flavor enhancement, add 1/2 teaspoon of dried peppermint and 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare). Cover, steep for 10 minutes, strain, and drink.

Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1001 Natural Remedies (DK, 2003) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).