Need an excuse to book an appointment? Saunas and spas offer a host of health, beauty, and wellness benefits.
Warming up and rejuvenating in a sauna or spa sounds like the perfect antidote to snowy or rainy February weather. It’s also a great Valentine’s treat for you or a loved one.
History of saunas and spas
Saunas and spas in various forms have existed for hundreds of years. The word “spa” has origins in the 17th century with connections to a town in Belgium and its mineral spring offering healing powers.
Saunas using heat and steam evoke ancient Greek and Roman culture, although the word “sauna” is of Finnish origin. It’s also important to add that Native North American use of sweat lodges for health and spiritual reasons has a long history.
In contemporary times, spas have become “places devoted to overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body, and spirit,” says Allie Hembree, public relations manager for the International SPA Association.
“In Canada, the spa industry is in its infancy compared to long-established spas of Europe, Asia, and Africa (hot springs, mineral springs, and Turkish baths),” says Lori Robertson, executive director of Spa Industry of Canada. “In Europe, spas are part of everyday life, an essential part of health promotion and maintenance.
“This mindset has not yet established itself in North America as part of mainstream lifestyle. Spas are still largely considered to be about pampering and beauty, but many spas are now focusing on health and well-being with inclusion of fitness-promoting programs and services delivering pain or stress reduction and management.”
Types of saunas and spas
Spas come in many configurations offering combinations of health, beauty, and wellness services, and may overlap in amenities. There are day, destination, resort, and integrated health spas, along with medical, mineral, Nordic, thermal, and specialty spas. Some reside in stunning outdoor settings or in bustling, but serene city retreats.
Day spas offer alluring arrays of healing, relaxation, and beauty treatments, which could include massage, facials, and hair care.
Destination and resort spas focus on themes such as lifestyle and health development, fitness, or healthy food—with overnight lodging.
Integrated health spas
Integrated health spas combine conventional, alternative, and holistic treatments with features such as skin care, massage, and water remedies. Services may involve nutrition advice, yoga, reiki, and specialties from professionals such as naturopaths, homeopaths, or doctors.
Medical spas, supervised by licensed health care professionals, provide care combining traditional and alternative treatments for skin, face, body, and hair—possibly using light or laser.
Thermal and mineral spas
Thermal spas rely on heat therapy. Mineral spas focus on water, steam, and/or sauna remedies.
Nordic spas tend to be in natural outdoor locales where customers circulate between hot and cold through steam, sauna, Jacuzzi, and cold pool. Whistler, BC, and Quebec are known for Nordic spas.
Many spas offer sauna experiences. Saunas typically are enclosed spaces offering dry or wet heat to promote restfulness, perspiration, and/or detoxification. They come in two main types.
Conventional saunas work by indirect heat from steam and hot air currents or by direct heat contact with the skin. Temperatures vary from 70 to 100 C (158 to 212 F).
In contrast, infrared saunas operate at a lower heat of about 28 to 50 C (82 to 122 F) by using far infrared heat—a form of energy that directly heats objects. This results in greater body heat penetration while adjacent air remains at lower temperatures, producing a detoxifying sweat without raising core body temperature. People who cannot tolerate high temperatures may benefit from this sauna.
Physical and mental benefits
“There are many benefits of a spa experience,” says International SPA Association president Lynne McNees.
“The number one reason worldwide why men and women visit a spa is to learn how to manage their stress. The first step is quieting the chaos that surrounds us and taking a moment to pause. Spas allow us to do just that,” says McNees.
Massage has been found to create relaxation and better sleep, along with decreased anxiety and tiredness.
Cold and flu
The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors claims that infrared sauna or steam room use by stimulating sweating helps remove toxins from colds and flus.
High blood pressure and more
Sauna therapy has also been effective for people with high blood pressure, heart conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic fatigue, or pain.
Robertson emphasizes: “The industry has been increasingly communicating its value and place in the health delivery system to consumers. North American culture prefers hard data that provides scientific support for therapies and services that have been in existence and effective for many years, even hundreds of years.”
Holistic remedies consider the whole person—not just the physical. Health spas often include services such as aromatherapy, massage, reiki, reflexology, and meditation. Treatments such as acupuncture, colon hydrotherapy, and yoga are sometimes added.
Many spas offer massage, facials, body scrubs, and manicures—using natural or organic ingredients such as sage, sea kelp, or vitamin C serum. Massage and infrared saunas are also widely available. The Green Spa Network includes spas with environmentally friendly, organic, natural, and conservation policies.
Before you choose a spa
Robertson highlights hygiene and quality assurance standards when selecting a spa. It’s also vital to consult your health care practitioner if you have medical conditions that might affect your spa visit.