Do You Shower Before or After Sauna? (With Reasons for Both!)

If you’ve ever been to a sauna, chances are, you’ve wondered if it would be better for your skin and wellness if you shower before or after visiting. So why might someone choose one or the other – or maybe even both?

Proper sauna etiquette dictates that you should shower before using a sauna. In addition, it is important to follow the hygienic practice of showering before as well as after the sauna. This reduces the chances of exposing yourself and others to harmful bacteria.

There are many reasons to shower before or after the sauna, especially concerning health and hygiene. Read on to learn how to follow this practice, why it’s important, and prepare yourself for a proper sauna experience.

Should you shower before going into the sauna?

Who doesn’t want to relax in the sauna after a long, hard day? It’s hard to imagine who wouldn’t. Now, who wants to sit on a bench in a small, hot room after a long day with an unknown person who hasn’t showered first? Again, it’s hard to imagine who would want to do that!

That’s why you must consider other people before entering a sauna. Granted, there is a portion of the population who can go an entire day without getting too sweaty, smelly, or oily – and maybe you’re that type of person. Nobody is accusing you personally – but your fellow sauna goers don’t have any way of knowing if you’re that type of person or not.

Besides, you don’t know if your fellow sauna goers are that type of person either.  So, when it comes to the sauna, the polite thing is to follow the Golden Rule and shower beforehand.

Now, suppose you don’t mind if others don’t shower before using the sauna, so why should they mind if you don’t? After all, what anyone doesn’t know won’t hurt them, right? I wouldn’t be so sure of that.

Other than avoiding a social faux-pas, there are many reasons to shower before using a sauna. The one thing these reasons all have in common is bacteria. Everyone carries bacteria on their skin and their entire body.

Now, the fact that everyone has bacteria shouldn’t be alarming. Most of the bacteria on our skin are beneficial, and you want them to be there. The tricky part is that not all of everyone’s skin flora is beneficial for everyone else.

Have you ever heard of MRSA? You may have heard someone pronounce it as “mur-sa” – that’s methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It’s a type of bacteria that about 30% of the population carries. It can cause painful or even deadly infections that require medical intervention if it encounters a break in the skin, even something as small as a papercut or a pimple.

The worst part? Because it’s resistant to some antibiotics, like methicillin, it’s not as easy to treat as your average, run-of-the-mill bacterial infection.

In short, it’s really not something you want to encounter or spread to someone else if you’re one of the 30% of people who carry it. The best thing you can do to prevent this is to shower before entering spaces with surfaces that multiple people come into contact with, such as a sauna.

Staying hygienic with our bacteria

Okay, so you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal if we don’t touch each other?”. It’s a valid question – here’s the answer: Everything you touch picks up bacteria and transfers it onto everything else that you touch. So it doesn’t matter if there’s direct contact; the tiny, invisible bacteria are just along for the ride wherever you may take them.

This all can seem pretty scary. Don’t fret too much – there’s plenty you can do. It starts with understanding the nature of the bacteria.

The first thing to know is where this bacteria likes to hang out. Staph generally tends to accumulate on the face and mainly in and around the nose. This is important to know because the average person touches their face about 16 times an hour.

The good news is that this is a great way to understand how to stay hygienic, keep your bacteria to yourself, or protect yourself from other people’s bacteria. Try to avoid touching your face, wash your hands when you have the chance, and of course, shower before using the sauna.

And don’t worry too much. Staph aureus isn’t the start of some apocalyptic situation. If you’re healthy and not immune-compromised, staying hygienic is about all you need to do. You can remove about 99.9% of bacteria with just 30 seconds of washing with warm soap and water.

How should you prepare for the sauna?

Now that we’ve got showering covered, what else might you want to do before entering the sauna?

Here are the steps to properly prepare for the sauna:

  • Before you shower, you’ll want to drink a lot of cold water – you will need to be well hydrated to avoid becoming dehydrated from the heat and sweating. The cold water will also help prevent you from getting too hot too quickly.
  • Additionally, you’ll want to begin drinking the extra water well before you enter the sauna – This will give your body time to process the water and fully hydrate. After all, the water isn’t going to do much good if it’s still sitting in your stomach!
  • Take your shower – not too hot, though. You don’t want to heat yourself up too quickly in the sauna, so try and keep your body temperature down by exposing it to cooler water. Plus, I don’t know about you – but when I use the sauna, I love that warm, tingly feeling that I get from stepping into the contrasting hot air after the cold water.
  • Now, get yourself not one but two clean, dry towels. You’ll want one towel to sit on and one to either wrap around yourself or use to dab your sweat if you feel the need. This will prevent you from getting your sweat on surfaces that other people use.
  • Be sure you have your sandals if the sauna requires them.
  • If you have long hair, tie it up into a knot. It’s more comfortable and will keep you from shedding hairs for other people to find.
  • If you’ve already used the sauna, wait at least 10 minutes or longer. You’ll want to ensure that your body temperature is not still above the average level. (This is also a good reason for your shower not to be too hot. You’ll get too hot too fast otherwise.)
  • Now, you’re ready to relax and enjoy yourself! Just be sure not to stay in any longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. Remember to listen to your body; saunas are meant for health and relaxation, not pushing yourself to your absolute limit.

Should you shower after the sauna?

Naturally, the next question would be, “What about afterward?” The short answer is that yes, you should also shower after using the sauna. As a matter of my personal preference, I can’t stand the sticky, sweaty, oily feeling I get after using a sauna, and I haven’t yet met anyone who doesn’t feel the same.

In most cases you should shower directly after the sauna using warm, cool, or even cold water to ensure that you have washed any sweat or bacteria off of the skin that could cause body odor or discomfort later in the day.

That doesn’t make the sauna itself any less enjoyable – it’s just that, afterward, I want to feel squeaky clean again. Not to mention that incredible feeling of temperature contrast with cool water after a hot sauna – it’s just a whole new level of refreshing!

Now, let’s dive a little deeper. There are plenty of good reasons to shower aside from my personal opinion.

First, let’s circle back to the idea of hygiene, bacteria, and the thought of another person entering the sauna without having showered first. Someone who didn’t shower may have used the sauna before or along with you, and you may not have any way of knowing that. So, just to be safe, let’s shower after the sauna for good measure.

Say you’re one of those people that just isn’t worried about this possibility. After all, since showering beforehand is general sauna etiquette, is it very likely that someone didn’t do it? I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Even still, it’s a good idea to shower after using the sauna. Not just as a way to remove other people’s sweat, oil, and bacteria, but your own as well. We all carry natural, totally normal bacteria on our skin that feeds on sweat.

This sweat-loving bacteria is going to love your sauna habit, and it’s really going to love it if you don’t shower afterward. So why might that matter if the bacteria isn’t harmful? It’s simple – this bacteria produces a stinky odor as a byproduct of metabolizing your sweat.

Should you take a hot or cold shower after the sauna?

I think we can all guess what my vote is – cold is gold. If it feels good to you, then you should do it! Life is too short not to enjoy yourself to your fullest.

But are there other benefits to a cold shower after the sauna? Let’s take a look.

  • It may improve lung function. A small study on patients with lung disease showed a transient improvement in lung health and capacity following the use of a hot sauna and cold water bath.
  • It may have positive effects on mood. The act of exposing the body to a sharp contrast in cold and heat can improve psychological and psychomotor function, as this small study suggests.
  • It may improve blood pressure and cardiovascular function. This study found that the use of a Finnish sauna followed by a cold water bath had positive effects on the cardiovascular system and helped with depression and asthma.
  • In a study that found a positive effect on weight and calorie expenditure in men through sauna bathing, gradual cooling of the body with a cold shower was advised.

How long should you wait to shower after the sauna?

It can feel so good to jump into a cool shower immediately after using the sauna, but is it a good idea? That depends on your health and the temperature difference.

Although exposure to different temperatures may positively affect the cardiovascular system, if your heart is unhealthy, it may not be advisable to shock your system by jumping immediately from a scalding hot sauna into an icy pool of water.

However, if the water is simply cool and the change is gradual, say starting from the feet and working your way up, that is different. Especially if you’re healthy, then there shouldn’t be a problem with going right to the shower after the sauna. Similarly, if you opt for a hot shower afterward, your body won’t be exposed to such a shocking change of environment without a significant temperature difference.

It’s generally advised by some to at least wait a few minutes before jumping into the shower. Especially when it comes to some of the more traditional methods of exposure to extreme cold following the hot sauna, it’s better to be on the safe side.

It’s not going to hurt you to wait a little bit before showering if your body will be exposed to an extreme difference in temperature. Listen to your body, and don’t push it past the point of discomfort. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, after all!

Should you use soap after a sauna?

If you just showered before the sauna using soap – do you really need to use it after?

Yes, you should use soap after the sauna. Again, going back to the idea of bacteria on the skin and other surfaces, using soap is the best way to remain hygienic.

Washing your hands with just water makes roughly a 50% difference in the presence of certain types of bacteria, whereas with soap, the difference is over 99%.

It’s also essential to avoid overdoing it and care for your skin’s moisture barrier, so if you tend to have issues with dry skin, try investing in a good moisturizer to use afterward. On the other hand, if you absolutely cannot use soap more than once in a day, don’t fret too much. Plain water does still make a difference in the presence of bacteria.

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