The Bed Stuy YMCA is my happy place. It looks deceptively small on the outside but inside houses a swimming pool, weight room, several dance/workout rooms and a pretty impressive locker room with actual clean showers that have actual hot water and water pressure, plus a dry sauna.
Up until about a month ago I’d never been in a sauna. My only real exposure to one was that episode of Sex and the City when Charlotte runs out of the sauna because she thinks women are laughing at her ‘big’ thighs (I swear to God, I’m an SATC fan but the amount of white girl tears in that show was just too much…)
Anyway, I got my membership at the Bed Stuy YMCA a few months after I moved to Brooklyn (and, in a moment of pure black girl nirvana, actually saw Michaela Angela Davis working out my first time there.) Biking to the YMCA on a Saturday morning for a full workout (cardio, weights and a little bit of calisthenics) is part of my self-care routine, but I’d never been adventurous enough to try the dry sauna.
About a month ago I stepped up my gym game and rented a locker. As I swaggered through the gym with my combination lock and a look that was meant to say, “Yeh, I keep a second set of clothes and some toiletries here, cuz I’m bout that gym life!”, but probably came off as creepy eye contact, I passed the dry sauna again. ‘YOLO,’ I thought, and decided to go in after my shower.
My shower was a bit awkward because, in my smug excitement over my locker, I forgot to pack flip flops. So I walked barefoot to the shower, passing a group of old black women in swimsuits and caps who looked at me with expressions that said “Girl you nasty.” And my eyes were like, “Yeh, I know.” Plus I also forgot to pack a towel, so afterwards my whole butt was out as I skittered to the sauna clutching a t‑shirt in front of me. But anyway, I made it there.
The sauna is a small room with glass panels, wooden seats and a heater that looks like a small metal grill. An older black woman was stretched out and relaxing on the wooden boards. I sat down and tried to get comfortable, which was tough at first because it was hot as fuck. After about three minutes my body adjusted to the heat, my muscles relaxed and I let my mind wander. I started out thinking about the things I had to do later that day and somehow ended up pondering existential questions. I lied down and shut my eyes. By the time I snapped back to reality I’d been in the sauna for 20 minutes and the black woman had left without me noticing.
I stepped out and walked over to a sink and mirror. My face looked flushed, which I guess is normal for being in 85 degree heat. But it didn’t look particularly new or fresh, which somehow I was expecting.
I walked over to my locker and put on my clothes, realizing in the process that I’d also forgotten to pack my whipped butter. Not only was there a possibility I had a staph infection from walking barefoot on a gym floor, I was also ashy. Great.
I headed home, kind of disappointed at my anticlimatic, if relaxing, sauna session — until I buttered up. My skin felt the softest it had in my adult life. Like, baby bottom soft. I had cut my finger a few days earlier and the scab had developed hardened skin around it. I watched in amazement as it peeled off almost effortlessly. No tugging or scraping required.
Saunas are mainly touted for their circulation benefits, but when I Googled “dry sauna” and “soft skin” I didn’t find too many results. (I should note that there are many wild claims about the benefits of sauna use, from healing cancer to detoxing the body of heavy metals. Most of these claims are unsubstantiated. Saunas are not miracle workers. From what I’ve gathered two of the primary — and substantiated — skincare benefits are increasing circulation to the skin and opening up the pores.)
After my sauna experience my skin stayed baby soft for about two days, then kind of settled back to it’s more ‘normal’ feel (although the dead skin on my finger was completely gone.) I decided to try the sauna again.
The next week I went back (this time I remembered my flip flops and towel — but still not my whipped butter.) My second time was a lot shorter. I stayed in for just a few minutes because I had an appointment to get to. My skin felt dewy, but not as soft as the first time. I went back a third time abut a week later (remembered my butter this time! Now I keep a 12 ounce jar in my locker) — this time staying in for about 17 minutes. Bam, baby soft skin again. I also noticed, a couple days later, that hardened skin on the bottom of my feet began to peel off. And that literally never happens.
I’ve decided that a weekly dry sauna is going to be a skincare staple for me. It’s not something one should overdo — a maximum 15 to 20 minutes at a time is recommended — but its benefits for my skin and my relaxation are unmatched.
Have you tried a dry sauna? What were its effects on your skin?