HAMMAM VS SAUNA: THE BEST RELAXATION METHODS!

HAMMAM VS SAUNA: THE BEST RELAXATION METHODS!

Hammam and sauna sound like similar terms. However, they do have their differences as well as similarities. You may wonder which option is better when you look for a relaxing activity. We will be comparing these two terms for you: hammam vs sauna.

They both have ancient origins and continue to be popular health treatments even today. Both natural and enjoyable, hammams and saunas have several benefits that you can take advantage of. They include cardiovascular health, blood pressure, skin care, and general well-being. Despite these common points, they also have many unique features. The most important ones are humidity, temperature, materials, and some of their cultural specifics. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of both treatments and learn more about the difference between hammam and sauna.

COMPARING HOT BATHS: HAMMAM VS SAUNA

A hammam is a place with several different sections, where the temperature differs. A sauna is a small dry hot steam room or a building designed as a place to experience dry heat sessions. A Turkish bath is much bigger than a sauna and after your hammam ritual, you can relax in other rooms, or get massaged and cool off. In a dry steam room, on the other hand, all the detoxifying takes place in one dry cabin covered with wood. This option is a perfect quick solution for busy people with hectic schedules.

hammam vs sauna
hammam vs sauna

We can list the main differences between a Turkish bath and a sauna as:

  • Diverse cultural perspectives
  • Purpose-driven contrasts
  • Contrasting scenes and environments
  • Variations in atmospheric humidity and temperature
  • Distinct approaches to heating sources
  • Unique perspectives on attire
  • Aromatherapy and massage options


Let’s descend into particulars!

DIVERSE CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES

Hammam and sauna have different meanings and origins. The roots of the Turkish baths are Arabic while sauna is associated with Nordic culture. The word “hammam” means a bath or a bathhouse. It’s also the root of the word “al-hamma”, meaning hot spring. The word “sauna” is an ancient Finnish word referring to both the traditional Finnish sauna and the bathhouse itself.

Let’s take a closer look at the hammam and sauna from a historical angle. Hammam culture comes from the ancient traditions of Roman and Byzantine bathhouses, while Finns invented saunas over 2000 years ago. Turkish baths originated in Arabic culture and grew in popularity through the Ottoman Empire until today. Indoor saunas became popular with the introduction of the electric heater and are nowadays known all over the world.

Public baths for people of all ages and backgrounds, both men and women. They served several social and cultural functions and were meeting points of local communities. Saunas were first built against the harsh climate of the Northern countries. People used to throw water on hot stones to warm up their houses. It was not so much of a ritual, like a Turkish bath, but a method of surviving cold winters in Scandinavia.

PURPOSE-DRIVEN CONTRASTS

Another difference between a hammam and a dry steam cabin relates to the purposes they were and still are used for. Hammams continue to be an important part of Middle Eastern culture and social life, especially in Turkey and Morrocco. Finnish dry steam rooms were first a popular form of relaxation and wellness in Northern Europe. In a Turkish bath, the focus is on cleaning the body, while in a sauna – on detoxication by sweating.

Hammams often involve specific bathing rituals, while Finnish dry steam rooms are more individual and informal. A hammam experience is a luxury and self-care that helps you enjoy yourself but also celebrate with others. During special rituals, like a bridal hammam, you can listen to traditional music and dance. Turkish baths may play live or recorded music, while saunas are usually quiet. The Finnish dry steam is more of a low-key, serene experience, and takes much less time, which is another difference between a hammam and a sauna.

CONTRASTING SCENES AND ENVIRONMENTS

The purpose of a hammam and a sauna affects their setting and the environment. They both differ even when it comes to the place you sit at. Hammams are more traditional, while saunas have much more of a minimalistic design. In a hammam, people usually sit or lie on a marble slab, while in a dry steam cabin, you relax on wooden benches.

When it comes to aesthetics, Turkish baths are full of rich ornaments and other luxurious details. Hammam space is often made of marble, with a beautiful ceiling and windows that diffuse daily light. Turkish baths are often decorated with gold-ish water taps and traditional ceramic tiles. In a dry steam bath, it’s most effective to sweat shortly and extensively on the upper wooden benches. If you don’t have Finnish sweat room experience yet, it’s best to start with middle or lower ones.

Both hammam and sauna lightings are not only a light source but also create a peaceful atmosphere. Dim and warm light is the best for relaxation. To ensure safety, lamps must be protected from moisture with special covers. They are usually made of stainless steel. Lighting lanterns and special hammam windows called oculi are the daylight sources of hammams too. Wooden grates on the other hand make the sauna lights more attractive and chilling. It’s important that the lamps must be of the best quality and resistant to high temperatures and extreme humidity. In Finnish saunas, they additionally have to withstand temperatures above 100°C.

VARIATIONS IN ATMOSPHERIC HUMIDITY AND TEMPERATURE

Hammams have an extremely high level of humidity – about 100%, while saunas are dry and the humidity reaches a maximum of 15%. The uniqueness of the hammam is that the temperature in it doesn’t exceed 55° C, which is lower than in a dry steam cabin. A sauna creates dry heat of 65°C to 90°C. In the Finnish bath, the temperature can reach even 100-120°C. High temperatures in hammams and saunas cause your blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure and is beneficial for your health. Keep in mind you should avoid high temperatures in case you have any blood tension problems or heart conditions.

Hammam treatments can last up to 2 hours, while Finnish sweat room sessions are usually much shorter. The longer you stay in the sweat room, the more you risk dehydration, so a general rule is from 15 to 20 minutes. In Scandinavian countries, experts would tell you to be reasonable and leave the sweat room once you feel hot enough. Do not overdo it, your comfort and safety come first!

In a Turkish bath, you can pour cold water over your body to help regulate the temperature. In a sauna, you may splash the water on a pile of hot rocks. Yet, this way you won’t cool down but make some water vapor. When you pour the water on the hot rocks, it creates an immediate blast of dry steam and the sauna becomes even hotter.

VARIATIONS IN ATMOSPHERIC HUMIDITY AND TEMPERATURE

Hammams have an extremely high level of humidity – about 100%, while saunas are dry and the humidity reaches a maximum of 15%. The uniqueness of the hammam is that the temperature in it doesn’t exceed 55° C, which is lower than in a dry steam cabin. A sauna creates dry heat of 65°C to 90°C. In the Finnish bath, the temperature can reach even 100-120°C. High temperatures in hammams and saunas cause your blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure and is beneficial for your health. Keep in mind you should avoid high temperatures in case you have any blood tension problems or heart conditions.

Hammam treatments can last up to 2 hours, while Finnish sweat room sessions are usually much shorter. The longer you stay in the sweat room, the more you risk dehydration, so a general rule is from 15 to 20 minutes. In Scandinavian countries, experts would tell you to be reasonable and leave the sweat room once you feel hot enough. Do not overdo it, your comfort and safety come first!

In a Turkish bath, you can pour cold water over your body to help regulate the temperature. In a sauna, you may splash the water on a pile of hot rocks. Yet, this way you won’t cool down but make some water vapor. When you pour the water on the hot rocks, it creates an immediate blast of dry steam and the sauna becomes even hotter.

DISTINCT APPROACHES TO HEATING SOURCE

The heating source is also a difference between hammam vs sauna. In a Turkish bath, the heat is generated from the water evaporation. All parts of a Turkish bath are warmed up equally: walls, floor, and seats. When it comes to Finish sweat rooms, there are basically two ways to heat them. They traditionally relied on moist heat to achieve the therapeutic benefit, warming people from the outside in. Nowadays, infrared sweat rooms create dry heat, warming from the inside. Traditional heaters include wood, gas, and electric stoves. New saunas have infrared lights, which produce heat too. Electric heaters are the easiest to use and so the most popular. You also create heat in a dry steam cabin by pouring water over hot stones.

UNIQUE PERSPECTIVES ON ATTIRE

The hammam has more traditional types of clothes, while in the sauna you get much more choice variety, as you can wear whatever you want. In a hammam, you typically wear a hammam towel called peştemal, made of organic cotton or linen. It’s a traditional robe, dating back hundreds of years. It’s a crucial part of tradition coming from the Ottoman Empire to the modern days. Peştemal has a beautiful design and is a popular souvenir that tourists bring from their holidays in Turkey. In a Finnish dry steam room, you can wear a towel or swimsuit. You may even put on a loose, cotton T-shirt if it makes you feel more relaxed. Remember, it’s all about your comfort!

AROMATHERAPY AND MASSAGE OPTIONS

What about aromatherapy in a hammam vs sauna, are there any similarities? Generally speaking, essential oils are often used in hammams for aromatherapy. Finnish dry steam baths typically do not use scents. But, using essential oils in a sweat room is a great way to enhance your dry steam bath experience. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to an aromatherapy cup. The aroma will quickly fill the heated room with its amazing fragrance.

Massage is often offered as part of a hammam experience, while it’s much less common in saunas. Yet, the combination of sweat room and massage has become more and more popular at SPA centers. It’s even more beneficial for your muscles when you get a massage while in the sweat room. Combining a sauna experience with a massage is a perfect cure for tired muscles and joints. A mixture of aromatherapy and massage in a hammam removes the toxins from your body and helps you to relax with the wonderful essential oils.

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Ertuğrul A. Istanbul hammams and their architecture. History of Istanbul, 2019.

Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing. Hot baths and saunas: Beneficial for your heart?

Field T. Massage therapy research review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 Aug;24:19-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.04.005. Epub 2016 Apr 23. PMID: 27502797; PMCID: PMC5564319.

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