What is the difference between a hammam and a sauna ?

If you are tempted by the creation of a wellness area at home, you have to choose between sauna and hammam. Despite some similarities, these are two very different ways to enjoy a heat bath. Origin, operation, type of heat and health benefits, here is how to tell the difference between hammam and sauna.

1 – A bit of history: two cultural traditions

Hammamn and sauna are very different traditions, marked by their cultural origins.

The sauna was born in Northern Europe

The tradition of the steam bath has been going on for 2000 years in the Nordic countries. The recipe is simple: a shelter of raw wood, lava stones, water and fire. If the sauna has been modernized a little, it still works on this basis.

In Scandinavia, the sauna was built before the house. Men, women and children came there for many reasons. For hygiene of course, but also to unwind and relax together. In past centuries, the sauna welcomed women at the time of their childbirth; they cared for the sick and groomed the dead. Without forgetting certain magic rituals.

Even today, the sauna is still a friendly place where family, friends or colleagues meet. The traditional sauna is so inseparable from Nordic culture that it is now classified by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity. It must be said that in Finland alone, there are 2 million saunas for 5.2 million inhabitants!

The hammam developed in the East

Although it was first inspired by the baths of Roman antiquity, the hammam owes its success to the countries of the Middle East, especially Turkey. The baths of ancient Rome adapted to the needs of Islam. Indeed, a place of purification of the body was needed before the five daily prayers. Today, the use of the hammam is less spiritual. He turned to well-being, relaxation and beauty. It is for this use that it is now also appreciated in the West.

Marked by oriental taste, the hammam is dressed in a mineral decor: tiles, mosaic, earthenware or marble. Traditionally, this common space is divided into several rooms: the undressing room where you can chat, eat and quench your thirst, the laundry room and the hot room. Settling in homes, the size of the steam room, of course, was reduced to one room, often including a shower.

2 – Use: different designs

Admittedly, these are two places of heat production, the bath of which is good for health… But they are not at all designed in the same way. So how does a sauna and steam room work?

The sauna is made for intense use

In a classic sauna, the temperature is raised very high! The heat bath takes place between 40 and 90° C., or even 100° C. or more. It is to conserve the heat, produced by a stove (wood, gas or electric), that the sauna is built of wood. The lava stones, regularly watered, also help to keep the temperature as high as possible.

For this reason, a sauna session hardly lasts more than fifteen minutes. So as not to exhaust the body, it is interspersed with breaks or even better: mini fresh showers which stimulate immunity. In the most modern saunas, operating by infrared radiation, the temperature is lower (about 50° C). The sessions are therefore longer.

Anyway, a home sauna is only connected to the electrical network. It does not require a water supply. Mount it like a piece of furniture!

The hammam is thought of as a place of peace

Traditionally, more time is spent in a hammam. The heat only rises to a maximum of 50 degrees, which allows you to relax there without watching the hourglass. But make no mistake. If these lower temperatures seem easier to bear, in reality the ambient humidity reinforces the effect of heat on the body. Because unlike the sauna, whose humidity is very low, the hammam flirts with 100% humidity.

The impression of permanent fog that reigns in a hammam comes from the fact that the heat is produced by a steam generator. To install a hammam at home, it will therefore be imperative to connect it to the water network. Especially since domestic cabins often combine shower and hammam.

As for the decor, the oriental atmosphere most often imposes a mosaic or earthenware coating. But new coatings have appeared; an individual hammam can be clad in tiles, acrylic or glass. The structure itself is made of lacquered aluminium, with a wooden grating.

3 – Heat: dry or humid?

The type of heat produced is probably the main difference between a sauna and a steam room. The heat of the sauna is almost dry, while that of the hammam is saturated with humidity. And that changes everything!

Sauna: dry and intense heat

As we have seen, the heat of a sauna can rise to 90 or 100° C! In classic steam saunas, the humidity level is more or less 25%. But in infrared saunas, the level of humidity reaches a record level of…zero. In a sauna, there is neither mist nor steam. You can even take a book with you in an infrared cabin.

Hammam: a soft and humid heat

The heat produced by the steam generator is charged with humidity. The hygrometric rate of a hammam beats the opposite record of that of the infrared sauna: here we reach 100%! The heat is less strong, since the ambient temperature rarely exceeds 50 degrees. This is appreciated by people who do not support hot weather.

4 – Health and well-being: what are the benefits?

In the hammam as in the sauna, the health benefits are linked to heat. But their differences in design and heat type have different impacts.

The sauna: invigorating and stimulating

We no longer demonstrate the physical benefits of the sauna. The dry and intense heat stimulates the heart, boosts blood circulation and boosts immune defences. Alternating with quick cool showers, the effect of the sauna is optimal. Heavy sweating purifies the body of its toxins and cleanses the skin, which regains its elasticity. Some appreciate its beneficial effect on muscle tension and joint pain.

The hammam: relaxing and rejuvenating

The heat being less intense, you can spend an hour in a hammam cabin. Everyone finds a moment of calm, a moment to take care of their body. Because a session of hammam is also the occasion of a time of restoration in beauty. Exfoliation of the skin, massage or hair removal pleasantly complete the detox effect of perspiration. It is a place to relax, evacuate tensions and find peace. Some appreciate hammam sessions for their relaxing effect. Nothing like it to find a calm and deep sleep…

The hammam has no contraindications, since even pregnant women can benefit from it.

Sauna and hammam: common points

The benefits of heat are present in both cases. Whether in the sauna or in the hammam, a session frees the body of its toxins and soothes the mind. Among the best expected effects: new skin, relaxed muscles, a stimulated cardiovascular system and strengthened immune defenses. Dry or wet, strong heat is relaxing (provided you don’t expose yourself to it for too long). For the body as for the spirit, it is tiredness which evaporates. The only thing that a session in the sauna or hammam does not bring you is weight loss. Nothing is perfect !

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