Claims that get us steamed

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Eagle Bath

A steam shower is, for all intents and purposes, a steam room that’s contained in a bathroom shower. According to one supplier of steam showers, demand for them jumped 44 percent as recently as 2015. Regardless of whether that statistic is accurate, the availability of steam showers online is substantial, and we have no problem with that. Our problem is with marketers’ misleading and over-the-top health claims regarding steam showers: “How to Turn a Bathroom Into a Wellness Retreat”; “9 Ways Steam Showers Improve Physical Well-Being and Mental Psyche”; and, our favorite, “The health benefits to regularly using a steam shower are practically innumerable.” Wow!

What’s worse is that the only unfavorable result that we found among the first 10 pages of our web search of “steam showers” was “How to Keep Steam Showers Free of Mold.” No search result pertained to the scrutiny of claims or cautions that certain people must have regarding steam showers.

Salespeople might tell you that the use of a steam shower opens your pores, bringing nutrients to the surface, and lessens the effects of aging.

Steam showers “do open up the pores, but nutrients don’t come out of your skin through the pores,” says Dr. Carolyn Jacob of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology. “I’m not aware of any studies that show that steam showers are anti-aging. If it were, I would build one in my condo!” she jokes.

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lauren Eckert Ploch says she knows of no third-party studies that were published in peer-review journals that show an increase in collagen production after skin is exposed to steam, despite a claim in the steam-shower marketplace that steam enhances collagen production.

Eckert Ploch adds that a hot or moist environment can exacerbate certain medical conditions, including intertrigo, which is a rash between the folds of the skin. “I have seen several cases of acne and folliculitis due to steam showers,” she said. (Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles.) “Heat also may trigger rosacea, worsening the redness that occurs with flares of rosacea. Also, hot and moist environments can actually lead to worsening of dry skin in people with dry skin or eczema.”

A steam-shower salesperson might tell you that steam, in general, fuels blood flow. Dr. Nieca Goldberg, who is a cardiologist and the medical director of Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, explains, “What it does is dilates, or enlarges, the blood vessels.” She says no health benefit or harm occurs when your blood vessels dilate. However, she adds, “the one harm that’s a potential is that, in a very hot steam shower, you actually can extend your blood vessels, and then the blood pulls away, and sometimes people start to feel light-headed or faint.” To address this, she urges steam-shower users to hydrate before they use one.

“I don’t think that steam showers alone necessarily improve heart health,” she adds. “There’s been no strong medical studies that support that.”