- More aspiring yogis than ever are flocking to heated studios as the popularity of hot yoga continues to rise.
- Exposing the skin to heat and steam may have its benefits, but overexposure can damage it just as much as harmful UVs.
- Hot yoga isn’t good for every skin type or condition, and is only safe when practiced in moderation.
We set to find out why some dermatologists are warning their patients about the potential downsides of hot yoga.
What Is Hot Yoga?
Bikram yoga — the most popular form of hot yoga — is practiced in a room heated to 95–108 °F (35–42 °C) with humidity levels maintained at 40%.
A typical session is 90 minutes long and consists of a series of 26 postures, focused on maintaining lengthy, well-controlled contractions of major muscles. The level of difficulty of the poses — combined with the heat — are meant to raise heart rates and exert the muscles.
It’s important to note, however, that this isn’t for everyone.
Neither people with heart-related illnesses, an intolerance to heat, or pregnant women should practice hot yoga. If you have any health concerns, you should check with your physician and get the appropriate clearance before giving it a try.
And even if you’re in perfect health, it’s recommended that you drink lots of water during hot yoga sessions and stop immediately if you feel dizzy, disoriented or sick.
Benefits of Hot Yoga
Hot yoga can be great for the body. Its benefits include:
- Increased blood flow
- Improved circulation
- Improved flexibility
- Reduced stress on joints
One frequently asked question about hot yoga is whether it’s good or bad for the skin.
The general belief is that exposure to heat and humidity stimulates circulation, increases perspiration, and helps the body eliminate toxins through the skin’s pores. Hot yoga, much like saunas and steam baths, is believed to be especially beneficial for those with oily, acne-prone skin.
The heat also causes the capillaries and vessels to widen, allowing nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to be delivered to the skin’s cell. This can give the skin a nice, healthy glow.
In addition, exercise and stress reduction have known clinical benefits on the body and skin. Reducing cortisol levels, a stress hormone, makes it easier for the skin to repair environmental and sun damage, while limiting cortisol’s harmful aging effects.
However, any good thing done to excess can have negative consequences.
Repeat Heat Exposure Can Damage the Skin
Recently published articles and testimonials from dermatologists suggest that certain forms of heat can be as damaging as UV rays.
There are instances of women in Saudi Arabia, who despite wearing niqabs (traditional Muslim face coverings) that incidentally protect their skin from sun exposure, were getting dark spots on their cheeks that would normally be associated with too much sun. Except heat was to blame.
In another study conducted stateside, spin instructors and women participating in hot yoga sessions five times a week were shown to experience more discoloration and continual redness than other patients. Sunscreen wasn’t helpful, as again the problem stemmed from excessive heat, not the sun.
Then there are chefs and bakers, people exposed to excessive heat on a daily basis, who also experience higher rates of hyperpigmentation.
Research suggests that just 30 minutes of heat exposure three times a week is enough to change your skin after six weeks.
The consequences of continual heat exposure are:
- Lowered levels of protective antioxidants
- Skin wrinkles due to damage to genes
- Activated melanocytes (skins cells responsible for age spots)
It’s also been proven that browning of the skin can be linked to the increased dilation of blood vessels that occurs when the body is exposed to heat.
For people who already suffer from melasma and brown spots, exposing skin to heat increases melanin production by inflaming the skin, raising its temperature and waking up melanin cells.
The bottom line: if you suffer from pigmentation issues and are trying to make your brown spots fade, avoid hot yoga classes, steam rooms, and saunas.
Experts also agree that all people with sensitive skin should avoid any form of intense heat. For instance, rosacea sufferers often experience flushing and negative reactions through the dilation of capillaries as a result of hot yoga.
Even people who suffer from eczema (or other forms of inflammatory skin conditions) should avoid irritating the skin with high heat. The risks of flare-ups and infection far outweigh the benefits.
5 Skincare Tips for Hot Yoga Enthusiasts
Here are a few tips that will keep your skin healthy if you’re going to practice hot yoga. The key is to facilitate the detox process before and after your session.
- Prep your skin before your workout
If you’re visiting a Bikram studio after work, it’s important to remove all your makeup and clean your face before your session. An organic facial wipe is a great way to remove the day’s dirt from your face. Just never, under any circumstances, mix dirt, sweat, makeup, oil and bacteria. This is a recipe for a guaranteed skin disaster.
- Hydration: drink water before, during and after
Prepare your body to sweat out quarts of bodily fluids by properly hydrating before your session. Three to four liters throughout the day when you practice hot yoga is recommended. And be sure to sip water throughout your session as well.
- Clean and exfoliate your skin
As the skin releases toxins, bacteria forms in the pores. It’s important to exfoliate — just don’t scrub too hard — or at least rinse your skin with clean water to wash away the bacteria and salty residue. Using cool water on sweaty skin prevents a variety of skin issues, including irritation and clogged pores.
- Lock in moisture
When your damp, hot skin enters a cooler environment, the dry air will immediately seep the moisture away from it. Without a protective layer of lotion, you risk dehydrating your skin as the moisture evaporates, leaving it worse off than before your workout. Lotion also helps soothe any irritation or chaffing of the body.
- Use products that are adapted to your skin
Suffering from acne, fine lines or rosacea? Try using serum or a spot treatment before applying facial lotion. Your pores are wide open and ready to take in healthy nutrients. And don’t counteract the benefits of a good skin detox by using harsh chemical or petroleum-based skin products. Instead, favor organic, natural skincare products.