TreatMEnt of the Week

I Sat In a 160-Degree Barrel Sauna to See If It Helped My Skin

This Is What It’s Like to Try a Barrel Sauna

While growing up in South Florida, I never understood the appeal of saunas. After all, most of my childhood and all of my college years were spent enduring 90-degree weather. So when coping with the Sunshine State’s infamous humidity — and the perspiration that accompanies it — I always wondered, “Why would I sit inside a heated enclosure when I’m already subjected to the same thing outdoors?” 

As my 30-something self would tell younger me: “It’s not the same.” (More on that later.) Since moving to the decidedly more brisk Northeast, I’ve changed my stance on these heated enclosures, and willingly hop inside them regularly. Over my past decade or so as a reporter, I’ve tried different types of saunas and sauna technology, including infrared saunas, and even wearing plastic moon suits at an urban sweat lodge. Many sauna devotees see clearer skin and notice improved circulation from their experiences. In the past, I’ve experienced benefits, too, including relaxation and uninterrupted sleep. (These days, I would gladly welcome such perks). 

So, when I heard about a unique sauna venue that would not only remind me how different it is than sweating outdoors, but allow me to ascribe to today’s social distancing rules, I was eager to give it a try. On a hot summer day, I ventured three-and-a-half hours north of Manhattan to Windham, New York, to try the barrel sauna at Eastwind Hotel & Bar℠

Barrel saunas have a few key elements that set them apart from other sauna options, including that they heat up at a more rapid pace because the sauna itself takes up less space (in short: there’s a smaller amount of square footage to warm up). In box-shaped saunas, the rising heart often accumulates at the top, but in barrel saunas the heat is circulated downward due to the curved walls of the sauna. Both of these structural elements create a more energy efficient sauna.

Outside view of a barrel sauna

Before the Barrel Sauna 

Two hours before stepping foot into the wooden barrel sauna, I ate a light breakfast, including eggs and fruit. Not only is this one of many best practices to follow before a spa treatment, it’s just as ideal to not have a full (or completely empty) stomach before any sauna experience, as either can cause discomfort. I also downed two glasses of water, so I wouldn’t become dehydrated during my treatment.

In anticipation of a lot of sweating, I washed my face and took a quick shower to clear away any dirt, oil, and skincare products I put on the night before so they would not clog my pores. Then, I put on a bathing suit, wrapped myself in a towel, and filled a water bottle to take with me. I was ready!

I should also note that during COVID-19, a time when every aspect of life has been redefined by new hygienic measures, Eastwind took my safety seriously when it came to sweating it out: The barrel was sanitized and wiped down between uses and before I got inside.

Inside the Barrel Sauna

Inside the Barrel Sauna

The sauna took about 20 minutes to heat up before I got in. Although it was 90 degrees, cloud-free, and sunny outside, the summer weather felt tame in comparison to the 160 degrees(!) of dry heat inside the empty sauna. The barrel sauna uses an electric heater and rocks to warm the small space; the curved walls act as natural circulation, keeping the rising heat constantly flowing and evenly distributed.

Four benches lined the walls of the wooden sauna, and upon sitting down, I promptly began to sweat. My boyfriend kept me company, which was a welcome distraction: When you’re sitting alone with no phone, music, or reading material to entertain yourself (and you’re roasting in 160 degrees of dry heat!), time can move pretty slowly. If I’d been feeling more social and we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, I would imagine four people would be able to comfortably fit within the small area while still maintaining personal space. 

Sitting inside the barrel sauna

Happily, I didn’t feel claustrophobic in my sweaty enclosure. I also exercised calm breaths and didn’t move around too much — not only is there limited space, it’s too hot for too much activity anyway. (After all, this isn’t hot yoga.) I spent about 30 minutes committed to my sauna experience — with a few minute-long breaks here and there, if I’m being honest — dripping sweat and wiping perspiration from my body. As a general rule, more than 15 to 20 consecutive minutes in a sauna can increase the risk of dehydration.

On that note: Without a breeze to cool me down, I frequently took sips from my water bottle to rehydrate and stay “cool.” I should also mention that having sustained an injury for the past two-and-a-half months, I haven’t been able to exercise, and therefore sweat. That, and wearing a mask for months, had been keeping my pores more congested than usual . . . until now. 

looking at skin inside the barrel sauna

After the Barrel Sauna 

After 30 minutes of high temperatures, I opened the door of the barrel sauna to a breath of (what felt like) cool air. In reality, it was still sweltering outside — but I’m pretty sure anything below 100 degrees would have felt like ice on my skin. Upon leaving the barrel, I dried off outside with a towel, and allowed my body to cool off for 20 minutes before going indoors and hopping back into the shower.

No less than an hour after rinsing off, I felt more relaxed. I was breathing deep, full breaths. My pores weren’t immediately clearer — in fact, the trapped oil in my clogged pores were starting to surface — but I noticed the rest of my skin (that wasn’t having an upheaval) felt smoother. That night (about 10 hours later), I slept through the night and woke up well rested. The next morning, I even noticed that my face was looking more glowy. Success!

Incorporating a barrel sauna into my day-to-day life would be ideal for long term benefits, but truth be told, I have no plans to move to the mountains — and the city is a little too congested for barrel saunas. With that said, I would absolutely hop in the barrel sauna again should I visit Eastwind in the future. I highly recommend it to anyone heading to the Catskills, whether they’re a fan of mountain activities (like hiking or skiing) or simply looking to lounge and try a different kind of sauna in the country.


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Complimentary service was provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.

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