Spas and saunas have been around for thousands of years. That's how long people have been looking for – and luxurating in – the healing power of water. So when you visit a spa or sauna today, you are participating in one of humanity's oldest rituals.

In a sauna, your skin is exposed to dry steam that is generated by pouring water over heated rocks. A steam bath, on the other hand, features wet steam, which is created when hot water evaporates into the air.

As for a spa, it can be a hot, mineral water bath or a hot tub. The word “spa” has also come to mean a resort that specializes in saunas, steam baths and, yes, spas.

Even though saunas and steam baths are often lumped together categorically, they have clearly defined differences.

Experts say a sauna, which uses dry steam is better than a steam bath, which uses wet steam, in terms of helping the body rid itself of toxic metals and elements such as lead, mercury, nickel, cadmium and sodium. Some scientists have said that sweating once a day helps to cleanse the body of toxins that could be cancer-causing agents.

Saunas usually feature bleacher-like seats, and the higher up you go, the hotter it gets. Some advice for novices: Start at the bottom and determine just how much heat you can take before moving to a higher seat.

If you're going to have a massage, have a steam bath first. The wet steam increases the suppleness of muscles.

Steam baths are also thought to be move relaxing than saunas, to better increase circulation and to place less demand on the heart.

Many ancient cultures recognized the therapeutic benefits of spas and saunas, including their ability to kill viruses, aid in weight loss and restore energy. Thanks to modern science and technology, we've discovered that spas and saunas also help rid the body of toxins and help relate certain allergies and skin rashes.

In addition, spas and saunas are successful in promoting relaxation and relieving stress. The combination of heat and hot water not only helps the skin to breathe, it also helps you to breathe more easily.

The ancient Chinese, Persians and Egyptians used water for emotional and physical healing more than 5,000 years ago. Later, the Romans spread the “spa culture” through Europe, incorporating Finnish saunas. And Native Americans made the sweat lodge an important part of their physical and spiritual purification.

There's more to modern spas than just soothing, healing mineral water.

Today's spas and health resorts offer a wide range of attractions. Many of them provide massage therapy; nutritional and dietary planning; training in yoga and other forms of meditation and relaxation; skin and beauty treatments, such as manicures, pedicures and facials; health education; and exercise.

Spas are often thought of as summer camps for adults. Indeed, like theme camps for kids, spas often characterized in various adult activities or concerns: weight reduction, fitness, yoga and other health-related subjects.

And while most people tend to consider today's spas a women-only retreat, men's spas, couples' spas and even family spas are popping up everywhere.