People have used steam to relax and rejuvenate for hundreds or even thousands of years. We still love to steam up today, whether it’s in spas, saunas or simply a hot shower.
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Aesthetician Stephanie Diliberto explains what facial steaming can do for you and how to DIY face steam at home.
At its most basic level, steaming requires only clean water and heat. With just these two ingredients — and some safety precautions — you can reap a lot of skin care benefits.
Diliberto says steaming is a tried-and-true way to prep pores for blackhead extraction. “Steam can help soften the skin and loosen oil and buildup in your pores,” says Diliberto. “Steam your face before removing blackheads to make the plugs easier to release.”
But this isn’t a free pass to start picking at blackheads at home. Diliberto recommends investing in a stainless-steel loop-style extractor for gentle at-home removals. If that isn’t working for you, consider a professional extraction from a licensed skin care expert.
Even if you don’t have blackheads to remove (lucky you!), steaming can help your skin care products work better. “Steaming before applying toners, serums or moisturizers can help the products absorb better,” Diliberto says. “The heat and moisture make skin more permeable and ready to accept topical products.”
Slathering skin with oils and creams adds moisture, but you still need hydration, which only comes from water. “Face steaming helps provide skin cells with water,” Diliberto says. “Using steam to hydrate skin, followed by a good moisturizer or serum, can plump skin and help it hold onto its water.”
Acne products are usually designed to sop up sebum (oil) and kill acne-causing bacteria. Steam can help your acne products work better and fight pimples.
“Use steam after cleansing to release built-up sebum in pores,” says Diliberto. “Follow with your acne products for maximum benefits. Steam also cleans out acne-causing bacteria that contribute to breakouts.”
Proper blood flow helps skin build collagen and elastin, which give skin a plump, bouncy look. The increased blood flow from steaming encourages this natural process.
“Steaming can make skin look firmer and younger because it increases circulation,” says Diliberto. “The extra blood flow also helps deliver oxygen to the skin, which is nourishing.”
The beauty of steaming is there are plenty of ways to do it, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can purchase a facial steamer specifically designed for skin care purposes, but this is optional.
“Read the directions on your steamer before using it,” says Diliberto. “It should tell you what kind of water to use and how close to hold the steamer. Steaming should feel good. If it feels too hot or irritating, stop.”
If you don’t have a facial steamer, you can still enjoy the benefits of face steaming at home.
Here’s how to try this old-fashioned method of face steaming:
Use caution if you’re heating the water with a teapot or microwave. If the towel is too hot to hold in your hands, it’s too hot for your face. Let it cool for a few minutes.
You can also do a spa-like steam with a bowl and dry towel. Pour some clean, hot water in a large bowl and drape a towel over the back of your head. The towel will trap the steam in as you lean over the bowl and enjoy a mini sauna-like experience.
If you purchase a steamer, follow the directions on the product. Usually, the directions tell you how long you can steam. In general, you can steam with a hot towel or bowl for up to 10 minutes at a time. But keep an eye on how your skin responds.
“If your skin feels great after a 10-minute steam, stick with that length of time,” Diliberto says, “but if you feel too hot or notice irritation, cut back or discontinue use.”
Although steaming is generally safe when done correctly, some people should steer clear.
“If you’re prone to redness or rosacea or have broken capillaries on the skin, I don’t recommend steaming,” Diliberto explains. “The heat can exacerbate redness because it brings more blood flow to the surface of the skin.”
If you have very sensitive skin or are prone to eczema, Diliberto also advises caution with steaming, as it can aggravate inflammatory skin conditions or sensitive skin types.
Less sensitive skin types can usually steam two to three times a week. “Usually, oily skin is thicker and can tolerate more frequent steaming,” says Diliberto. “If your skin is drier or thinner, once a week is enough.”
At-home steaming can be a great addition to your skin care routine. But if you have persistent skin problems like breakouts, eczema, redness or irritation, see an aesthetician or dermatologist. Getting help from skincare experts can help you achieve — or keep — great-looking skin for years to come.