Should my esthetician use steam on my face?

woman steaming face
Taking a cue from the ancients. See more pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
Justin Pumfrey/Taxi/Getty Images

In the never-ending pursuit of beauty, human beings have devised a number of skin care treatments. The ancient Greeks and Romans pioneered steam baths as a key part of their bathing regimen, with the belief that a good steam encouraged detoxification and promoted hydration and skin suppleness. Fortunately, today you don't have to build a Roman sudatorium in your backyard to get the benefits of a steam -- you can head to the spa instead.

Many estheticians favor steam cleanses as a way to soften and prepare your skin for treatments such as a facial mask. Exposure to the hot mist in a facial steam treatment overheats your skin and causes the blood vessels in your face to dilate. The ensuing rush of blood leaves you with a healthy-looking, pinkish glow. Your face will sweat copiously as your body seeks to cool itself, but as anyone who's sat in a sauna knows, a heavy sweat can leave you feeling pretty good.


But just like you shouldn't sit too long in the sauna, you also don't want to steam too much. An overdose of hot steam dries out your skin, which isn't what anyone looks for in a beauty treatment. If you have sensitive skin, you shouldn't steam more than once a month, and if you have eczema, you shouldn't be steaming at all. People with rosacea should stay away, too -- the dilated blood vessels caused by the steam can worsen the effects of the condition.

The benefits of facial steaming don't have much support from science, so choosing whether or not to steam is really up to you. If you trust your esthetician and steaming makes you feel and look better, go ahead and indulge.

What if you're a fan of facial steaming but not of paying spa prices? On the next page, we'll steam DIY-style.


Steaming Your Face at Home

So, let's say you're thrifty and you want a spa service without the spa bill. Giving yourself a facial steam is incredibly easy. First, gather your equipment: hot water, a bowl, a large towel and a timing device. So far, so good.

Here's how you do it:


  • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser.
  • Boil a pot of water on the stove, then reduce the heat until it's only simmering.
  • Transfer the water to a large bowl and let it sit for an additional five to 10 minutes. An ideal temperature for a steam cleanse is around 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).
  • Position the bowl on a horizontal surface that you'll be able to lean over, like a counter or table.
  • Set your timing device to go off after 10 or 12 minutes, but not longer than 15 minutes.
  • Drape your head, shoulders and the bowl with the large towel so that you create an enclosed space to trap the rising steam.
  • Lean your face close to the rising steam but not so close that you feel suffocated by the heat.
  • End the steaming cleanse with a refreshing water rinse to keep the sweat from clogging your pores.

The addition of essential oils to your facial steam cleanse can make the experience both more relaxing and fragrant. If you have dry or normal skin, oils such as lavender and jasmine are recommended. For oily skin, natural astringents such as basil and lemongrass can be added to the water.

Interested in finding out more about skin care treatments? Continue on to the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Bergel, Reinhard R. "Steam Bath." Day Spa Association. (accessed on 1/4/09)
  • Breyer, Melissa. "Herbal Steam Facials at Home." June 2, 2008. (accessed on 12/30/09)
  • Jane Beth. "Skin tips for the sauna: can extreme heat from saunas or steam rooms damage my skin? Are there precautions I should take? - Beauty Q+A." Shape. April 2003 (accessed on 1/4/09);col1
  • Lovetoknow Skincare. "Facial Steamers." Feb. 16, 2007. (accessed on 12/30/09)
  • Hair n Skin Care. "Face Steam." 2005. (accessed on 12/30/09)
  • "Steamy Secrets: At-Home Facial Steaming." Dec. 1, 2008 (accessed on 12/30/09)
  • "Facial Steamers - Professional & Portable Mini Facial Steamers With Ozone." (accessed on 1/1/10)
  • SpaStay. "Steam Therapy - Spa Treatments." (accessed on 12/30/09)