The ancient Greeks and Romans harnessed steam for health and beauty much the same way we do today. At about 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), the temperatures employed in steam treatments are enough to make you sweat -- perhaps the only time perspiration might be even a little pleasant. If you've ever been in a steam room or hot tub, you know the feeling of warmth enveloping you and steering you toward relaxation. The steam works its magic on your skin, adding moisture and helping to cleanse your body's largest organ of impurities.
Steaming is often done during a spa facial, which may be a treat if you have the time and money for it, but you don't have to wait for a spa session. You can still get the benefits of steaming by concentrating on your face. It's one of the simplest, most inexpensive facial treatments you can do at home. If you have minutes to spare, you can reap some great benefits for your skin with some warm water, a pot or bowl and a towel. Of course, you can get fancier by adding extra ingredients, but there's no need to.
Among other potential benefits, facial steaming might help control or reduce acne breakouts in some instances. It can also boost circulation and draw blood to the surface of the skin, giving your face a warm, healthy glow.
On the next pages you will learn more fully the benefits of facial steaming and the best way to proceed so that you can cleanse and beautify without harming your skin.
Benefits of Face Steaming
For such a simple procedure, facial steaming can offer some big benefits. If you are prone to mild acne, the biggest plus of steaming may be that your skin could end up clearer. That's because the moisture softens the surface layer of dead skins cells called the stratum corneum (from the Latin for "horned layer") [source: Goodman and Young]. This process helps to free any dead cells, dirt, bacteria or other trapped matter that could be causing breakouts, and it can allow your skin to better absorb any other products you might use after the steaming. If you have severe acne, however, steaming can sometimes make it worse, so it's good to check with your doctor before undergoing any face steaming treatment.
The warm humidity from steaming may also increase perspiration and stimulate blood circulation. As the body's natural cooling system, sweat consists mostly of water, but it's also mixed with a small amount of your body's wastes and toxins so that you can wash them away. And increasing your circulation in your facial skin can help to give you a warm, colorful glow. However, if you have certain skin conditions that are aggravated by sweating or increased blood circulation, such as rosacea or a fungal infection, then facial steaming may do more harm than good for you [sources: American Academy of Dermatology].
If you opt to go the do-it-yourself route, then other potential benefits could be the cost and convenience. There are plenty of at-home facial steaming products on the market ranging from about $25 to hundreds of dollars, but you don't need any special lotions or equipment to perform a steam treatment at home. If you have running water, a way to heat it up, a container to keep it in and a towel to drape over your head, you're all set.
Steaming your face might seem simple enough, but there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it. On the next page, you'll learn a few ways to steam your face without doing your skin any harm.
Face Steaming Tips
If you're ready to try facial steaming, the first thing you need to look out for is the water's temperature. Ideally, most professionals use temperatures at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). If you aren't cautious and get too close to the hot steam, you could scald your skin, which can leave behind a scar. Slowly get closer to the steam, but don't get too close -- some professionals advise getting no closer than 12 inches (30 centimeters), but others say 18 inches (45 centimeters) is close enough. If you let too much heat get near your skin, the increased blood flow could lead to broken capillaries under your skin [source: McCoy].
Now that you know the potential dangers, you're ready to start the steaming. First, wash your face so that your pores are free to release any impurities without built-up dirt or makeup blocking the way. Prepare your facial steaming equipment as directed if you have any, or if not, boil some water and pour it into a bowl. Tie your hair back and use a towel as a tent for both the bowl and your head. Lean your face over the steam for about five to seven minutes. Exposing your skin to the heat for much longer -- or more often than once a week -- can actually dry your skin out [source: Howard]. The steaming works best if it's followed up by a light exfoliation and then moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated [source: Bouchez].
Many people choose to add in different herbs or essential oils -- such as lavender, rosemary, peppermint or ylang-ylang -- in hopes that they can produce a desired effect on the skin [source: Mars]. However, health experts say that your skin can't get any benefits from herbal steam, and that all this does is simply make the steam fragrant [source: Goodman and Young]. Some at-home facial steamers offer an aromatherapy option that allows you to add in herbs or essential oils for a scented steaming.
If you want to delve deeper into face steaming and decide whether it might be right for you, visit the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Rosacea Patients Can Enjoy Some Spa Treatments." (Accessed Oct. 13, 2009)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/rosaceanet/spa_treatments.html
- Berg, Rona; Anja Kroencke; and Deborah Jaffe. "Beauty: The New Basics." Workman Publishing. 2001. (Accessed Sept. 17, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=qAVvUjfza9gC&pg=PA49&dq=benefits+of+facial+steam&lr=&ei=9buySuCGBZiWNeu_hLMD&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=benefits%20of%20facial%20steam&f=false
- Bergel, Reinhard R. "Steam Bath: Healthy Revitalizing Steam." Day Spa Association. (Accessed Oct. 12, 2009)http://www.dayspaassociation.com/mainpages/steambath.htm
- Bouchez, Colette. "A Primer on Summer Skin Repair." WebMD. Aug. 1, 2005. (Accessed Oct. 13, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/primer-summer-skin-repair?page=3
- Goodman, Thomas; and Stephanie Young. "Smart Face: A Dermatologist's Guide to Saving Your Money and Saving Your Skin." Prentice Hall. 1988. (Accessed Sept. 17, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=-KaE-j6NjQUC&pg=PA72&lpg=PA72&dq=facial+steaming&source=bl&ots=KFjVs_hV-_&sig=0jGQvYoPlSnhIk-40vT71Lg29g4&hl=en&ei=sraySpPdLZmTtgfei8itDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9#v=onepage&q=facial%20steaming&f=false
- Howard, Jenni Baden. "20 bad beauty habits." Daily Mail. (Accessed Oct. 14, 2009)http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4624/20-bad-beauty-habits.html
- Mars, Brigette. "Beauty by Nature." Healthy Living Publications. 2006. (Accessed Sept. 17, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=3eb7OiuZIDMC&pg=PA32&dq=how+to+do+a+facial+steaming&lr=&ei=puGySqOHIJ6yNMHdjf8D&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=how%20to%20do%20a%20facial%20steaming&f=false
- McCoy, Edain. "Enchantments: 200 Spells for Bath & Beauty Enhancement." Llewellyn Publications. 2001. (Accessed Sept. 17, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=xhbDpBQJVvQC&pg=PA89&dq=home+facial+steaming&lr=&ei=8eKySuWnIqPGNbyo-ewD&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=home%20facial%20steaming&f=false
- Ouellette, Janine. "Full Steam Ahead to Great Skin: Learn the DIY steam solution to keeping your skin beautiful." PlanetGreen. Aug. 5, 2008. (Accessed Sept. 17, 2009)http://planetgreen.discovery.com/fashion-beauty/face-steam.html