If you've ever had a facial, you've probably experienced the divine feeling of facial steaming. That said, it has purpose beyond its obvious relaxation benefits. "Facial steaming has many benefits if done correctly," says celebrity esthetician Ildi Pekar. The operative word here is "correctly" since there are some potential pitfalls and critical steps to ensure you're steaming safely.
First and foremost, think of this as a special add-on to your weekly skincare routine rather than a daily step. "When done too frequently, at-home steaming can cause redness, dryness, and other forms of inflammation," Pekar cautions. To that point, all the experts we spoke with agreed any steam sesh should be limited to 10 to 15 minutes—maximum. Pekar also advises keeping the source of steam 12 to 16 inches away from your face. It's also important to test how hot the steam is with your hands first, before slowly bringing your face towards it, adds Michele Koo, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in St. Louis.
You don't necessarily need to buy a dedicated facial steamer—placing your face over a bowl of boiling water and covering your head with a towel works too—but in either instance, it's a good idea to use distilled water for the best results. "Distilled water is filtered, purified, and free of minerals, bacteria, and pollutants. It also has a pH of 7, so it won't disrupt the natural acid mantle, which is important for maintaining healthy skin barrier function," explains Chicago-based esthetician Jenny Fix.
Now that you know how to steam, read on for more reasons why you should. Ahead, learn about the top five benefits of steaming your face.
Meet the Expert
- Idli Pekar is a celebrity esthetician, founder of the Ildi Pekar Wellness Studio in New York City, and creator of I. Pekar, a natural skincare line.
- Michele Koo, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in St. Louis and founder of Dr. Koo Private Practice skincare.
- Jenny Fix is an esthetician in Chicago specializing in holistic and high-tech skincare treatments.
Makes It Easier to Unclog Pores
Contrary to popular belief, steam doesn't "open" your pores (they don't actually open or close), but it does soften your skin and anything lodged in your pores. This is why steaming is always done before extractions during a professional facial; it makes removing all pore-clogging debris easier, notes Pekar. For that reason, while steaming is a good option for almost all skin types (more on that caveat in a second), it can be especially beneficial for those who deal with stubborn blackheads or whiteheads or for those whose pores look larger because of the grime stuck in them, says Dr. Koo.
However, don't attempt to DIY the extraction part of a facial; leave that up to the pros. Instead, wash your face with an exfoliating cleanser post-steam to help remove all unwanted residue, Dr. Koo suggests. (Speaking of cleansers, make sure to wash your face pre-steam.)
Going back to the point about skin types, while face steaming is generally safe and effective for almost everyone when done correctly, some people should steer clear entirely. "Steaming isn't good for anyone with rosacea as it can cause a flare-up of symptoms. It dilates blood vessels, increasing unwanted redness and inflammation," Fix cautions. Similarly, Pekar advises against it for anyone with eczema or atopic dermatitis.
Enhances Product Penetration
Once your pores are cleared out and your skin is softer, products can penetrate deeper and work more effectively, says Fix. "Face steaming can be beneficial for those looking to maximize the effectiveness of their skincare routine," she adds.
Still, you don't want to use any formulas with intense active ingredients immediately after, as the increased penetration can trigger sensitivity. Pekar advises steering clear of retinoids and strong exfoliants, especially if your skin is sensitive, to begin with. Instead, follow up with a moisturizer or hydrating mask. The water in the steam adds a boost of hydration to your skin, which will help lock it in, she explains.
Increases Blood Flow for a Healthy Glow
A quick steam is one of the fastest and easiest ways to leave your complexion extra glowy. Why? Face steaming dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the skin, explains Fix. This in and of itself can give you a healthy radiance, but it also brings more oxygen and nutrients to the cells, making your skin look more vibrant.
Can Combat Puffiness
Pekar and Fix list this as one of the most significant benefits of steaming your face. Steam helps clear out congested sinuses that can cause puffiness in the face, especially around the eyes, Fix says.
Excess fluids and toxins are released from blocked sinuses into the lymph channels to drain out, adds Pekar. Pair facial steaming with a light massage to encourage lymphatic flow, and you'll further up those de-puffing benefits, she says.
Feels Soothing & Relaxing
DIY face steaming may not elicit the same blissed-out relaxation as a professional facial, but it still feels nice. "The warm steam can be very relaxing, helping to reduce stress and tension," Fix notes. (And remember, stress has adverse side effects on your skin, so any de-stressing technique is always worth incorporating into your routine.) She suggests upping the ante with some aromatherapy by adding herbs or essential oils to the water for additional calming effects.