I Tried a Scalp Steam and My Curls Have Never Looked Better

There is no better feeling than having your hair washed at the salon. No matter how nice a shampoo I use at home, I never feel that same salon-clean feeling that comes from having an expert deeply cleanse your hair. Recently, I felt my hair and scalp needed a reset, and I began researching ways to really clean my crown of all products. The answer? A scalp steam treatment.

I headed to Spiral (x,y,z), a curl haven located in TriBeCa, where hair health starts with the scalp. Having naturally fine, curly hair, I typically wash my hair twice a week and use a clarifying wash whenever I feel my scalp needs it (typically every other month). But between my passion for trying new hair products and the small amount of time I dedicate to cleansing my scalp most days, my curls felt weighed down. After discussing my concerns, we decided the Hair & Scalp Mist treatment, which detoxifies and removes impurities such as silicone buildup, oil residue, and salt deposits from suds, would be the best course of action.

Read on for my honest experience with a scalp steam treatment.

Meet the Expert

  • Rachel Nazarian is a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She specializes in cosmetic treatments, skin cancer, and dermatologic surgery.
  • Danjela Nika is a hairstylist and curl specialist based in New York City.

What Is a Scalp Steam?

A scalp steam is a cleansing treatment of the scalp where steam is carefully introduced to help break down buildup and products from the hair. At Spiral (x,y,z), the Hair & Scalp Mist treatment costs $75 (though other scalp steams and scalp facials can cost anywhere from $50 to $250). It is designed to detoxify and remove impurities such as silicone buildup, oil residue, and salt deposits from suds - all of which can trap dead skin cells that clog the pores on the scalp. Steam combined with Sham-Free Hair & Scalp Cleanser gently dislodges and unclogs the hair and scalp of buildup. The treatment includes a cranial massage to stimulate blood flow, providing additional benefits to the scalp.

Benefits of a Scalp Steam

  • Detoxifies the scalp
  • Removes silicone buildup, oil residue, and salt deposits from suds
  • Dislodges trapped dead skin cells that clog the pores on the scalp
  • Revitalizes hair volume
  • Restores curl pattern

A scalp steam treatment's primary benefit is the deep cleansing of the hair and scalp. Nazarian explains that "Heat, hot water, or steam, can remove dirt and oil more effectively than cold water or cold temperatures. Using the steam would theoretically improve the cleansing process without requiring harsher soaps or physical techniques." Nika explained how the steam worked to remove the products, coating my hair strands while allowing me to feel the difference in my hair before and after the steam treatment.

While almost anyone can benefit from this treatment occasionally, Nazarian is skeptical of its necessity. Nazarian shares that a scalp steam treatment offers a deep clean, but not everyone needs such thorough cleansing of their scalp. "Those with dry hair or brittle hair would not benefit as much since the steam might weaken their hair more and lead to more breakage. People with oilier hair and scalp would benefit the most," she explains.

Outside of the squeaky clean feeling, my hair felt dramatically softer after the steam treatment. The difference in the volume at my roots was not only visible but also something I felt. The weight of my hair felt significantly lighter despite having my hair styled after the scalp steam treatment. I walked out of the salon tossing my hair back and forth, almost giddy at the weightlessness of it. The most noticeable benefit was the transformation of my curls. Previously, the only thing that made that much of a difference in my curl pattern's definition and integrity was a haircut.

woman receiving scalp steam treatment

Caitlin Duggan

What to Expect During a Scalp Steam

The unexpected benefit of this treatment was the extensive head and neck massage. "The scalp and neck do not get enough attention or 'hair time,' and we hold a lot of tension in our head, so this is a deeply relaxing and beneficial treatment for your hair and scalp," Nika explained. The treatment started with a massage of my dry hair and head while sitting in the salon chair to understand my current hair and scalp condition before moving to the luxurious spa bed style washing station for the actual steam. The massaging of my dry scalp was something Nika also encouraged me to do daily to encourage blood flow and scalp health.

Once at the washing station, Nika spent a generous amount of time massaging the Sham-Free Hair & Scalp Cleanser into my hair and scalp. She actually used very little water during this process, which I watched using a hand mirror. Once Nika had thoroughly massaged the hair and scalp, she turned on the steam and covered my scalp to trap the steam against it. During this time, she covered my eyes and continued to massage my temples while also performing aromatherapy to help me relax.

The scalp steam treatment was followed by conditioner and then styling gel. Nika then placed me under a gentle diffuser to dry my hair. After a short time under the dryer, Nika finished my treatment by fluffing my curls and massaging my dry scalp once more. I left with soft, touchable curls and felt significantly more relaxed than when I came in.

scalp steam before and after photo

Caitlin Duggan/Design by Cristina Cianci

At-Home vs. A Professional

While attempting a full scalp steam at home using a steaming machine is not something I would advise (due to the risk of burning your scalp), Nazarian says that a similar cleanse is possible at home. Instead of steam, "Warmer water during washing would technically offer similar benefit," Nazarian shares. You would need to use a clarifying shampoo to maximize the removal of buildup from your hair. Make sure to take your time cleansing; this is something Nika feels most people don't do. "Take the time to gently wash all of your hair, rubbing your finger pads into your scalps and cleansing the entire length of your hair."

Personally, I don't feel an at-home cleanse will ever compare. You might be able to achieve the same level of cleansing, but the deeply relaxing sensation of having someone else wash your hair will never be replaced. I also don't think that anyone would take the time and effort to carefully cleanse their entire head the way Nika did for my scalp.


To maintain the volume and curl restoration the scalp steam treatment provided to my hair, Nika's main advice was to avoid products that cause buildup and cleanse my hair properly with each wash. She went over proper cleansing technique and showed me that I had been damaging my scalp by roughly exfoliating with my nails. While it feels good to use your nails while cleansing, Nika explained that "your scalp is an extension of the skin on your face - and you wouldn't scratch your face with your nails when washing it." We went overcareful cleansing techniques to deeply (and gently) remove buildup from my scalp and hair to maintain the effects of my treatment until I can return.

The Final Takeaway

Three weeks after my scalp steam, I still feel and see a difference in my hair. While this is not a service I would get weekly based on Nazarian's advice, I will certainly return for future scalp steams when my hair and scalp need the deep clean. The long-lasting volume and definition in my hair and the luxury of the treatment itself are enough to warrant two-to-three annual treatments moving forward. If your hair and scalp feel weighed down by buildup and oil, a scalp steam might be the answer.

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