Steam Processors Restore Moisture, Shine, and Bounce to Thirsty Hair

woman with brown curly hair

ohlamour studio / Stocksy / Byrdie

After spending time in a steam room, you might notice how much better your hair looks and feels. Steam has a bevy of benefits on strands, which is why steam processors were invented. Some of these benefits include added moisture, better product penetration, a deeper scalp cleanse, and even potential hair growth down the line.

Ahead, celebrity and editorial hairstylists Michelle Cleveland and Jennifer Korab answer all of our questions about steam processors. Read on to learn more.

Meet the Expert

  • Michelle Cleveland is a celebrity stylist, extension artist, and owner of Hair Addict Salon.
  • Jennifer Korab is a celebrity and editorial hair stylist and owner of Renaissance Salon.

What Is a Steam Processor?

If you've ever had your hair done at a traditional salon and needed to sit under the dryer (all the Black girls who stayed in the salon on Saturday, you know the vibe), you're probably familiar with what a steam processor looks and feels like. "Much like your traditional over the head heat dryers that use forced hot air, a steam processor works with the use of vapor steam to create a healthier heat for your hair and within a much quicker time frame," says Cleveland. "Many stylists choose to use a steam processor simply because it’s a healthier option for the integrity of the hair. Steam heat can drive the product on the hair deeper into the hair allowing for better, longer lasting penetration."

Korab adds that steamers incorporate a moist heat to keep hair and scalp from drying out (as opposed to a dry heat like that of a hair dryer. "Those who find that their scalp gets dry easily might opt to use the steam processor instead of a classic hairdryer in an effort to help keep their scalp healthy and moisturized," she says.

Steam processors can be used when coloring hair as well, especially with stubborn, difficult to absorb hues like red. The steam and heat vapors allow the color to penetrate the cuticle deeply and efficiently, without damaging your hair.

Benefits of a Steam Processor

Users who frequently use steam processors or hair steamers purport that it can stimulate hair growth, allow products to penetrate more efficiently, increase hydration, and help smooth and soothe coarse textures, but note that no formal studies have been done to 100 percent validate these claims. Still, the tangible evidence is undeniable.

Korab and Cleveland explain that they use steam process for all of the above and more. "The bottom line here is that it’s just a healthier option to applying heat to the hair when it’s needed like when you're applying color, hair masks or treatments," says Cleveland. "As a bonus the hair will be much shinier than using traditional forced notifications air."

How to Prepare to Use a Steam Processor

If you're interested in using a steam processor, you'll be happy to know that there isn't much legwork involved before the treatment. Korab says that you should make sure your hair is freshly washed before using a hair steamer, while Cleveland recommends that you should swap your traditional plastic cap that's normally used with a conventional dryer for some cotton around the hairline to soak up any water that may run down your face.

What to Expect When Using a Steam Processor

Using a steam processor is pretty simple. You, or your stylist, will sit you underneath a hair steamer and let the machine run for its allotted time. If you're using one at home, make sure to use distilled water or water that's been filtered through a Brita or something similar. Tap water can contain chlorine and other particles than can potentially damage your hair.

Text some friends, listen to your favorite podcast (Normal Gossip is amazing), or bring a good book to read during your treatment. A steam processing treatment can last anywhere from a minimum or 30 minutes, all the way up to 90 minutes depending on the goals that you're trying to achieve.

Potential Side Effects

Using a steam processor has tons of benefits, but like all great things, there are a few caveats. Steam can get very hot and potentially cause burns. Like we mentioned before, using filtered or distilled water is imperative, as Cleveland explains. "Unfiltered water can contain chemicals, chlorine, minerals, and other elements that can get pushed deeper into the hair if used in the steamer. My advice would be to keep some distilled water on hand just for use in the steamer. Also, be careful and check on your client often since steam can get very hot."

You also want to make sure you're not using it too often. "It is suggested that you use it no more than once a week before overly hydrated hair can cause your hair to become weak and possibly have more breakage than normal," says Korab.

The Cost

If you're looking to buy your own steamer for at-home use, Cleveland says you're looking anywhere from $300 to $2000, depending on the model, the brand, and the size. If you're looking for a salon treatment, it can run anywhere between $50 to $250 depending on where you go. On average, a hair steaming treatment will cost about $75.

The Final Takeaway

Steam processors are a wonderfully efficient way to infuse your hair with hydration and help with color processing. Other than the fact that it's really hot, there's nothing to lose from sitting underneath one.

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