Face steamers are something I’ve been using in my facials for over thirty years, so it’s been interesting to watch them become such a popular, at-home tool. While you can get clear benefits by using a face steamer, I’ve also noticed there isn’t much guidance out there about how to use one properly, so I thought I’d shed some light. Keep reading to learn the benefits and possible drawbacks of using a steamer, as well as how I believe is the best way to use on for maximum benefits. (And a few things to be mindful of!)
The Benefits Of Steaming Your Face
To understand how steaming your face at home can be beneficial, it helps to know which actions are occurring within the skin when you expose it to steam.
There are two actions that occur when you steam your face:
- The internal temperature of the skin is increased
- Hydration is delivered into the skin
With this in mind, here’s what steaming your face can do.
Increase Blood Flow
By raising the skin’s internal temperature, steam allows capillaries to expand. Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that carry oxygen and vital nutrients to our cells, and when they’re expanded from heat, they can deliver more of both. In short? Heating the skin with steam increases circulation and delivers nutrients to give a nice, fresh glow.
While face steamers are no doubt a great way to bring a little extra glow to the skin, I prefer this method and do it most every night!
Make It Easier to Get Rid of Clogged Pores
Contrary to what you may have heard, face steamers do NOT “open” your pores (they’re not like doors!) or even clean your pores out. When a pore is clogged, it’s filled with a blockage made of hardened oil. Steam doesn’t magically make this blockage disappear. The only way to unclog a pore is to manually remove the hardened oil inside by performing extractions. This is where face steamers come in!
Steaming your face makes manual extractions easier by softening and sort of ‘melting’ the hardened oil that’s causing your clogged pores. The combination of heat and hydration provided by face steamers changes the consistency of these blockages so they’re easier to remove. This also prevents too much stress on the skin and helps protect it from damage. Estheticians certainly use steamers in the facial room any time they’re performing extractions because these tools make it so much easier to get rid of congestion.
Performing your own extractions at home? Here’s how.
Since steam is just water, using a face steamer at home can be a great way to provide water-based hydration to dehydrated skin. The only catch is, as soon as you’re done steaming, you’ll want to put something on your face to seal in all that moisture. Otherwise, through a process called osmosis, you could actually end up drying your skin out more.
What happens is that the surrounding air will have less moisture than your skin at that point, and as a response will actually start pulling water out of your skin. You have 60 seconds to apply a serum and/or cream topically to seal in that moisture and protect it from the greedy air.
Precautions to Take When Using a Face Steamer
While I do consider face steamers to be safe tools, for the most part, there are a few instances in which they could actually end up harming the skin. Here’s when you should be taking precautions while using a face steamer.
If You’re Prone to Rosacea, Facial Flushing, or Broken Capillaries
As I mentioned, the heat from steamers dilates capillaries and allows more oxygen and nutrients to be brought to the skin. While this is great if your skin is looking a little dull or lackluster, it can be harmful if you experience rosacea, facial flushing (redness), and/or broken capillaries. Increasing the internal temperature of the skin can trigger facial flushing as well as rosacea, and heat is definitely a trigger you want to avoid with these conditions.
Heating capillaries causes them to expand and then constrict, and doing this too often weakens them over time. Just like a rubber band, eventually, capillaries won’t be able to spring back, meaning they’ll remain visible just under the surface of the skin. Learn more about how to prevent broken capillaries.
If you deal with any of these conditions, I wouldn’t recommend investing in a handheld face steamer. Sure, everyone’s skin is different, and some might be able to handle steam more than others, but why risk it? There are other ways to increase circulation in the skin and provide hydration without risking a flare-up or broken capillaries.
If You Have Melasma
Melasma, a type of pigmentation that looks like brown or grey-brown patches on the skin, can often be triggered by heat. When you have melasma, you should always be working to suppress overactive melanin cells. Unfortunately, heating the skin has the opposite effect and can actually wake these cells up. Learn more about which triggers to avoid if you have melasma.
If You Have Sensitive Skin
Having sensitive skin doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use a face steamer, but I would recommend erring on the side of caution by steaming your face once a week at first and seeing how it goes.
Something I would definitely caution against, though, is using essential oils for face steaming. I know this is a popular trend in some circles, but exposing the skin to such high concentrations of essential oils can be irritating to anyone’s skin, especially if it’s already sensitive.
Want to know more? Learn whether saunas and steam rooms are good or bad for the skin.
If Your Skin Is Peeling From a Professional Peel or Prescription Retinoid
If you’ve ever had a professional chemical peel or have used a prescription retinoid that was a little too strong for your skin, you’re probably no stranger to a little peeling. The skin can become visibly flaky, and it can be really tempting to try to remove these flakes since they create such an uneven texture on the skin. If this is the case, you should be extra careful when steaming your skin at home.
Since steam softens and moistens the dry, dead skin cells that are creating visible flaking, it can make it easier to slough these flakes off manually using something like a washcloth. The problem is, these dead skin cells are often still attached to live skin cells. So if you use steam then rub at them before they’re ready to naturally fall off on their own, you could very well end up rubbing off live skin. This is what happened to me the very first time I got my hands on a professional-grade glycolic acid peel back in 1992. I was so excited to see my skin sloughing off that I got overzealous and ended up taking off live skin cells! You can read the whole story here.
The same is true for scabs leftover from blemishes. Steam will soften them up and make it seem like you can easily scrub them away, but doing this too early means you run the risk of creating a whole new scab underneath.
Bottom line: Post-steam, DON’T use any kind of physical exfoliator on blemishes or peeling skin.
How to Steam Your Face
Here are a few of my tips for getting the best results from your face steamer based on my thirty years in the facial room.
How Often Should You Steam Your Face, and for How Long?
My personal recommendation would be to use a face steamer once a week during an at-home facial. That said, everyone’s skin is different and if you like the results you get from using a face steamer, you can use it a few times a week. The most important thing is to listen to your skin and pull back if you start to notice anything like dryness, increased redness, or sensitivity.
When in Your Routine Should You Use a Face Steamer?
If you’re using a steamer as part of your normal nightly routine, I would suggest doing it after cleansing. You should cleanse, steam, tone, apply serum, and finish with a moisturizer.
If you’re using a face steamer during an at-home facial, I suggest doing it after you exfoliate. After cleansing your skin, apply your exfoliating enzyme or acid peel. This will remove dead skin cells, which means that after you’ve rinsed off your peel, the steam will be able to do a better job of delivering hydration into the skin. Once you’re done steaming, immediately follow with an alcohol-free toner, serum, and moisturizer.
You can steam your face for up to ten minutes (again, listen to your skin). Regardless of how often you use a steamer in your routine, be sure not to hold your face too close to the device! This could overheat your skin. Instead, keep your face at a slight distance. @aishabeau demonstrates the perfect distance for face steaming in the photo above!
Should I Have Anything On My Skin While I’m Steaming?
No, you should not. Since steam is just water, it will have a smaller molecule than any of your skincare products. You want to get as much of that hydration in without anything blocking its path, then seal it in quickly with a product once you’re done.
I’ve also seen a number of people on social media use face steamers while wearing enzyme or acid peels, but that’s not something I recommend doing at home. It’s true that steam makes these products more potent because the constant exposure to moisture keeps the enzymes or exfoliating acids more active. In fact, this technique is often used during professional peels in the facial room, but the key here is that it’s being done under the guidance of a licensed professional. It doesn’t take much to overdo it with these types of products and cause a lot of irritation or barrier damage to your skin. It’s also important to keep in mind that these products are formulated specifically for at-home use, so you don’t need to be applying steam in order for them to be effective.
As someone who has used a steamer on her clients for over thirty years, I’m no stranger to this tool and the benefits it can provide. The main benefits of using a steamer at home are increasing circulation and delivering hydration to the skin. While both of these are great, there are a number of ways to get these benefits, so I don’t think anyone needs to be rushing out to buy a face steamer. That said, if you enjoy using one at home, I hope you found these tips helpful and learned how to use your steamer safely and to its full potential! If you enjoyed this post, read my review of other at-home skincare tools and devices.
Special thanks to @aishabeau for letting us use her beautiful image!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”