While we’re all spending more time inside, an at-home spa day might seem to call for the best facial steamer you can find. Especially during the drying days of winter, it’s tempting to DIY the soothing feeling you might otherwise get in a sauna or during a facial. But before you go shopping, there are a few myths that skin experts are keen to debunk about the facial practice.
“There is a misconception that steaming the face opens your pores and unclogs them,” says Caroline Robinson, M.D., FAAD, and founder and CEO of Tone Dermatology. “Our pores are fixed structures that do not open and close in response to changes of temperature.” What actually occurs, Dr. Robinson explains, is a softening of the top layer of skin and a temporary increase in blood flow. “Our skin barrier itself becomes more leaky as trans-epidermal water loss increases,” she says, “which can be beneficial for exfoliating, but it also means that we have a net loss of hydration.” In other words, it can worsen issues for those who face oily or acne-prone skin. Additionally, “if [the steamer is] not properly used, it can lead to broken capillaries,” says Mariam Saprichyan of Biologique Recherche–certified spa Kariné Kazarian. “It often also leads to ‘bathroom surgery,’” or clients attempting to give themselves at-home extractions, “which tends to make matters worse,” especially for those with sensitive skin. Dr. Robinson advises patients with eczema, redness, or hyperpigmentation to avoid facial steaming. For those without sensitive skin, steaming should be limited to once a week at most.
Simeder Jackson, licensed esthetician and founder of Skin Folks, an organization working to make the skin-care community more inclusive, tends to agree. “Steaming can be fun and it feels luxurious,” she says, “but like anything good or fun, too much of it can be a recipe for disaster.” Too much steam can melt the natural oils on the skin, which offers a deeper cleanse, but she adds, “our natural oils are there for a reason, and over-stripping them will damage the moisture barrier and lead to other problems like dehydration and breakouts.” Jackson also abides by a no-more-than-once-a-week steam philosophy.
For those still craving a spa-like experience while at home, our skin experts weigh in on best practices when it comes to steaming, alternative at-home facial methods for those with sensitive skin and the best facial steamer devices out there, so you can elevate your self-care Sunday.
Alternatives and Best Practices
One alternative for individuals with compromised skin is a cool soak. Dr. Robinson advises placing a cool cloth on the face for 10 minutes, “followed by a serum or moisturizer and a mask once a week with pore-unclogging ingredients like salicylic acid.”
Add loose-leaf tea
“Boil water in a pot,” or use a dermatologist-suggested steamer, “and add loose chamomile, because it includes soothing and healing properties for the skin,” Kariné Kazarian says. “Proceed to steam the skin by covering your head with a towel for about five to seven minutes, and breathe it all in.” Then, follow up with a clay-based mask, such as Biologique Recherche’s BioMagic Mask, “to tighten pores and hydrate.”
“This may come as a surprise, but, honestly, my favorite facial steamer is the shower,” Jackson says. “It’s best practice to avoid really hot showers for the health of our skin. But the natural steam you’re getting in there is more than enough.” Hang eucalyptus leaves or use a shower steamer for added aromatherapy benefits.
Steam while using an active product
“There are a lot of different philosophies on steaming out there. Some skin-care professionals don’t believe in it at all,” Jackson notes. “Outside of the treatment room, I think steam can be a relaxing way to elevate a self-care night and is fine to use occasionally. Best-case use is steaming while you have some type of active product on your face.” Dr Hauschka’s Clarifying Steam Bath facial product is perfect for just that, thanks to its combination of herbal extracts like nasturtium, daisy, and witch hazel, which work together to reduce redness and inflammation, and to soften blackheads.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Pro Facial Steamer
“I love this steamer because it has ozone, which kills bacteria,” says Jackson. “It mimics professional steaming devices, so if you’re going to buy one, I highly suggest this.”
Vanity Planet Aira Ionic Facial Steamer
While Saprichyan doesn’t recommend using a steamer at home considering the potential for overuse, she understands that the pandemic has limited the potential for professional facials. For those looking to create an occasional DIY steamer, she recommends “a facial steamer with ionic steam and one that allows essential oils, such as chamomile extract.”
Hey Dewy Portable Facial Humidifier
This device is small enough to fit in any apartment, or to bring with you to the office once things open back up. It only emits cold water, as opposed to hot steam, to provide skin with proper hydration throughout the day. As someone with sensitive skin, this writer can attest that it does the job without any aggravation.