Everything you need to know about facial steaming

Just over a week ago Marie Claire reported that over 50,000 people were currently googling ‘facial steamers.’ All of my fellow Insta aestheticians are using them and there isn’t a week that goes by where I am not finding myself lying down, enjoying a relaxing, professional steam. As I scour the internet, I noticed that there are lot of common misconceptions surrounding this simple but effective facial method, as the market becomes saturated with at-home and professional devices selling for as little as £12.88. This blog post will tell you everything you need to know about facial steaming and the types available before you take the plunge, discuss the possible risks and correct the common myths that are circulating around the internet.

What is facial steaming?

Facial steaming is simply when direct steam is applied to the skin for a certain amount of time. When water is rapidly heated to boiling point, it starts to bubble and evaporates as the water can no longer maintain its liquid state. Steam is a kind of vapour that is produced through boiling water.

Reportedly originating from Ancient Greece and Roman times, steaming was used back then for similar reasons that we use it today, to aid skin detoxification to promote healthier skin. Facial steaming is very similar to body steaming, however on a smaller scale and usually carried out by a device rather than in a room inhalation setting.

One of the first official face steamers was made by Jeanette Scale in 1903, and she called it the ‘Russian Steam Bath’ - ‘the most perfect apparatus for cleansing the face.’ Steaming is used for sinus congestion, to encourage blood circulation and induce sweating to aid the removal of toxins from the body.

Types of facial steamers

Although the long-term benefits have not been studied enough, facials steamers have continued to develop and soar in popularity as they become more accessible, and available in wider varieties. 

*Please note all of the links I have inserted into this list for specific facial steamers are mere examples, I have not tried these particular machines myself nor have I been paid to include these in this blog post.

Personal/Home Steamers

These are small and compact machines designed specifically for home use. The structure has an open cup at the base of the device so that it can emit a steady flow of steam to the face and neck. These home devices are the most common, and heavily marketed steamers that you will see being sold online and can vary in price from £10-£50.

Nano Ionic Facial Steamers

Nano Ionic technology is a trending topic right now in the world of home facial steamers. Nano steam is charged with negative ions which is believed to help the steam ‘absorb’ into your and make it more receptive to products and ability to hold moisture in the skin.

It is important to know that negative air ionization, which is also used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression, is still considered pseudoscience by mainstream scientists and there is little evidence to back up the therapy’s claims.

Professional Steamers (including Ozone)

These steamers tend to be more expensive and are marketed to, you guessed it, professionals who carry out the service in treatment. Because of the nature of its use, professional steamers tend to have more options of height adjustment and tend to hold a larger capacity of water.

Most professional steamers will have two buttons – one for steam, the other for O-zone, also known as activated oxygen. Ozone is made up of 3 oxygen atoms but eventually breaks up leaving pure oxygen. The singlet attaches to unhealthy cells, bacteria, viruses and neutralises them and ignores the healthy cells due to their natural defence system. This is sometimes to referred to as ‘cell oxygenation.’ Ozone has been studied and utilised for over hundred years to treat infections, wound and disease but still remains a controversial practice and was actually banned by the US FDA in 2003 for medical use. I still cannot find any studies or research showing how Ozone directly affects the skin. 

Myth VS Fact

Facial steaming is accessible, affordable and can be very relaxing as the steam encourages you to adopt controlled, deeper breathing. Steaming induces heat into the skin, which can help to give the skin a boost of blood circulation. The technique can potentially achieve a handful of things for the skin, but there are also some misunderstanding surrounding the power of facial steaming.

MYTH: Opens and ‘clears out’ your pores

FACT: Pores do not open and close, but can expand slightly when dead skin cells accumulate which can make them appear larger. Ageing, prolonged trauma, poor wound healing and scarring can also contribute to the appearance of large pores.

When steam is applied to the skin it softens the dead skin cells surrounding the pores to help remove them during cleansing and exfoliation methods.

MYTH: Facial steaming gets rid of blackheads and other acne

FACT: Steaming makes extracting blackheads and whiteheads easier, but in no way does it get rid of them or cause them to ‘break down.’ Because the dead skin cells are softened, less pressure will be used to extract, therefore reducing the chances of Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH.)

The theory that the Ozone function on a professional facial steamer can successfully kill bacteria and viruses has not been tested enough, or at all it seems - nor are any of these steamers are FDA-approved to back up such claims.

MYTH: Facial steaming treats sinus congestion and infection

FACT: For decades a commonly adopted method to relieve a blocked nose is steam inhalation. Breathing in moist, warm steam may help ease the symptoms associated with sinus infection and congestion, for a temporary amount of time. 

However more evidence is now surfacing that this is not the case. For example, between 2009 and 2014 a randomised, controlled trial was carried out on 961 patients who suffered with sinus congestion. The results concluded that that steam inhalation reduced headaches but had no significant effect on any other symptoms. 

MYTH: It’s great for everyone

FACT: Facial steaming is suitable for most skin types but can be disastrous for conditions such as rosacea and sensitisation. Heat can trigger all kinds of symptoms associated with temperature-sensitive skin types, such as broken capillaries, prolonged redness, irritation and visible rashes.

If your skin is known to react in a negative way when exposed to hot temperatures, I would recommend to consult with a professional first, before you decide to go full-steam-ahead (excuse the pun) with a home session. You may still be able to benefit from a brief steam, but at least your skin’s safety can be closely monitored by someone that has had great experience with this type of equipment.

One thing that is never mentioned anywhere, is the suitability of facial steamers for extremely anxious or claustrophobic clients. For some, the feeling of a constant wave of hot steam on their face, whilst lying down, can feel intense and post risk of anxiety attacks. As a professional, it is important that we maintain the client’s comfort throughout and remember that facial steaming isn’t everyone’s thing.

MYTH: It’s a low risk treatment

FACT: Facial steaming devices can get extremely hot as they are, after all, boiling water. Burns can happen if not handled with care. The professional machines can post even more of a risk, especially if used continuously throughout the day on clients – machines can fault, even catch fire (check out Kasey’s story on her amazing podcast Beauty Biz BFFs.

There is additional risk of over-heating the skin. Symptoms of prolonged redness, heat, broken capillaries can happen to anyone if the skin is applied for too long a time, or the steamer is positioned to closely. 

If carried out too often, facial steaming can compromise the skin’s barrier which can lead to an uncomfortable tight feeling, dryness and skin flaking in some cases.

How to steam the right way 

Steaming can be carried out at home or by a professional effectively if you understand its function, risk and the service is performed safely. 

Safety first

Small habits like waiting for the device to cool down completely before emptying surplus water and cleaning it will decrease risks of burning. Make sure to follow manufacturers guideline on distance between you and the steamer to prevent over heating the skin.

Know the steps The best way to steam is to cleanse your skin first, followed by 5-10 minutes of steaming. Because the dead skin cells are softened, I like to follow with an exfoliation using an acid-based cleanser afterwards. Cleanse, steam, exfoliate.

You can apply a face mask at this point, or finish with your serums and moisturiser. 

Avoid exercise on the day 

It is not recommended to exercise before or after on the day of your face steam. The heat from exercise will already have caused enough healthy circulation for your skin, and to steam as well would risk unnecessarily overheating the skin.

Follow hot with cold

The skin can feel overheated for the first minute or two after steaming, so a beautiful trick that I like to add in facials is applying a cold roller straight after. Its soothing, dramatically reduces redness and immediately reduces the sensation of heat in the skin, which can be uncomfortable for some.

Facial steamers can be a handy and useful tool to use in the treatment room and at home to soften dead skin cells and make extractions easier to carry out. Steamers come in so many variations with lots of different functions, but it is important not to get blind sighted but focus on the simplicity of what a facial steamer can actually achieve. There is little science to back up claims that steaming can get rid of blackheads, control oil production, affect the way skincare penetrates our skin and help it retain more moisture. Yet we still have been doing it for thousands and years, and will probably continue to do so, alongside many other alternative medicines and practices. Consider your skin type and safety of the procedure before steaming. Consult with a professional. Plan that facial steam today, because life is too short.  

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