From the steam baths favored by the Ancient Greeks to the eucalyptus-scented locker rooms at modern posh gyms, steam rooms have been used for ages to cleanse skin and help muscles release and relax. Steam is also an essential step in a spa facial, and any aesthetician worth their salt will put clients under the steam machine before they begin exfoliation and extractions.
Instead of paying a cool $200 for a pro facial, why not steam at home? It's as good as any celebrity treatment for getting glowing skin—and all it takes is 10 minutes and a few natural ingredients.
"Generally speaking, steaming warms the skin and relaxes the pores," explains Head Aesthetician at Mario Badescu Spa Elena Arboleda. "When administered before extractions, steam helps to soften the mixture of sebum and skin cells that clogs pores. The softer this matter is, the less pressure the aesthetician needs to apply to release it from the pore—this results in a facial that is more thorough and gentle." Plus, steam opens up pores and makes them more receptive to any treatment or lotion applied immediately after.
Gently heat also increases circulation, and combined with the moisture of the steam and oil mixture, it can hydrate and revive dry, tired skin. If pimples and blackheads are your biggest fear, steam simultaneously opens up pores while loosening debris (read: the gross dirt, grime, and makeup that gets left behind even after washing). Plus, steam is hot–duh–which brings on sweat and helps skin naturally eliminate toxins.
For a basic steam facial, bring a quart of water to a boil. Find a spot where it's easy to sit or stand with your face over the steam bath, like the kitchen table or counter. Pour the hot water carefully into a ceramic or glass bowl. Avoid using a plastic container as it can release chemicals when it's heated—and you definitely don't want to breathe in those fumes!
Position your head six to eight inches away from the water and drape a towel over you so it completely covers the bowl and basically creates a little tent, keeping the steam from escaping. Steam can actually get hot enough to create a burn, so if it feels uncomfortably hot, add a bit of cool water to the bowl.
Herbs and essential oils have medicinal value—you can add them in after the water boils for a bit of relaxing aromatherapy. Check out some of our favorite combinations by skin type here.
Lavender + Thyme + Chamomile
Best for: combination skin
Add lavender oil, fresh or dried thyme, and an open bag of chamomile tea to hot water to help clear and soothe inflamed skin. Oily complexions respond really well to steaming, so let the steam do its job to open up pores even if you feel like you're sweating a lot. Afterward, swipe a cotton ball doused with witch hazel across skin and immediately follow with serums and moisturizers. Products will penetrate more deeply after a steam, making them a little more efficient and beneficial.
Rosemary + Rose + Fennel Seeds
Best for: dry skin
Overusing steam can leave dry skin even more parched, so nourishing rosemary and rose help keep skin plump and moisturized even after 10 minutes under the towel. Plus, fennel seeds are loaded with antioxidants and can help perk up aging complexions. After steaming, rinse your face with cool water and apply a heavy moisturizer or facial oil immediately.
Eucalyptus + Geranium + Orange Peel
Best for: all skin types
This bright and cheery mix is especially beneficial for those with allergies or asthma. Eucalyptus, a natural antibacterial, helps open up airways and stimulate the immune system, while geranium and orange peel balance the complexion. Finish off your steam with a splash of cool water and a light moisturizer.
Refreshing meditation plus glowy skin? If all it takes is ten minutes and a steamy bowl of aromatic water, we're in.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho