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What Facial Steaming Does - And Doesn't Do

Nicki Zevola's picture

Let's face it—I'm a girl's girl. I love designer fashion, hip new restaurants, and yes, even luxe spa treatments. But as a skin care blogger specializing in the science of beauty treatments, I had to wonder during a recent facial—do most people really know what they're paying for? Here's the lowdown:
 
What You Are Paying For
At about 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), the temperatures reached in a facial steaming session are designed to make you sweat. The increase in humidity boosts the water content of the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of the skin). This has been found to aid some acne sufferers, as the increase in moisture levels softens the surface layer of dead skin cells, increasing the rate of cell turnover. However, it should be noted that for others with acne, their skin gets worse after facial steaming, as the heat appears to increase the activity of their oil glands. Unfortunately, the only way to know which camp you fall into is to try.
 
The heat also dilates the blood vessels and increases circulation to the skin.  In turn, this process gives your face a warm, healthy glow.
 
What You are Not Paying For
Unfortunately, many people believe that facial steaming opens and closes the pores, enabling skin care treatments to penetrate deeper into the pores. This is false. Pores only appear to be more open when your skin is steamed because the combination of heat and moisture swell up the skin cells, making the entire region appear larger. When the temperature is lower and the moisture dries, the pores appear to "close" again. But in reality, the heat and moisture have not affected the pores at all. For the record, agents that have been proven to decrease pore size include photodynamic therapy and the retinoid tazorac.
 
Facial steaming also does not help dry skin, rosacea, or fungal infections. In fact, it may be harmful to all of these. After steaming the skin, the evaporation of the water vapor dries out the skin, so a moisturizer needs to be used afterwards, especially for dry skin.  As for rosacea and fungal conditions, steaming can be a disaster, exacerbating both conditions.
 
Bottom Line
Facial steaming is only worth it if you have normal to oily skin.  It may be effective for some with acne—for others, it may make the condition worse.  However, do not get facial steaming if you have excessively dry skin, rosacea, or fungal infections.
 
What are your thoughts on facial steaming?

Read more from Nicki at Future Derm, or follow her on Twitter. 

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