Steam Your Way To Clearer Skin


Whenever I get an especially fat paycheck (happens almost never), I throw all financial prudence to the wind and buy myself a treat. I bought a boiled wool sleeveless coat in the dead of winter. This spring, I treated myself to a facial uptown. I went to the same place I'd been six years before—where I bowed prostrate before my mother, begging for a facial to combat my teenage acne. When I returned a few months ago, I just so happened to have the same aesthetician, Dasha.

Per usual, Dasha had me lie down and aimed an interrogation light at my face. But instead of examining my skin, she started texting. “My mother is here visiting me for the first time, and she’s lost in Brighton Beach,” she said apologetically. “She doesn’t speak a word of English. But somehow, she keeps calling from strangers' cell phones, and I try to direct her home. I think she'll figure it out this time, but I may have to take another call.” She gave my face a once over and turned on the steamer. Then her phone started ringing, and she scrambled up to answer it, the door clicking shut behind her. A minute passed, then a few more. After a while, I began to wonder if a layer of my face would just steam right off.

Finally, Dasha burst back in, yanked the steaming device away from my face and began giving me the latest update. The call had come from a concerned contractor, who was overseeing construction near her building and agreed to drop Dasha’s mom off at home. “This could be my future husband!” she sing-songed, explaining how she was going to drop off a bottle of vodka as a thank you/pretense to meet him. “And YOU can be the flower girl,” she said triumphantly, beginning to extract blackheads.

The rest of our time together was uneventful, but I’ve been thinking about the benefits of steaming ever since. Without a high-powered steaming device, it seemed like a boost was necessary. I found that boost in the way of floral facial steaming mixes, which you can buy from any brand with two natural sounding words connected by a conjunction or—more likely—a plus sign.

I tried Mullein & Sparrow’s mix first. I boiled a few cups of water and added a handful of flower petals, miniature sticks, and herb thingies. After it steeped for five minutes, I put the pot on the floor, wriggled myself into a modified child’s pose with a bath towel over my head and began to enjoy the benefits. For many beauty products that contain herbs and flower extracts, it’s less a case of seeing-is-believing and more one of fingers-crossed-there’s-actually-a-sufficient-amount-in-here. With facial steams, that’s not a problem, as you spend 10 minutes staring into a dense, petal-y mixture. Afterward, my skin felt dewy and clear.

A week later, I tried Fig + Yarrow’s Summer Herbal Steam after a really stressful day. It includes dried hibiscus, sunflower, and clover; doing something good for my skin that’s also de-stressing is a pretty winning combo in my book. FYI, whatever product you put on after a steam is able to penetrate much deeper. So after steaming, I used a clean makeup brush to apply moisturizer—a tip I picked up from none other than Dasha herself, who said it stimulates the skin, and you don’t lose any product to your fingers.

Since then, I’ve incorporated facial steams into my regular routine; I do one whenever my skin looks particularly dull or when a hormonal-induced breakout is imminent. When it gets colder, I imagine I might up the frequency to once a week or so. I found you need a bit less of Copper + Sage’s Ginger + Cornflower Facial Steam, so it works well for frequent use. As someone who detests potpourri, I was initially skeptical of these dried-flower mixes, but I’m now of the opinion that they rival a good face mask and smell nothing like my great aunt’s sweaters. The only problem is that you can’t take a cell phone into your steam tent, so no selfies allowed—but maybe that's also a good thing.

—Alex Ronan

Photographed by ITG.

Amy Sedaris swears by a laxative facial steam. Seriously. Read why in her Top Shelf. Read more from Water Week here.