Seeking comfort and an array of medical benefits, people have been drawn to steam since the sprawling bath complexes of the ancient Roman and Greek empires were built upon natural hot springs. While many of us use a steam shower or steam room simply to unwind, evidence suggests that our skin stands to gain much from regular exposure to steam.
Author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, Dr. Andrew Weil explains that the heat of steam activates sweat glands and our pores open to release the resulting perspiration. As sweat rises through our pores, it has the effect of flushing out toxins that have built up in the skin, an excellent treatment to combat acne. Weil calls sweating “one of our most important mechanisms of natural healing, since it allows the body to rid itself of unwanted materials.”
TLC reports that a common treatment for mild acne and blemishes is to expose the skin to steam by draping a towel over your head and leaning over boiling water. As pores open, accumulated dirt and oil is released and whatever you want to put on your face is able to penetrate deeper, making it an effective part of a facial regimen. In hopes of improving their complexion, many sweat-seekers visit dry saunas which heat up air, rather than water. Due to the lack of humidity, saunas typically must be much warmer, at 160-200 degrees, than steam rooms and showers at 110-120 degrees, which can irritate nasal passages. As such, saunas are not ideal for those who suffer from allergy, sinus, or other respiratory problems. Conversely, the condensed moisture of steam works to relieve these ailments. Steam causes us to sweat sooner and at a much lower temperature due to the high humidity. Daily Glow notes that “just as steam does wonders for cleaning surfaces in your home, the steam can help dislodge built-up dirt and grime in your pores, allowing you to simply rinse them away.”
People have been known to venture to the extremes in a vanity-powered search for clear skin, from Cleopatra’s olive oil facials to modern laser treatment. Through this evolution, the skin benefits of steam have remained consistent and accessible. Investing in a steam shower or time at the spa is certain to remain an increasingly popular choice for people, even if alternative and increasingly technological advances are made to do the same thing as simple water vapor.