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Archive for Steam Showers & Skin

Steam Showers, Skin & Acne

One of the most common questions we get is ‘are steam showers good for my skin?’ or ‘will a steam shower treat acne?’  This is a hard question to answer, because skin and acne are not very well understood and the steam shower offers some obvious benefits (after a steam shower you can actually see the sebum coming out of your pores, and after a week of using a steam shower it becomes obvious that your pores have less gunk in them) with some possible problems (acne is an inflamatory disease, and steam / hot water do tend to irritate the skin).

Anyhow, the folks over at acneresearch.org seem to think that steaming is good for your skin only if you don’t have active acne.  If you do have acne, it’s simply not worth the risk of inflaming it.  If you don’t have acne, then enjoy the steam because it will make your skin look even better.  If you are getting ready to do blackhead extractions (and this isn’t really recommended), you’ll most likely find that you do less damage to your skin by steaming before you go to work.

Why Steam Showers Clean Out Your Pores

It’s all about wet heat.  When you are exercising outdoors or trying to detoxify yourself in a sauna, chances are you are in an environment with 0-40% hummidity.  This means some or all of the water on your skin immediately evaporates.  Water evaporating causes a chemical reaction that ultimately creates a cooling effect.  This is the true purpose of sweating — to cool off the body.  And sweating works very effectively, but it’s purpose isn’t to clear out your pores.  When sweating creates a cooling effect near your body, your pores shrink, even if you are still overheating.  When your pores are smaller, sebum (the gunk that comes out of your pores) tends to clog up and get stuck.  There are other reasons your body can produce excess sebum – a change in eating habits, chemicals in the water or air, hormonal changes induced by working out or aging.  Cleaning out your pores is about opening them up and keeping them wide open.  If your pores stay wide open for about 15-20 minutes, the combination of steam, sweat, and the open pores will induce the sebum to flow out. 

When you use a steam room, you are in a hot environment with 100% hummidity.  Your body reactions to the 100% hummidity by opening up the pores and sweating profusely, but the body isn’t designed to live in an environment with 100% hummidity.  The body evolved in the African desert, an environment that typically has 20-30% hummidity.  When your body sweats and the sweat can’t evaporate (in 100% hummidity, water cannot evaporate because there is no room for it in the air), there is no cooling effect.  The body reacts to this by opening up the pores and sweating more and more.  Instead of cooling off, the pores stay open, sebum and other gunk, toxins, and polutants flow out, and your skin becomes clear.  It’s not an overnight process – in general, you need to steam about 5-10 times to notice real effects.  But the benefits are real, there is no doubt.  Take a look in the mirror after your first session of steaming and you will see the sebum coming out of your pores.  Excess sebum clogged in the pores causes acne, rough skin, and discolored skin.  Many people deal with this by taking unnecessary oral anti-biotics, or using harsh creams on the skin.  These creams (Retin-A, Benzyl Peroxide, Glycolic Acid, among others) turn your skin red, cause free radicals that age your skin, and worse.

This might beat acne, but it’s a far worse solution than sitting in a steam room for 3 times a week and watching your skin turn naturally beautiful without any chemicals or anti-biotics.

To summarize, steaming is all about the wet heat.  When you hop in a steam shower, your body sweats profusely but cannot cool itself off.  After about 20 minutes, wide open pores will have excreted a bunch of junk that makes your skin look worse.