What Is Hair Steaming? The Deep Treatment Natural Hair Gals Should Know

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If you’re looking for more ways to pamper yourself (and really, who isn’t?) then you might want to strap in and learn about hair steaming. This hair treatment has been around for ages in salons, but you might’ve missed out on it. Whether you use a professional steamer or go the DIY route, there are many benefits to getting the service done to your natural hair. We tapped two experts to explain why hair steaming should be a part of your wash routine.

What is hair steaming?

It’s exactly what it sounds like: applying steam to the hair and scalp. The moist heat opens up the hair’s cuticle and allows your conditioning treatments to penetrate deeper into your scalp and strands. As a result, any moisturizing ingredients found in your go-to masks are absorbed more fully.

While all hair types can benefit from this treatment, it’s especially beneficial for natural gals. “Hair steaming is a deep conditioning treatment that can be used on any hair texture, but it is typically used when deep conditioning natural hair,” says Carlisha Duffey, stylist and owner of Southern Girl Natural Hair Studio in Topeka, Kansas.

Got it. But is steaming actually good for your hair?

Yes and yes. While some people may be wary of using heat, hair steaming is essential for curls and coils. “These treatments are good for natural hair because curly hair often struggles to retain moisture,” says Duffey. “Deep conditioning using steam gives a client’s hair and scalp the best chance at moisture retention, strength and conditioning—particularly if the hair requires more protein.” Still not convinced? Here are some other benefits of hair steaming:

  1. It hydrates *and* absorbs moisture. This is the main benefit of hair steaming. As Tish Clark, stylist from Phormula 708 Studio at Sola Rochester Hills in Michigan, points out: “The steam adds hydration to the hair and scalp once it penetrates through the hair shaft. It's especially beneficial on problematic areas lacking a lot of moisture.”
  2. It softens and smooths hair. The treatment strengthens brittle and frizzy hair, so you get better curl definition and volume over time.
  3. It promotes healthy hair growth. Both stylists mentioned that steaming encourages healthy blood flow and circulation. It also improves elasticity to prevent future breakage and split ends.
  4. It improves scalp health. The steam allows for a deeper clean. It helps remove product buildup, dirt and oil from your scalp. (A great help for people with chronic dandruff or an especially greasy scalp.)

How is hair steaming done?

Typically, hair steaming is done at the salon by sitting under a hooded steamer. However, there are a few methods and tools you can try at-home.

  • A heat steamer. Like a facial/clothes steamer, but for your hair. Salons usually stick with a hooded or a tabletop steamer (similar to a hooded dryer), which is a favorite for Clark. “My favorite is a hooded steamer because it encapsulates the whole head. The table-top steamer is more concentrated and blows the steam out, which is helpful for detangling hair,” she adds. But if you’re doing it at home (and don’t have the $$$ or space), you can invest in a handheld steamer instead.
  • A warm towel. After you apply a treatment, pop a towel into the dryer for a few minutes, take it out and wrap it around your head for 10 minutes.
  • A deep conditioning cap. Similar to a heated towel, place your deep conditioning cap in the microwave before popping it onto your head. Clark says this is the best option for an at-home treatment because of how close the steam penetrates the hair and scalp. And if you tend to get restless sitting under a hooded steamer, a cap is a great alternative since you can move about freely with it on.
  • Steam from your shower. This is the easiest way but the least efficient. It’ll steam hair, but to a much lesser degree, since there’s no direct contact like the other options.

How to Steam Your Hair at Home

Once you pick your preferred method for steaming your hair, here are four quick steps to follow for healthier, more hydrated locks.

  1. Use a hydrating shampoo. Before you steam, you want your hair to be clean and completely wet. Wash your hair like you normally would and rinse thoroughly before moving on to the next step.
  2. Apply your treatment of choice. For the hair steaming process to work to its full potential, Duffey recommends consulting with a stylist to choose the right products for your hair. Depending on your needs, this can range between a hot oil treatment to a hair mask and/or a deep conditioner. (Our routine includes Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment, Mielle Organics Babassu Oil & Mint Deep Conditioner and Curls Blueberry Mint Tea Scalp Treatment, in case you’re wondering.) Once applied, wrap all your hair up and secure it with hair clips.
  3. Start hair steaming. Both stylists recommend steaming for 20 to 30 minutes depending how dry or damaged your hair is. On that note, do not to go beyond 30 minutes. Clark cautions against exceeding 30 minutes of steaming because it can lead to over-moisturizing and/or over-exposure to heat, which can cause damage.
  4. Rinse out treatment and finish with a regular conditioner. Once you finish your wash and steam, proceed with the rest of your routine as usual.

How often should you steam your hair?

Hair steaming should be an occasional treatment. For some, overdoing it can actually cause more damage because your scalp is either receiving too much moisture or too much heat exposure. That said, both stylists we spoke to recommend bi-weekly or once a month steaming depending on your hair type or texture.

Who should consider hair steaming?

If you’re dealing with dryness or damage, hair steaming is the way to go. More specifically, people with low porosity hair, color-treated hair or relaxed hair can benefit from adding steam to their hair care regimen because it helps your hair take in as much of your hydrating products as possible.

Who should avoid hair steaming?

People with scalp conditions and/or skin sensitivities like eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis should consult with a dermatologist or a medical professional before trying out the service.

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Chelsea Candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...
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