When it comes to my complexion, nothing is out of the question. Multi-step (and manically-evolving) skincare routines? Obviously. A.M. red light and microcurrent sessions and nighttime Prescription-grade Tretinoin purchased in Mexico, check and check.
So when I heard about herbal facial steaming—the age-old technique of absorbing the benefits of herbs through steam—I was intrigued by incorporating something lo-fi and totally natural into my routine. The act seems so indulgent, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get that spa-face-feeling from the comfort of your own home.
Standard facial steaming—a relatively popular practice—comes with its share of skin-soothing perks. “Facial steaming helps to unclog pores by loosening buildup (including sebum) in the pores and allowing for deeper cleaning,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose. “Steam also provides hydration and increases circulation.” The introduction of herbs only elevates outcomes, warm water extracting plant properties, steam infusing those into your skin. And as noted by Murphy-Rose, the accompanying aromatherapy can serve to destress.
The trick is selecting untainted herbs (chemicals are not welcome in our face bath) that are gentle yet robust. “The benefits that we focus in our steam are anti-inflammatory and soothing, all chosen to help reduce puffiness and calm skin,” says Jess Morelli, founder and formulator of Palermo Body, a natural beauty brand inspired by Morelli’s Sicilian grandmother and her garden. Palermo’s Botanical Facial Steam includes an organic superblend of rose hips, rose petals, calendula, comfrey, chamomile, hibiscus, dandelion root, yarrow, and elderflower. Though this concoction may sound complex, Morelli suggests simply sticking with what you would find in a soothing herbal tea—and taking the time to enjoy the process.
“Facial steaming is a sensorial experience that takes a little bit of extra time in your day, so I like to be really realistic,” says Morelli. “I really approach it as this is something to do when you really want to take an extra ten or fifteen minutes for yourself.” She also recommends going an old-school route (hot water and herbs in a large bowl) rather than adding plants to at-home steaming devices, as the material could jam up the mechanisms. (I found that opting for simplicity actually lends to the nature of an herbal steam session, making it more ritual than regimen.)
Per both Morelli and Dr. Murphy-Rose, herbal steaming should be a weekly, not daily, routine, and one best kept to 10 to 15 minutes.
“Facial steaming is one of those practices that certainly can provide skin benefit, but must not be overused,” says Dr. Murphy-Rose. “Excessive use of steaming can contribute to formation of dilated blood vessels or telangiectases.” She cautions those with rosacea or melasma should exercise extra caution around heat exposure, and all steamees to maintain a safe distance to avoid burning the skin barrier.
Last night saw me dousing dried rose buds, lemon verbena, and helichrysum in hot water, layering the bowl in a thin linen rag, and putting my face in the way of the steam. I inhaled and exhaled to a podcast soundtrack, Robin Wall Kimmerer breathily discussing the intricacies of moss while my pores and lungs drank in the natural power of plants. It was the most relaxing 15 minutes of my week, and I swear my post-steam skin felt as fresh as a silken petal.