When your skin is at its most dried-out, pale, and tired, a steam treatment can bring back an unseasonably healthy glow. How? Moist heat hydrates skin, boosts circulation, and brings oxygen to the facial area. It also promotes skin clarity, but not because steam opens pores. "That's a common misconception," says Barbara Close, founder of New York's Naturopathica Spa and author of "Pure Skin: Organic Beauty Basics." "Pores don't open and close -- they're a set size." Steam loosens debris and softens skin, she says, so pores can unclog and appear less prominent.
Together with Close, we've created an at-home herbal steam suitable for most skin types. Dried lavender, calendula blossoms, and geranium essential oil tone and balance the skin, while their light, floral aromas calm the senses. Of course, the beauty of an at-home treatment is that it can be customized. Add dried chamomile flowers to your herbal infusion to soothe irritated skin, fresh rosemary to balance very oily skin, or fresh parsley to help heal acne. If skin is severely broken out or inflamed, however, avoid steaming, as steam may aggravate these symptoms.
Herbal Steam Tools
1/3 cup dried lavender blossoms
1/3 cup dried calendula blossoms
4 to 5 drops geranium essential oil (Pelargonium graveolens)
Herbal Steam How-To
1. Add dried lavender and calendula (plus any additional herbs of your choice) to a large French press or teapot. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the herbs and steep for about 10 minutes.
2. When the herbs are finished steeping, fill a clean bathroom sink halfway with very hot water. Pull up a chair that will allow you to hang your head over the basin, about 6 to 8 inches from the water. Press or strain the herbs, then add the herbal infusion to the water. Add geranium essential oil.
3. Drape a large bath towel over your head and shoulders to create a "tent" over the sink and steam your face and neck for 3 to 5 minutes. If the water cools, add hot water as needed to produce more steam.
4. After steaming, splash your face and neck with lukewarm water and pat dry with a clean, fluffy towel.
5. All skin types, especially mature skin, will benefit from a post-steam facial massage to keep skin moist and soft. Simply apply a few drops of a light oil (such as avocado or apricot kernel) to your fingers, then gently massage your forehead, cheeks, chin, and neck using small, inward circles.
Text by Donna Garlough; photo by Victoria Pearson