Remember in Grease, when Frenchy is serenaded to Beauty School Drop Out while women in shimmery silver negligees sway under giant heaters with rollers in their hair? This was exactly like that – except without the punchy musical number and with a pair of old black jeans and a T-shirt instead of the the snazzy nightie. (I also didn’t have rollers in my hair…) But except for that, exactly the same.
Basically, I’d been talked into trying a new nourishing hair treatment in the salon. And when I say new, I mean tried, tested and utterly established by many who are infinitely wiser (and with much softer hair) than me.
Hair steaming is a technique that’s been used for donkey’s years, particularly in afro hair salons where it’s an intrinsic part of caring for your hair. Essentially, you coat your hair in nourishing oils, apply heat (that’s where the ginormo retro heater comes in) and leave your hair to absorb all the vapours while the machine puffs behind you like a merry old smoker.
If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound especially glam, it’s a properly indulgent chance to kick back, relax and read a good book (or scroll through work emails – if you must). The best part is, you’re hair will feel approximately 900% softer* (*estimation) afterwards, which makes it the ideal antidote to frazzled, overheated, overprocessed, knackered-by-central-heating hair.
If you, too, are a steaming newbie, this is everything you need to know.
What is hair steaming?
“Steaming is the process of using moist heat to help open up the hair follicle, lift the cuticle on the hair shaft and allow conditioner and treatments to penetrate each strand to allow better absorption of moisture,” explains award-winning afro hair stylist, Charlotte Mensah. “Steaming is one of the best things you can do to pamper your hair, as the heat aids in hydrating dry hair leaving your parched hair happy.”
Consider it a facial for your hair, agrees Jack Fitzpatrick, colourist and hair and scalp treatment expert at Windle London. “It also opens the pores of the scalp to remove impurities and product build up,” he says.
What does hair steaming do and how can it help our hair
Alongside helping the moisture to deeply penetrate your hair, “steaming increases softness and can stimulate growth,” says Charlotte. “The moist heat also encourages blood flow to circulate and helps to repair damaged hair,” she adds.
It also provides the scalp with a deep clean – “this can help make styling easier as the hair will move better without product build-up,” explains jack. And, as an added bonus, “steaming can calm the scalp from skin irritations and dryness,” says Jack.
What does hair steaming involve
“A treatment oil is usually worked into the hair whilst applying steam in order to open the cuticles and allow the nutrients to penetrate more deeply,” says Jack. The benefit of the added steam is that it “allows the hair to absorb the maximum amount of moisture,” explains Charlotte, “which means that your curls, kinks and coil will be able to bend and stretch without any issues [like breakage].”
“After the steam, we deep clean to remove what has been lifted to the surface. Then we apply a deep nourishing conditioning treatment to seal,” says Jack who recommends a fine blend of oils such as Windle London’s essential oils elixir.
When is it best to steam hair (before or after washing)?
“Wash hair before you steam it, as the steaming process works best on clean hair,” explains Charlotte, plus, “your scalp could be more sensitive after shampoo,” says Jack.
How long should you steam your hair for?
Depending on the condition of your hair, you may need to leave it on longer. If you’re hair is only slightly thirsty, 10-20 minutes should do the job. If it feels more dry and damaged, leave it for a good 20-30 minutes. “The duration of your steam session is everything,” says Charlotte. “Stay put under the steamer and give your cuticles time to lift and absorb the conditioner.”
How often should we steam your hair?
This again depends on the condition. If your hair is relatively healthy, then “once a month, ideally,” says Jack. If your hair is very parched, “steam every 7-10 days,” advises Charlotte. “A weekly dose of steaming adds extra hydration to the hair and over time steam improves elasticity and moisture retention.”
Can you do it at home?
“Sure, with a heated towel or steam from the shower, you can do it at home” says Jack. “After washing, apply a generous amount of conditioner, cover hair with a plastic cap and wrap with the hot towel,” agrees Charlotte.
However it’s wise learning certain techniques from your stylist first. “At Windle London we use a twisting technique to apply the oil which involves sectioning the hair and pushing the oil up and into the hair cuticle for maximum absorption. We also go in with a head massage to promote stimulation of the scalp,” says Jack.
While a hot towel is more than adequate, for a little extra help, or for ultra devoted hair steamers, there are even tools available to help you along. L’Oréal Professionnel’s Steampod 3.0 for example is a pro tool rolling out nationwide next month that looks like a straightener and glides along the lengths of your hair depositing steam into your strands to smooth and straighten without the usual heat damage.
Are there any hair types that will particularly benefit from steaming?
Low porosity hair [which struggles to absorb moisture], colour treated hair and hair that’s transitioning from being chemically relaxed to natural, will particularly benefit from steaming says Charlotte. Basically, it will help to soften and hydrate any hair that’s “very dry, damaged, over-processed or chemically treated,” agrees Jack.
What should our hair look / behave like after it’s been steamed?
“Ultra thirsty hair will feel and look extremely nourished and glossy with a high sheen,” says Jack, “and the scalp should feel clean and calm with no itchiness or irritations,” he says.
“Over time it improves elasticity and moisture retention and makes it more manageable,” concludes Charlotte.