How Steam Cares for the Biggest Organ in Your Body: Your Skin
Adriane Berg, JD, is a leading communicator on issues of aging. A popular podcast host and blogger, she is executive director of the Kitalys Institute and a New York Times Age Boom Fellow.
Close your eyes and imagine experiencing the luxury of a steam shower, complete with the wellness benefits of nature’s oldest therapy.
Good news: This is more than a dream, and yes, you can have both.
Steaming has been used for centuries and by many cultures for relaxation and detoxification. But there is more to steaming and the skin. With other organs, such as our hearts or lungs, we may not always know trouble is brewing. But our skin is a tattletale. We can see when our skin is dry, blemished, tight, loose, sagging, sallow, hot or cold. Skin can turn yellow if you have hepatitis or red if you have a fever or pale if you have too few red blood cells.
If the skin is our body’s alarm system, steam could be our secret weapon. Here’s how it may help.
It May Help Fight Off the Bad Stuff
For more than a decade, I had been steaming with the use of MrSteam’s home steam shower system. Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I moved across the country and spent months on the road or in timeshares. No steaming for me! Frankly, I never realized how much the steam had helped my skin until I stopped including it as part of my skincare regimen. I looked a lot more wrinkled, and my vibrant skin looked blotchy.
Why would the lack of regular steaming have such a visibly negative impact on my skin? The answer is sustained steaming can help with whole body cleansing, circulation stimulation and numerous other potential benefits that may enhance wellness and wellbeing. The skin is the body’s largest organ. It makes up about 15% of our body weight and is part of a system called the integumentary system, which also includes your hair, nails and oil glands. The primary function of this complex system is to protect your body from the environment outside of you. It also regulates your temperature and excretes body waste. Without the integumentary system, toxins and bacteria could attack and even kill the cells in our body.
And that is still not all. Lower layers of your skin naturally produce Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, along with other hormones and even steroids.
So, keeping your integumentary system in top shape helps your face, body, hair and nails look great, while also detoxifying and protecting all of you, inside and out.
How does steam help this extraordinary workhorse of wellness? Let us look at all three layers of the skin and find out.
It Nourishes from the Inside Out
I believe my lackluster skin mainly stemmed from a problem with the outer layer of skin, the epidermis. The epidermis produces keratinocytes that come to the surface, get hard and create a layer of protection against germs, toxins, water and pollutants. The keratinocytes fall off constantly and can be softened by steam to help in exfoliation or sloughing off. Exfoliation aided by steam promotes skin renewal in about 27 days. The new skin is fresher and younger looking.
But there is more.
Steaming carries excess salt, grease and body waste to the lymph nodes to be expelled. A regular steaming routine may keep your pores from clogging, keep you feeling clean and has been shown to eliminate harmful toxins. It also increases the absorption of helpful face, body and hair products through the skin.
Without regular steaming, my beauty routine seemed to work less effectively. That’s because steam opens pores for better absorption of topicals. It can help increase moisture to all inner layers of your skin, making your hair more luxurious and your nails less brittle.
Further, if you exercise, you know the pain for the gain that sometimes comes with accumulating lactic acid in the muscles. Lactic acid is also found in skin tissue. In the skin, it is a hydrator, drawing moisture from the air deep into the skin. Steam heat helps circulate this lactic acid, aiding the hydration process.
Interestingly, steam also eliminates lactic acid that can accumulate when you exercise. The skin is sometimes called the “third kidney” because it detoxifies lactic acid and other wastes through sweat. Lactic acid release is one reason a steam shower makes you feel loose and helps with minor aches and pains.
It Helps Promote Circulation
The epidermis is only one-third of your skin’s story: There are two other layers. The middle layer, or dermis, contains the connective tissue that binds the skin to your muscles and bones. It is divided into two regions: the papillary region, made up of proteins and fiber, and the reticular region, filled with glands and blood vessels. The dermis looks like a road map of nerve endings and small blood vessels called capillaries.
But here is where steam comes in: Steam has been shown to help promote healthy blood flow because capillaries dilate when exposed to heat. In turn, the unobstructed blood carries nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. Healthy blood flow means taking steps to help the body fight off toxins. Dilation of the blood vessels is also why steam may provide relief of symptoms if you have the flu, sinusitis or a headache.
Most people identify steam bath benefits with just the upper layers of the skin. But what steam may do for the lowest layer of the skin, the subcutis or hypodermis, is just as compelling. This third layer of skin is made of fat and tissue. It is the layer where water is stored to prevent dehydration. It’s also where hormones are produced, along with other metabolic elements.
The subcutis also synthesizes the D hormone. Produced in the epidermis, this hormone has been identified as a psoriasis fighter. Steaming can stimulate all the functions of each layer as they work together for increased blood flow and nourishment throughout the body.
And one more thing …
Steam is an easy way to help hydrate our vocal cords. Because I’m a podcaster, this is a must for me.
Let's Steam Ahead
Now that I am settled in my new home, I am committed to putting MrSteam back into my daily routine for all of these wellness benefits. Of course, I have changed in the decade since I installed my first unit, and my new home is different from the old one. Installing the new steam unit was a learning curve for me. That’s why I started with MrSteam’s guiding principles on setting a game plan. I then graduated to MrSteam’s complete guide. Rest in confidence that if you use these tools, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a savvy steamer.