I get it: There are legit so many hair steamers on the market right now that it’s kinda impossible to know which ones are worth the $$$ (and, like, which ones are worth skipping). So rather than leaving you to read the fine print of every Amazon review (or, worse, buy one that lowkey destroys your hair), I went ahead and got a professional hairstylist to share everything you should know about hair steamers for natural hair—including, yes, how to actually use them correctly. Keep reading for the ultimate guide, plus the best steamers to shop RN.
Are hair steamers good for your hair?
If you ask the experts (and anyone who has tried them), the answer is a thousand times yes. When you stick your head under a steamer, the moist heat helps hydrate strands, promote scalp circulation, and open the hair cuticle (which can help amp up the effects of your hair and scalp products, especially if you have low-porosity hair). Oh, and they’re also relaxing as f*ck. According to Anthony Dickey, hairstylist and founder of Hair Rules, hair steamers are great for four things in particular: hydrating dry hair, soothing your scalp, pre-cleansing on wash day, and deep conditioning.
“Steamers can do a lot for anyone who’s trying to get their natural, dry texture to be softer,” says Dickey. “It just makes the hair more manageable so you have more styling options.” He also adds that wavy and straight hair textures can benefit from steamers, too—particularly those with longer lengths or color-treated hair. “Everyone—regardless of their hair texture and hair type—is looking for their hair to be more manageable and shiny,” he says. And that’s where steaming can help.
How do you use a hair steamer?
If you’re hung up on exactly how to use a hair steamer the “right” way, don’t freak: “There really aren’t any real rules for using a hair steamer,” he says, especially if you’re working with a hair texture that’s naturally dry (but, hey, I like tutorials too, so if you need a visual, check out this tutorial on how to steam type 3 curls, and this tutorial on steaming type 4 hair).
There is one thing you’ll want to keep in mind though: Your steaming sessions shouldn’t last any longer than 30 minutes (in fact, most experts say 20 minutes is the sweet spot). You actually run the risk of damaging your hair bonds when you over-expose your hair to steam, so even though you might be tempted to sit under your steamer for hours on end, it’s best to set an alarm for 20 or 30 minutes max.
Once you’ve got the feeling of steaming down, though, here are Dickey’s favorite ways to use a steamer:
- As a hydrating treatment: “I find that women who are natural or are going natural also want the flexibility to wear their hair straight without heat damage,” says Dickey. “And heat damage usually happens when hair is so dry that you need excessive heat to straighten it.” The solution? A quick steam before you shampoo, which helps add loads of moisture to dry strands before heat-styling it.
- As a pre-cleanse: “A great way to cleanse your scalp and prep your hair for shampoo is by steaming with essential oils to help soften your hair, especially if it’s in a dry, tangled state,” he says. “Often, when you go straight to water and shampoo after your hair has been in a protective style, the hair matts up and dries out.” If you don’t have essential oils or are sensitive to them, try pre-cleansing with a hair oil (like Fable and Mane Pre-wash Hair Treatment Oil or Pattern Jojoba Oil Hair Serum). Gently massage it through your scalp and strands until they’re saturated, then sit under your steamer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- As a deep conditioner: Yup, you can also use a steamer after you’ve cleansed your hair—just load up on conditioner before you start and rinse it out once you’re done. “Textures that are naturally drier really benefit from the combination of steam and conditioner,” says Dickey. “Remember: The more softness and manageability you give your texture, the more you can do with it.”
How often should you steam your hair?
That depends entirely on your hair. Those with extremely dry or damaged hair can steam as frequently as once a week, whereas folks with minimal damage can pare back to once a month. At the end of the day, only you (and, okay, probably your hairstylist) know what’s best for your hair. Just remember the golden rule: No steaming for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
What is the best hair steamer to buy?
Glad you asked! There are three types of at-home hair steamers—hooded, tabletop, and capped—and it’s all about personal preference. It’s really about what feels comfortable, what you’re used to, and what you have space for. But to make things extra easy for you, I rounded up the five best hair steamers to try at home, below.
Best Hair Steamer Cap
Vicarko Hair Steamer Thermal Heat Cap
The beauty of this hair steamer is that it’s both easy to use and portable (like, no need to invest in a storage unit for this bb—it’s small enough to fit into any bathroom drawer). Just plug it in, pop it on your head, press the “on” button, and you’ll get a nice and gentle steam that pairs great with and of your fave deep conditioners.
Best Tabletop Hair Steamer
Kingsteam Hair Steamer 2 in 1 Ozone Facial Steamer
It’s definitely bulkier than a cap, but this tabletop hair steamer is a great option if you’re looking for something slightly more powerful. It spits out a nice mist when you plug it in, and the hood is large enough to comfortably hold long hair. BTW: This one also moonlights as a face steamer (if you’re into that).
Best Cordless Hair Steamer Cap
Tifara Beauty Cordless Deep Conditioning Heat Cap
Don’t feel like standing in front of an outlet while you steam? No problem, because this cordless hair steamer heats up in the microwave. Start by placing your hair in a regular shower cap (a plastic one will work just fine—you just want an extra layer between your products and the steamer), microwave the heated cap for 90 seconds, and then fit it snug on your head for 15 to 30 minutes.
Best Professional Hair Steamer
Artist Hand Professional Hair Steamer
If you’re looking for a legit salon-level hair steamer, you can’t go wrong with this wheeled option on Amazon. It’s a bit pricey, but considering it has time and temperature controls, it’s pretty worth it for people who steam their hair regularly.
Best DIY Hair Steamer
Aquis Lisse Luxe Desert Rose Hair Wrap
K, so this obviously isn’t an actual hair steamer, but it’s actually super easy to create a DIY steam—all you’ll need is a turban towel (like this microfiber one from Aquis), a processing cap, and a plastic bag. Dickey suggests putting your hair into a plastic cap, microwaving your towel until it’s warm, and then wrapping the warm towel over your hair. Finish off by sealing it all in with a plastic bag and sitting under a hooded dryer (if you have one).
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