Steam Rooms and Hair

Woman in a sauna
Photo: Billion Photos/Shutterstock
Q: How do steam rooms affect your hair? Does it damage it, or is it healthy for your hair?
A: As with many environmental conditions, steam can have beneficial effects for certain hair types, but only as long as the level and durations of exposure are controlled and kept to reasonable levels.
It also depends on the hair type being exposed. Hair that is porous will absorb moisture more readily and release it in much the same manner, and could easily swell more rapidly and thus be damaged by prolonged exposure to steamy environs.
Because of this, there are cases where steam can be beneficial, as well as cases where steam could be harmful to the hair. The key is to know your hair and know how much steam to which you should expose the hair.
If you have a problem with dry hair, taking a steam can give the hair some much needed moisture. Follow up a 15-20 minute sauna or steam bath with a good acid-balanced conditioner and cool water rinse and you could lock in the extra moisture and leave with better conditioned hair than when you arrived.
If you find that your hair is adversely affected by a sauna or a steam bath – for example if your hair becomes puffy and frizzy when steam-exposed – try using a smoothing serum (with a silicone base) or a light oil shine spray to treat the hair before you sauna, or keep your head wrapped in a towel or bathing cap to minimize the amount of moisture your hair is exposed to. Silicone serums and spray oils coat the hair shaft and prevent moisture from penetrating as rapidly (if at all in some cases). This keeps the hair from being over-saturated by the warm moisture of the steam.
Probably the greatest benefit of steam for most people is the tendency of steam baths to open the pores of the skin and allow free flow of sebum and clearing of the ducts and glands in the skin. Since the scalp is made of skin with hair follicles growing from it, a steam can help to alleviate common scalp issues, such as dryness and flaking, and excessive-oil production. The warmth and moisture help stimulate circulation and flush out toxins from the skin.
So, to answer your question: Steam rooms are like every other luxury or pleasure in life. They are best experienced in moderation and with some level of understanding of the intentions behind their use.
See also:
Do hair steamers really work?
Frizzy hair after a sauna
How can I keep my hair from drying out in a dry sauna?
Should I stay out of the steam, sauna, and pool after coloring my hair?