Should You Exfoliate Before or After Steaming Your Face?

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There are different facial procedures you can do to make your skin look great and make yourself feel good too.

Facials that spas and salons offer combine different procedures to produce supple, soft, and clean skin. Exfoliation and facial steaming are two of the procedures that are often selected. Many are now embracing these processes for home use, as well.

One question that has baffled many skincare enthusiasts about combining both procedures is the order by which they are done. Is it best to exfoliate before or after steaming your face?

In this article, we’ll look at both options, and work out when to use each technique first.

What Is Facial Exfoliation?

Exfoliation Brush

Exfoliation is a process where you remove dead skin cells from the topmost layer of your skin. This is a common part of many people’s skincare routine. However, you shouldn’t do it too often — over-exfoliation may end up hurting your skin.

Through exfoliation, the dead skin cells are removed. This helps brighten your complexion. It can prevent your skin from looking dull, especially as you age.

As we grow older, cell turnover slows down. The skin naturally makes new cells every after about 30 days, but this varies due to age and environmental factors.

That said, not all the dead cells are completely shed off. This lack of shedding could make your skin look dry and flaky. These dead skin cells may also block your pores in combination with sebum. 

Mechanical Exfoliation


There are two types of exfoliation: mechanical and chemical.

Mechanical exfoliation makes use of tools like a washcloth or a brush to physically scrub the face to remove the dead skin cells.

This type of exfoliation will also produce immediate results

Alternate treatments like sonic facial cleansing brushes including the Foreo Luna shown above perform a similar function.

Mechanical exfoliation is excellent… but it can also be easy to overdo. These products can create micro-tears in the skin, which could cause more harm than good. You can end up with sandy, grainy textures on the face.

Physical exfoliators are great but don’t go too far. It is better to use those abrasive ones on parts of the body that can handle some intensity, like the back and the thighs, as opposed to the face.

Chemical Exfoliation

Charcoal Scrub

On the other hand, there are chemical exfoliators. These may be exfoliating scrubs like the Charcoal Scrub shown above. These may also be acids like hydroxy acids or retinol, and are often called Chemical Peels.

Although acid may seem such a harsh chemical to use on skin, these are gentle acids. They are considered to be gentler than physically scrubbing the face. Natura Bisse Glyco Extreme Peel is an excellent example of these products, which we reviewed here.

The formulation of the chemical exfoliators varies. They are also likely to have enzymes that help with skin renewal. The chemical exfoliators could be included in face washes, serums, or toners.

The chemical exfoliators break down the dead cells or the components that keep them attached to the skin, causing them to shed.

The key to using chemical exfoliators is to let them stay on the skin long enough for them to do their job. Usually, about 10 minutes is enough. 

Exfoliation shouldn’t be overdone. In fact, many suggest using them just once a week, with occasional higher frequency if needed.

Don’t try to use exfoliants every night. They are harsh and can cause your skin to dry out if you don’t use them properly.

What Is Facial Steaming 

Using a Facial Steamer

Facial steaming makes use of wet heat in the form of steam to increase the temperature of the skin. Contrary to popular belief that the pores open up due to heat, the pores don’t open up — they are already open.

It’s just that some pores are blocked with a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum. 

You can use a variety of products to produce the steam, anything from a bowl of hot water and a towel to a home facial steamer, all the way to a professional facial steamer. Note that a humidifier is not the same as a steamer.

Through facial steaming, these blocks soften and can now be flushed out to the surface.

Extractor Tool Kit By Boxoyx

After the steaming process, extraction procedures can be done on some of the pores to further remove blockages.

While the blockages are softened, it is easier to remove them with gentle pressure from extractor tools or blackhead vacuums.

With this procedure, the skin softens up because it is hydrated through the steaming process. When the blocks are removed and the pores are more open, anything that you place on the skin after the steaming procedure can be better absorbed by the skin. 

Steaming the face can be done in a variety of ways. It can be as simple as using a bowl of hot water and positioning your face over it.

Just make sure to keep your distance because you just want to gently heat your face and not burn it. If you stick your face too close to the steam, it can irritate the skin and cause redness. 

Alternatively, there are facial steamers available in the market like the one above by Lonlove that are made for that purpose.

Many of these steamers use nano ionic technology to improve facial hydration.

Like exfoliation, these devices should also not be overused! Your skin can become dry and irritated — make sure you clean your steamer from time to time. 

A steaming session typically lasts for about 15 minutes, and you should aim for once a week. This will be enough to help increase the temperature of the skin and help remove blocks in the pores.

Some find that adding herbs to the facial steamer helps.

After the steaming session, you can choose to use extractors to better remove the blocks in the pores. Just be gentle in using them to avoid irritating the skin, and note that you should be extremely cautious with extractors

Should You Exfoliate Before Or After Steaming The Face?

Looking Away

We’ve now covered the basics on exfoliation and facial steaming. Which should you do first?

Exfoliation focuses on removing the dead skin cells that are still attached to the topmost skin layer. These dead skin cells may also be towards the opening of the pores. As such, exfoliation can also help unclog the pores by working on the dead skin cells located at the topmost layer. 

Steaming helps remove not only the dead skin layers, but also other things that can block your pores like excess sebum. It does this by increasing the temperature and moisture level of the skin.

That temperature allows the oils to be flushed out of the pores because they are softer. Additionally, the steaming procedure may also cause you to sweat so the clog or other impurities on the skin can be flushed out. 

Most professionals suggest gentle exfoliation before steaming. Exfoliating before steaming helps get rid of all the dead skin cells that could already be removed.

This prevents further clogging of the pores as the pores could dilate with heat.

If you don’t wash your face after the procedure, those dead cells could block the pores again. 

In the process of steaming the face, it is highly advised to at least wash your face to remove any dirt or dead cells that can easily be removed from the skin. Exfoliation can take that cleansing step a notch further.

However, you have to remember that you shouldn’t exfoliate too harshly or you could create cracks on the skin. The heat from steaming could further irritate those cracks on the skin. 

That said, there are still some who feel that steaming should be done first before exfoliation. This is because some feel that the exfoliators work better if the pores are already dilated, or when the blocks are removed.

This can also be true, especially for chemical exfoliators. 

Regardless, the combination of both procedures can give you better-looking skin. By removing the dead skin cells, your skin will look brighter. Your pores will also look smaller and less obvious when they are not blocked. This will give a more flawless skin complexion. 


Exfoliation and steaming are both great skincare procedures. The order in which they should be done depends on your preference. Most find that exfoliating before steaming produces the best results.

We would suggest starting with this process.

Once you know how that feels, you can try switching the order, and see if that happens to work better for you.

What is most important is that you shouldn’t overdo either of the procedures to prevent irritating your skin. Many find that using a face mask after steaming helps.

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