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 good and make yourself feel good too. Facials that spas and salons offer would combine different procedures to produce supple, soft, and clean skin. Exfoliation and facial steaming are two of the procedures that are often selected. Some use them both while others prefer to use one over the other. 

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? By getting to know both procedures, we’ll be able to figure out their proper order. 

What Is Facial Exfoliation?

Exfoliation Brush

Exfoliation is a process where you remove dead skin cells from the topmost layer of your skin. This can be done as part of your skincare routine. However, you shouldn’t do it too often because you may end up hurting your skin.

Through exfoliation, the dead skin cells are removed and that helps brighten your complexion. It can prevent your skin from looking dull, especially as you age. As we allgrow older, cell turnover slows down. 

The skin naturally makes new cells every after about 30 days. That said, not all the dead cells completely shed off. This could make your skin look dry and flaky. These dead skin cells may also block your pores in combination with sebum. 


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 make sure not to overdo them. 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.

Charcoal Scrub

On the other hand, there are also chemical exfoliators. They 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 and are considered as gentler than physically scrubbing the face. Natura Bisse Glyco Extreme Peel is an excellent example of these products, and we reviewed it here.

The formulation of the chemical exfoliators varies and 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.

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 can also be 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 is another skincare process. This method 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 because 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

Additionally, extraction procedures can be done on some of the pores to further remove the block. While the blocks are softened, it would be easier to remove them with gentle pressure from the extractor tools or blackhead vacuums. See this article on steaming your face to remove blackheads.

See our article on what to do after steaming your face for more information.

With this procedure, the skin also softens up because it is also hydrated through the process of steaming. 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.

Regardless, these devices should also not be overused! Your skin can become dry and irritated. 

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 on 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. As you now know, they work in different ways.

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, it 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 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 also be flushed out. 

Most people would advise exfoliation be done 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 the 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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