Colds, steam and sensitive skin.
April 19, 2017 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I caught a cold and have been fairly miserable for the past couple of weeks. To soothe my irritated throat from what is is likely post nasal drip, the doctor who visited me today suggested I inhale steam plus a combination of essential oils twice a day- problem is, my skin is quite sensitive and always comes out dehydrated from a hot shower, so I'm wondering whether this much steam may do more harm than good to my face. Is there any way to use steam on sensitive skin without damaging it?

More details that could be useful:
-The blend of essential oils that I should use is sold as is in my local pharmacy especially for this purpose, so no worries, I'm not the one to pick and choose said ingredients or their quantities. It contains fairly standard stuff for colds- eucalyptus, pine, thyme, rosemary.
-I don't suffer from rosacea, but I do worry about the chance of strong steam causing broken capillaries and such- though I'm not positive of the source of such information and its truthfulness.
-My skin is combination- a bit dry, quite a bit acne prone {hormonal kind especially} and light.

My idea is to cut it down to one time per day, namely at night and to let the water cool slightly before starting the treatment, maybe keeping my face at a fair distance {30 cms? I have no clue} for 5 minutes only, and shielding it with a towel, leaving only my nose free. Unfortunately I don't have any moisturizer I like/trust now or I could have applied that too as a barrier of sorts. Any ideas would be appreciated.
posted by opalshards to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
I have rosacea so I sympathize. I prefer to run a steamy shower and sit outside the shower just breathing for 10-15 minutes rather than sticking my face into a heat source, and that means I can easily dab my face with a cool washcloth.

It's really the humidity that helps, if you have access to a humidifier (either cool or steam) you can run while you sleep, you'll probably get better long-haul benefits anyway.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:03 PM on April 19 [5 favorites]

I have a big bean-bag chair I put in the bathroom for times like this. A couple of bath sheets and a book to read and I'm set for a steaming. I get in the shower, and afterward I sit and let myself air dry. Having a ceiling fan / heater helps.

Can you borrow a humidifier for the essential oils? Also, can you get fresh or dried herbs and wrap some in a handkerchief to breathe? I usually put Vick's Vapor Rub on a facial tissue and breathe as needed. This can be done anywhere.

How much water are you drinking? Staying hydrated, breaking up the croup, flushing out what ails you -- you know the drill. Sometimes I add some honey and/or lemon juice to the water. Earaches are my misery.
posted by TrishaU at 6:20 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]

I have super sensitive skin, and steam doesn't bother me at all. I find it super helpful when I'm stuffed up from a cold or allergies. I can't really explain it, but steaming is totally different than showering.

I boil some water, pour it into a mug, cover my head with a small towel, lean in close, and inhale.

I'd avoid the essential oils though...those always irritate my skin.
posted by radioamy at 6:46 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's the steam that dries out your skin - it's probably the hot water stripping your skin of its natural oils.

The easy way to test this is to boil some water in a kettle. Put a large heat-safe bowl or pot on your kitchen table. Pour the hot water into the bowl (with essential oils if you like). Hold your head over the bowl and put a towel over your head, draping it so that your head is tented over the bowl, if that makes sense. Breathe in the steam for a bit. Wish you had put on a good podcast before starting and make a mental note for next time.
posted by bunderful at 6:46 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]

I had a lot of upper respiratory infections and the like growing up and the first line of soreness defense for the weeks that would follow the entry-level treatments would be running a hot bath in a closed bathroom and letting that humidity percolate in my swollen tissues as I deeply breathed in and out for as long as I could tolerate it. Most of the time, I fell asleep in the bathroom because I finally had relief. Not sure if you have any allergies but my grandmother also made us kids swallow a mixture of lemon and local honey (more lemon than honey if I could handle it) and that had its own effect in opening up some of the surrounding crud on the way down either by waking up my sinus areas or lubricating my throat. An adult version of that could be a hot toddy, but you can also forget the alcohol and just use apple juice and spices to make a similar version.

The humidity and warmth is the key, here. I never had luck with humidifiers growing up but the bathroom thing was a sure bet in my book.
posted by missh at 6:55 PM on April 19

A doctor does not recomment that people inhale oils. That is bad for the lungs. Oils do not belong on lung tissue.
posted by Oyéah at 7:23 PM on April 19 [8 favorites]

Post nasal drip for two weeks mid-April makes me think seasonal allergies, not lingering cold. Is there any reason (like you're not in a location where there's pollen this time of year) this could be ruled out? They can just start one year even if you haven't been vulnerable before. I'd try a Benadryl (faster acting than the long term stuff like Claritin or Zyrtec) before I'd try steam with essential oils with the issues you're worried about. A sore throat has been my biggest allergy symptom this year.
posted by Kriesa at 7:42 PM on April 19

If you have sensitive skin I wouldn't let essential oils anywhere near it. The steam is what does the trick, the oils aren't very good for you afaik.
posted by fshgrl at 8:56 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]

Get antibiotics or start taking Goldenseal tincture (I recommend alcohol based) and just do plain steam.

Also, get a different doctor.

It sounds like you have some form of bronchitis or pneumonia, and even if it is seasonal allergies, you need a MEDICAL opinion. You are beyong essential oils at this point.

Please do more than steam and some drops (I am fully herbs and stuff, but what you describe gives me concern. New doctor and real meds. Stat.)
posted by jbenben at 9:04 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]

Facial steamers work well enough for the money , colds are caused by virus not much available works on virus , use a moisturizer after the steam, drink plenty of water, go easy on oils they can irritate tissues one drop of oil per cup of water, there is an anti viral oil, oregano,that you can add sparingly , best to under dose oils .
posted by hortense at 9:27 PM on April 19

I have very sensitive skin and have done radioamy's method twice a day, with no issues (I would be careful with the essential oils though, which I never use). It does not have the same drying effect on me that a hot shower does. I do dry my face off and lightly moisturize afterwards as needed. If I were you I would do the breathing steam twice a day, not once a day, to better treat the medical issue.
posted by gudrun at 4:56 AM on April 20

Do you like sheet masks? You could put one on to protect your face.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:05 AM on April 20

Part of the reason chicken soup is good for helping sick people feel better is that the saltiness that we taste as well-seasoned is pretty close to the right amount of saltiness that our body needs for many respiratory processes. Essentially chicken soup is palatable saline solution with added protein. The saline is important - as you've experienced, just water will dry you out during a hot shower, and it's even worse if you try to do a nasal rinse with plain water, for example. So my suggestion to you is to inhale the steam of salty things. A mug of hot broth, or mix a bunch of Epsom salts into steaming water, or using a saline solution in a humidifier. That should be much more gentle on your skin as well as inside your nose and throat. Drinking a warm liquid slowly and keeping it close while you sip will help maybe more than just steam, and it will keep the steam fairly contained.

Be careful with essential oils, they are really easy to use wrong and irritate you further, but I did just help myself get over a bad cold with some similar oil blend to what you describe. I put a few drops on a cotton pad and waved it near my face a bunch. No actual inhalation, but it helped to open up my stuffy nose which helped me breathe better and feel less exhausted.

You might try wearing those big plastic safety goggles (like what you get in highschool science class, you can buy them for a few bucks at any hardware store and target etc) to protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
posted by Mizu at 9:10 AM on April 20

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