When moisturizing and softening our hair, most curlies have given heat or steam a try at least once. Both are useful options, but they also each have benefits for different purposes. So what are those benefits and how do you decide which one you should use?

Steam Caps

As its name implies, a steam cap relies on the use of steam to send moisture into the cuticle of your hair. Unlike direct heat, steam is a bit gentler, which is especially important when dealing with damaged hair.

How to use a steam cap

Use a steam cap, shampoo, and condition your hair as usual. You may want to use a deep conditioner if you have one or even a hot oil treatment. Cover your hair in a shower cap, then sit under the steamer for 20 to 30 minutes.

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When my stylist has me do this, I usually take the opportunity to read a good book or magazine while steaming! When you’re done, rinse your hair in cool water and pat it dry. Style as usual.

How much does it cost?

Steamers are going to be considerably more expensive than a heat cap. They cost about $60-120, so there is an initial investment, but if you were going to a salon for steam treatments before then, this is a great option. They are also fairly large, so if you are a Product Junkie with very little storage space, this is definitely something to factor in. You can find a hair and face steamer on Amazon, or if you prefer a smaller, handheld option, there is the Q-Redew Vapor Wand.

If cost is an issue (or if you’re not thrilled at the thought of being stuck under a steamer for a length of time), consider throwing on a shower cap after you apply conditioner in the shower, then allowing the heat from the shower to steam your hair as you finish the shower. I have to say, this method seems to work well with my high porosity hair and is much easier to add to my weekly regimen than finding time to sit in the bathroom under a steamer. 

If you have a hooded dryer, save on storage space by using it to DIY your own steamer. Curly girls are ever creative!

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What to use it for

Use a steam cap to stimulate the pores of your scalp, improve the elasticity of your hair, and to moisturize and deep condition, especially for low porosity hair.

Heat Caps

Steamers vs Heat Caps
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A heat cap is similar to a steam cap except that it relies on direct heat to do the job. Rather than trapping in heat and saturating your hair in moisture, a heat cap delivers heat through the cap straight to your hair.  As Lj at CurlyHue puts it, think of it as “the difference between using an iron on dry press versus steam press.”

How much does it cost?

Heat caps typically cost between $20-40. Heat caps like the Felicia Leatherwood Flaxseed Bonnet and the Hot Head Thermal Heat Cap simply need to be placed in the microwave for 1-2 minutes in order to be used. It is the less costly option of the two, and you can use a heat cap as a steam cap too. Coat your hair in a conditioner and apply a wet cloth or towel. Cover with a shower cap or plastic wrap, then sit under the heat cap.

What to use it for

You can use heat caps to intensify deep conditioning, pre-poos, and protein treatments.

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Can you use both?

Yes, you can use both. For example, you could use a heat cap for your protein treatment and a steamer for your deep conditioning treatment. But if you are on a budget, then you can use what you have to achieve similar results using the DIY alternatives we recommended above.

Why Porosity Matters

If your hair is very porous, it soaks and holds in water like a sponge. It also takes forever to dry — as much as 45 minutes to an hour under a blow dryer. If this describes your hair, you probably have dry hair that NEEDS deep conditioners and will flourish if you incorporate a steam cap treatment into your regular hair care routine. As a high-porosity curly, I can attest that my hair is incredibly soft and as smooth as silk following a steaming!

If you’re curly and of low porosity, your hair dries quickly. This means that it doesn’t react to products the way you’d expect; sometimes, products just sit there on your hair. To help your hair actually absorb conditioners and other products, steaming can be a tremendous help.

Either way, whether you’re low-porosity or high-porosity, you’re likely to benefit from steaming.

Regardless of which option you choose, if you’re going to purchase a steam or heat cap, be sure to check reviews first and save yourself loads of time and disappointment!

Do you get professional heat or steam treatments, or have you created budget-friendly, at-home steam or heat treatments? 

Tasha Swearingen


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