No matter what type of hot tool you use or how much heat protectant you slather on, straightening and curling your hair inevitably causes damage. But for those of us who love changing up our hair with heat, we're in a constant battle to make our routines as healthy as possible. One way to do that is to use a steam flat iron, which uses moisture to help silk out your strands, explains Tippi Shorter, a L’Oréal Professionnel artist.
"When you’re treating your hair, you want to think of it the same way you would when you’re thinking of an expensive fabric," says Shorter. "You’re not going to iron a silk blouse; you use a steamer. The addition of steam to a traditional iron [allows it to] work more delicately on the fabric of your hair. It adds shine, keeps hair softer, and straightens and smoothes faster with less direct heat."
The ins and outs of using a steam flat iron
When using a steam flat iron, it sounds a little like a clothing iron—you can hear the hiss of the steam as you glide the tool through your hair. The steam helps add moisture to the hair, which is helpful because heat styling usually strips moisture. "The steam really softens the hair and puts moisture back into the hair follicles before it's compressed with the plates," says Shorter. By providing moisture, the steam makes the process a bit less damaging than dry straightening.
Plus, adding moisture makes the straightening process a bit easier, explains Gregorio Ruggeri, a hairstylist and trichologist in New York City.
"If you can imagine the hair shaft being a little bit crinkly, when you're using a regular straightening iron on bone dry hair, you're just burning it into shape," he says. "But when you are using an iron, and there's a little bit of moisture, it will be easier to smooth that through."
Even if you don't have a steam iron, you can replicate this with any hot tool by ensuring there's a little bit of moisture in your hair when you're styling. "Whenever I use a straightening iron, I always make that there's a little bit of moisture in the hair so that when I'm using an iron, it will actually steam it into place," says Ruggeri. He suggests making sure your hair is about 95 percent dry before using any standard heat-styling tool.
If you do want to invest in a steam flat iron, know that you can't fill it up with tap water. "You really want to use distilled water," says Shorter. "If you need to, the next option would be to use bottled water, and the third would be filtered water, but never tap water. Tap has minerals and metals which...can ultimately ruin the mechanism in the styler."
No matter what kind of hot tool you're using, remember that heat is heat, and it's not good for your hair. Just because the steam makes the process a bit healthier, it doesn't mean you can ignore the golden rules of heat styling. Be sure you're not going over the same section multiple times in a row, using hot tools multiple days in a row, or skipping out on heat protectant.
What it's like using the L'Oréal Professionnel Steam Pod
My first go using a steam flat iron was with the L'Oréal Professionnel Steam Pod ($250). I went to the L'Oréal salon in New York City, where Shorter straightened and curled my hair using the steam pod, and then I took one home to play with on my own.
The water holder makes the tool bulky, but as someone who loves big bouncy curls, this works in my favor: I can get the same type of voluminous curls as I usually do with a 2-inch curling iron. However, this bulk makes it difficult to style my whole head. Because of where the plates sit, I can't get right up to my scalp to get my roots as straight as I'd like (I imagine this makes the Steam Pod challenging to use on short hair, too). That said, it does work really well for styling my lengths.
I also love that the Steam Pod is equipped with a removable row of fine, plastic teeth along its edges, which comb my strands as I style them. "The comb guides while the steam penetrates the hair, allowing you to use bigger sections," says Shorter. "This helps you to do your hair in much less time but with more shine and luster."
When using the comb, I've noticed that my hair is much bouncier, smoother, and shiner. I've tried to mimic this by using a fine-tooth comb and a regular flat iron, which works great for straightening, but is impossible to replicate when I'm trying to create flat-iron curls.
Overall, I notice that my hair does feel smoother when I use the L'Oréal Professionnel Steam Pod, and the comb makes it easier to get a nice, sleek style. Plus, I love knowing that it's healthier for my strands than my standard styling routine.
Additional steam flat irons to shop
The Steam Pod isn't the only steam flat iron out there. Learn about two other options below.
This flat iron combines infrared heat and steam to infuse hair with moisture and help reduce potential damage. It features rounded ceramic plates allow for straightening and curling with equal ease. A digital LCD display allows you to adjustable the temperature between 250℉ and 410℉ so you can customize your experience based on your texture. Depending on the length and thickness of your hair, you may need to refill the tank every one to three styling sessions.
This steam straightener features ceramic plates for even heat distribution and five steam vents to keep your hair enveloped in moisture. Set the steam to medium or high—or turn it off to use the straighter like a regular one. It heats between 300℉ and 450℉ and will reach 300℉ in 15 seconds.
Want to be the first to hear about the latest (and greatest) SHOP product drops, custom collections, discounts, and more? Sign up to have the intel delivered straight to your inbox.
Loading More Posts...