DIY Herbal Face Steam for Congestion

April 8, 2020  —  by Katie WellsMedically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Walker, MD

Ever had a cold or congestion and instinctively inhaled the steam from a mug of warm tea or taken a steamy shower for the benefits? Depending on what you were drinking, this could have had benefits other than just the temporary relief the steam provided. The steam technique is a great one to keep in mind if cough or congestion strikes this year.

Benefits of an Herbal Face Steam

Besides the soothing feeling of warm steam on the face during illness, there are two additional benefits worth noting, especially when you add herbs to the mix:

Improve Skin

Steam is often used in spas as part of a facial treatment. Facial steams are touted for their ability to open pores, soften skin, and improve circulation.

Ease Congestion

I’ve used herbal steams for years for their ability to soothe coughing and congestion during illness. If I catch a cold, I often do an herbal face steam before bed to help me sleep.

I found mentions of this type of facial steam in some of my old natural remedy and homesteading handbooks. It turns out that this remedy may have been used as far back as Ancient Egypt in public bath houses and private residences.

Steam Inhalation for a Cold

The best part about herbal face steams is that they take literally three minutes to prepare (unlike the longer process of making elderberry syrup). They are also very simple to make with herbs you probably already have in your kitchen (unlike the ingredients for a more obscure remedy like dit da jow).

Herbal Face Steam Recipe

This simple facial steam bath with the added benefits of herbs can ease discomfort from a cold or cough

Author Katie Wells


How to Prepare

  • Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a large pot and bring to a boil. Alternately, if using a bowl, boil water in a tea kettle or pot and pour into the bowl.

  • Fold a towel in half and place it on a sturdy, heat-proof, flat surface like a counter or table.

  • Place the pot or bowl on top of this towel.

  • Add any combination of dried herbs you desire, stir well, and cover with a lid for 1-2 minutes.

Herbal Face Steam Instructions

  • Remove the lid and check the temperature of the steam to make sure it isn’t too hot for your face.

  • Lean over the pot and cover head with a towel to create a tent, letting as little air escape as possible.

  • Slowly breathe in the steam for up to 10 minutes. I find it helpful to try to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth at first and then eventually try to breathe in and out through the nose to loosen congestion. If needed, let any mucus fall into the pot (yes, I know it is gross, but the pot can be washed!).

  • When finished, pour out the liquid and herbs in the pot (never reuse!) and thoroughly wash the pot. For skin benefits, I also like to wipe my face with a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water after a face steam to tone skin and remove anything that has loosened from the pores.


  • Use as many or as few of the above herbs as you’d like. Using them all will obviously result in a more potent herbal steam.
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