Well, it may surprise some of you but there is actually very little research out there including by the companies that make steamers!I have seen it all claimed, from hydrating to strengthening hair but not a single scientific paper to back these claims. The little research that there is on steaming hair is actually from work done in 1934 (ah yes, you read that date correctly, really, *1934).
The Short Story
1. Steaming hair for under 30 minutes is generally considered safe in terms of not damaging hair
2. Steaming hair is pretty similar to wetting hair meaning hair absorbs moisture and swells. It can feel smoother as a result of the swelling.
3. Steaming will allow hair to stretch a little more than wetting hair would with the same force (therefore be gentle when handling steamed or wet hair)
4. Steamed hair will remain elastic provided you use reasonable gradual force and remain under the 30 minutes.
5. Steaming over 30 minutes can induce disulphide (disulfide if you are on the other side of the pond) bonds to break - essentially, yes, steaming for long times CAN relax your hair
The Long Story - Elasticity is good for you!
Since steaming hair is really no different to wetting hair, there is just one juicy tidbit that I could pick out to illustrate.
Your natural hair is elastic and you want it to stay elastic. Elasticity means that if you stretch your hair, it should be able to spring back to its original unstretched length. Destroying the elasticity of your hair means that you are weakening it. An internal permanent rearrangement must happen within the cortex to cause it to lose elasticity.
|Steaming will allow hair to stretch more than dry or wet (cool or warm water) hair|
|If you steam hair for over 30 min , you can end up causing a permanent relaxation of the fibre|
What about steaming with hair conditioner?
As there is no actual research, my only deduction would be that it would be similar to using warm conditioner except that it would be slightly diluted by the steam. There are benefits to warming up your conditioner, although a steamer would be a pretty expensive choice - cheap and cheerful water bath works for me.
*Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Containing Papers
of a Mathematical or Physical Character, Vol. 232 (1934), pp. 333-394
Do you own a hair steamer, does it make a difference to your hair, comment and let us know how!