At their most basic, facial steamers and humidifiers do the same thing; they produce a mist of water. But that’s as far as the similarities go. From there, these are two quite different machines with two different purposes.
Sometimes however, depending on the kind of facial steamer or humidifier you have, you can cross-use them. That is, use the facial steamer as a humidifier and the humidifier as a facial steamer.
Facial Steamers vs. Humidifiers: How They Work
Facial steamers are small compact machines with a contoured top where you rest your face. The steamer comes with a small tank that holds just enough water for 15-30 minutes of steaming.
Facial steamers produce steam by heating water in the tank. So the steam comes out hot. The moist heat is what cleanses gunk, oils and dirt off your face. It also makes the skin softer and more permeable, which improves absorption of water and nutrients from your facial products.
Facial steamers are very basic in terms of functions. Most have just one button for switching it on and off. Others provide an extra button for changing the amount or temperature of steam.
Humidifiers are bigger and a bit more complicated.
They have to be bigger because they need to hold more water. Even the cheapest humidifier will last a few hours and most can even stay on overnight.
Another major difference is how they produce steam. While there are humidifiers that use heat, just like facial steamers, to produce a warm mist, many new humidifiers are increasingly relying on ultrasonic technology.
This is where sonic vibrations break up water into a fine mist. Since there is no heat involved, the resulting ‘steam’ is cool.
Humidifiers come with a variety of settings including a humidistat (to set your desired humidity level), fan speed, mist output control and timer.
Most humidifiers also make use of a fan to spread the mist as far as possible around the room. Facial steamers don’t have fans.
Using a Facial Steamer as a Humidifier
Yes, you can use a facial steamer as a humidifier but it won’t be a very good one. Since there is no fan to spread the steam around the room, you can only humidify a very small area.
So unless it’s in a small room, a facial steamer won’t be very effective as a humidifier. There is also the time thing. It will last at most half an hour before you need to add more water.
Facial steamers can also be a safety hazard if you have children around. Remember the steam is hot and can easily burn someone if they get too close.
So while you can theoretically use a facial steamer as a humidifier, it’s not very practical. You are better off just buying a proper humidifier. There are plenty of affordable ones that are much safer and more effective than a cross-purposed facial steamer.
Using a Humidifier as a Facial Steamer
This one is even more impractical than the above scenario and possibly dangerous.
The only case where it might be possible is if you have a heat-based humidifier. The heated steam will have the same cleansing and hydrating effect on your face as the steam from a facial steamer.
But you won’t enjoy the comfort of a contoured opening where you can rest your face. There is also the risk of the steam containing harmful bacteria. Facial steamers come with strict cleaning instructions. You have to disassemble and clean the machine after every use.
Your humidifier may not be as clean as a facial steamer which means the steam may contain harmful bacteria. Some facial steamers even go as far as integrating a UV sanitizer, something you are unlikely to find in a humidifier.
In most cases however, you cannot use a humidifier as a facial steamer. More and more humidifiers today are ultrasonic. That means they produce a cool mist which doesn’t have the same skincare benefits as warm steam.
Similarities are few between a facial steamer and a humidifier. While there a few scenarios where you can improvise it is best and safest if you use them for their intended purposes.
If you don’t have a facial steamer, I have a suggestion. Add boiled water to a bowl and place it on the table. You can add a drop or two of your favourite essential oil. Position your face a safe distance above the hot water and place a towel over your head to trap the steam.
It’s not as effective as a facial steamer but it’s a whole lot more practical than using a humidifier.