Skin-Care Tips

The Benefits of Cold vs. Hot Showers, According to a Cosmetic Dermatologist

Stocksy/Dylan M. Howell Photography
There’s something so restorative about taking a shower. Whether you prefer long, steamy stints or quick cold ones, showers have the ability to make you feel better stepping out than you did stepping in. But have you ever stopped to wonder whether the temperature you rinse off in plays a significant role? With so many people standing on either side of the debate, we turned to dermatologists and beauty experts to explain the benefits of cold vs. hot showers.

Cold vs. Hot Showers

1. The Benefits of Cold Showers

From an energy and mood perspective, cold showers are known to wake up your body in the morning (even promote metabolism!). What’s more, research has even shown that cold showers can have an anti-depressive effect on the body thanks to the skin’s many cold receptors. “A cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an antidepressant effect,” the study author revealed.

Of course, the benefits of cold showers stretch beyond just energy and mood (though, those are undoubtedly impressive side effects). According to NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, cold showers can boost skin health and appearance, too. “When cold water hits your skin, the body increases blood flow to maintain the core temperature to protect vital organs, while constricting circulation near the skin,” she explains. What’s more, Dr. Green says that cold water has the ability to relieve itchiness, decrease inflammation, and tighten pores—all of which lead to a clearer, brighter, younger-looking complexion.

Your hair can also benefit from cold showers. “The benefits to your hair and scalp cannot be understated,” says R+Co director of content Adam Federico. “Cold water closes pores, as well as the cuticle layer of the hair. This can help to lock in moisture, as well as help to keep frizz and flyaways to a minimum. A cold rinse is particularly helpful for coarse/curly hair because of its ability to keep the cuticle from swelling (and becoming frizzy).”

Additionally, Federico says that some people believe that cold showers can even promote hair growth. “Because cold water is beneficial to both the hair and the skin, cold water can help to promote scalp health,” he explains. “Scalp health and hair health are closely linked, and while a healthy scalp doesn’t always equal healthy hair—an unhealthy scalp does always equal unhealthy hair. Because of that, there are some people who think that cold showers can help to promote/stimulate hair growth—but to my knowledge this has not been scientifically proven.”

Along with all the benefits of taking cold showers, Dr. Green says that there’s one risk (Apart from, you know, initially shivering while showering). “A cold shower can put a strain on your body because the body’s natural response to cold water is to put the circulatory system into overdrive,” she explains. “If you have heart disease, [you may want to] avoid cold showers because the cold water puts additional stress on your heart and could lead to irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. Additionally, cold showers are not advised if your body is already cold. It can increase the amount of time that your body will take to warm back up.”

2. The Benefits of Hot Showers

Hot showers have their benefits, too! “Steam or a hot bath opens up the pores and makes it easier for dirt and toxin build-up to be cleaned out, leading to reduced blemishes and clearer skin,” Dr. Green says. “Hot showers also relax muscles and release tension in the body to induce a feeling of tiredness to improve sleep.” Additionally, Dr. Green points out that some bacteria can’t tolerate temperature increases, “so hot showers are great if there’s suspected exposure to bacteria to reduce chances of infection,” she says. Lastly, she points out that hot water also promotes circulation to the exposed area, which can expedite healing.

The problem is, unlike cold showers, hot showers come with a fair share of negative side effects, too. “In truth, hot water can be very damaging for the hair,” Federico warns. “That’s because it serves to dehydrate it, plus it swells the strands and lifts the cuticle, making hair appear frizzier than it actually is.”

Hair isn’t the only thing that suffers from hot water, though. “Hot water can damage your skin and can worsen skin conditions such as eczema,” Green reveals. “The heat can make your skin red and irritated. It also dehydrates your skin, removing essential oils and moisture from its surface.”

Cold vs. Hot Showers: The Takeaway

Although most people prefer hot, steamy showers, Dr. Green says that lukewarm or cold showers are best across the board. “Both cold and hot showers come with their own benefits,” she says. “It depends on what goals you are trying to tackle and your preference, but a shower that is lukewarm is typically best. Cold showers can help reduce itchy skin and retain natural oils in the skin and hair, while hot showers help relax muscles, improve sleep, and can even relieve respiratory symptoms like congestion.”

Since hot showers are particularly damaging for the hair and skin, though, Federico recommends always opting for cold water while bathing. “If you aren’t able to stand a cold, five-minute shower, do a cold rinse at the end—and make sure that you saturate the hair and scalp with the cold water,” he says.

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