Should We Be Cool With Taking Cold Showers?

Is taking cold showers voluntarily really a thing?

January 2, 2018
img Cold Showers

While the cold shower is long-known for its libido-stymieing properties, the topic of voluntarily lowering the temperature of your water has recently become, well, hot.

It seems that everyone from YouTubers to health bloggers, and even perhaps someone you live with, is testing the benefits of cold showers. Considering all of the acclaim it has received, it’s difficult not to jump in on this trend.

However, we’d be remiss if we forget the fact that it is a cold shower. Instead of spending a few minutes of your day basking in hot water and letting your cares slip away, you’ll be freezing, probably shivering, and cursing the water that’s traipsing around on your skin.

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But are the benefits worth the terror? Here we examine if, just like champagne, showers are better on ice.

Hair and Skin Benefits

Cold water showers can make you glow so hard that J. Lo will be jealous. From its color-complementing abilities to its cuticle-calming charm, even harmed hair can get a heavenly helping from some hardly-heated H2O. And your skin can get a heaping of this help with a dash of cold to remedy some cold-weather woes.

Forget what you’ve heard, your hair likes it cold.

Looking to get your hair luscious, smooth, and fabulous enough to star in its own shampoo commercial? If so, taking a cold shower may be your ticket to stardom.

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You may not have known this, but your hair loves cold water. It has a thing for the way the chilly liquid wraps itself around each strand, leaving it close to frozen. But it’s not because your hair secretly wants to be a polar bear; your hair likes cold water because of how it makes it look.

Cold water flattens ruffled cuticles—the outermost part of the hair shaft—and seals them, helping to keep in moisture. The result is hair that looks smooth, shiny, and healthy. And since warm water helps the cuticle to open, which allows the shampoo and conditioner to do their jobs, it’s a good idea to give your coif a final rinse with some cool water.

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You’ll come out of the shower feeling a little more chilly than usual, but one step closer to landing a prestigious hair modeling contract. Well, maybe not, but it will still look pretty dang luxurious.

Cold water knows that color that good isn’t meant to fade.

Those who dye their hair have a love/hate relationship with warm water. Although it does a fantastic job of removing buildup and other material that can make your hair color look less than vibrant, it can also suck the hue right out of it. So along with your gorgeous color going down the drain, so will the money you spent on getting it to look that way.

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Instead of using color-fading warm water, go for the cold, says long-time hair dye enthusiast Macey Milstead.

“Whenever any water touches my hair, it has got to be cold—and I mean freezing cold,” says the stay-at-home mother of two. “This prolongs the vibrant, unnatural colors I dye my hair with.”

Milstead has long been a fan of bright and bold shades and finds that certain colors are more difficult to maintain than others.

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“Currently, I am a hot pink beauty,” the Atlanta resident says of her hair. “It is one of the fastest fading colors. If I use hot water, the colors bleed so fast. If I use cold, the water comes out virtually clear when rinsed.”

The chilly water also helps to keep her hair shiny and reduces the amount of damage it endures, says Milstead.

Cool water can stop your skin from being so extra and just chill out already.

If the idea of freezing cold water against your skin doesn’t exactly make you feel warm and cozy, you’re not alone. After all, the point of taking a shower is to be comfortable and surrounded by all that steamy goodness. But no matter how amazing that warm water feels, it’s not doing your skin any favors.

As our external barrier breaks down, the skin becomes more prone to irritation.

“Hot water tends to strip natural skin oils and moisturizing factors from the out layer (epidermis) of the skin,” says Tyler Hollmig, MD, director of Laser and Aesthetic Dermatology at Stanford Health Care. “After the hot shower water evaporates, the skin is left dry, flaky, and is prone to rashes and irritation. This is one of the major reasons that eczema often flares during the winter.”

But eczema sufferers aren’t the only ones who experience issues while using warm or hot water when bathing: Just about everyone is affected.

“A colder, drier ambient climate, coupled with the temptation to take a long, hot shower, reduces the skin’s ability to keep itself fit and moist,” says Hollmig. “As our external barrier breaks down, the skin becomes more prone to irritation.”

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Instead, Hollmig recommends taking lukewarm or cold showers for 10 minutes or less, as the cooler water temperature is less likely to damage the skin’s external layers. And skip heavy-duty exfoliants and aggressive use of the loofah, as well. Although they work well at removing dead skin, they can wreak havoc on healthy skin, too.

Psychological Benefits

It may sound crazy, but taking a cold shower is thought to come with psychological benefits.

Bye, bye, blues.

After a long, hard day, one of the most enjoyable and relaxing activities a person can partake in is a nice, steamy shower or bath. But if you’re washing yourself with warm water, you might not just be washing away some stress.

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The bad news is depression affects more than 16 million American adults each year according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The good news, however, is that taking a cold shower may decrease the symptoms.

According to a study published in Medical Hypotheses, cold showers can provide anti-depressive properties because of the effect they have on the sympathetic nervous system and the chemicals that are released in the brain during the shower. And because of the cold receptors in the skin, the icy water will send electrical impulses from the peripheral nerve endings to the brain. This feeling, says the study, may counteract depression.

Who needs coffee?

Sure, warm showers in the morning feel good, but are they good for your energy level? Warm and relaxing showers cause you to do just that: relax. The steamy water makes your brain and body think it’s time to snuggle up and get your chill on (not temperature-wise). But when you’re just waking up, this is likely the opposite of what you want, as a relaxed body is more inclined to hop back into bed than to take the day on with guns blazing.

Cool or cold showers can be invigorating by releasing endorphins and increasing heart rate …

That shocking little wake-up call of cold water will cause your body to experience an adrenaline rush, which can result in an energy boost. And it can leave you feeling good, too, says Catherine Forest, MD, family medicine physician at Stanford Health Care.

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“Cool or cold showers can be invigorating by releasing endorphins and increasing heart rate,” she says, “which some people find appealing.”

So, the next time you’re contemplating sleeping in and potentially losing your job, hop in a chilly shower instead.

Overall Health Benefits

Cold showers aren’t just good for your hair, skin, and mind. They can also improve the wellness of your entire body.

Your body + cold water = a match made in circulation heaven.

Having good circulation in your body means you’re getting enough blood, oxygen, and nutrients to all of your organs. When things aren’t running as well as they could, you may experience tingling, pain, muscle cramps, and numbness, which is a sign that certain parts of your body aren’t getting the amount of blood they need to perform optimally.

Cold or coolness can decrease inflammation from injury … by increasing blood flow in the body as a whole.

These issues, however, aren’t anything a blast of cold water can’t fix, or at least possibly improve. Poor circulation is actually a symptom of something else going on in your body. In order to completely eliminate poor circulation, you’ll need to find out the underlying cause. But until then, cool water on the skin may do the trick.

Treating yourself to a cold shower causes blood to surround your organs, which may improve your health. It also helps your arteries pump blood more efficiently, which is good for your heart and the rest of your body, as well. Cold showers may also help with inflammation and injury.

“Cold or coolness can decrease inflammation from injury—although site-specific cold’s usually recommended—or by increasing blood flow in the body as a whole,” says Forest.

Wash away excess weight.

And if cold showers haven’t already worked their way into your heart, this might do it: These potentially uncomfortable plunges may help you lose weight.

Oh yes, shivering in the shower can stimulate weight loss, but it’s not because of the teeth-chattering cardio you’ll endure. It’s because of your new best friend, otherwise known as brown fat.

Your body contains two types of fat: white fat and brown fat. White fat takes up real estate in your body when you take in more calories than you burn. It’s responsible for making your clothes feel too tight and problem areas on your thighs, neck, waist, stomach, and arms. Basically, it’s the bad fat.

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Fortunately, there’s someone else in your body who wants to kick that white fat to the curb: brown fat. Just like with cholesterol, fat has a good form and a bad form. Brown fat is the good form, as it insulates your body. And just like goose bumps, this fat is activated by exposure to cold temperatures. This means that spending time under cold cascading water can encourage healthy fat to form.

Want to take the plunge?

Although we’d like to tell you that jumping straight into a bone-chilling shower is going to be a cake walk, we can’t if we’re being honest. If you’re not a “jump in and get it over with” kind of person, start by ending your wash with a short little blast, and increase the torture, er, time, with each shower.

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Yes, it will probably be shocking, and yes, there’s a chance you may hate every second of it. But when you experience the potential health benefits that spending just a little part of your day colder than you care to admit can have, you will likely think it’s worth it.

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