7 Benefits Of Cold Showers For Skin & Hair + How Long It Takes To See Results
Soft, hydrated skin and hair start in the shower: Your cleansing habits can set the stage for either a moisturizing, nourishing routine or one that leaves you parched dry. (We'll go ahead and assume you prefer the former.) Now, there are quite a few shower hacks you can rely on to secure silky strands and a glowing complexion—in addition to selecting a gentle, barrier-supporting cleanser, you can also opt for an ice-cold rinse.
We know, we know: If you love a long, spa-grade shower experience, shivering under the spray doesn't sound too enjoyable. But if you can get up the gumption to turn the faucet to freezing (if only for 60 seconds!) you may wind up with a bunch of beauty benefits. Here's a running list of reasons to withstand the chill:
Keeps the skin moisturized.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Hot water has the ability to strip the natural, protective oils and lipids from your skin. When you compromise that lipid barrier (which makes up about 50% of your epidermis), tight, itchy, uncomfortable skin isn't too far behind. "In contrast, cold showers can soothe itchy, irritated skin, as the cold water does not dissolve away these oils," says board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., FAAD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics.
Just know that cold water isn't exactly a cure-all: "If you take a hot shower first, your skin's natural oils will already have been stripped off—the cold shower will not bring these oils back," says Rodney. Your best bet is to reintroduce those oils with a high-quality moisturizer after the fact.
Soothes irritated skin.
If you're already facing some skin irritation, a cool shower will feel oh-so-soothing. "It can reduce irritation, itching, or redness, helping to calm atopic conditions," says board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of SKINFIVE, as a cold temperature can help reduce inflammation. Think of how you might use a cool compress to soothe a sunburn, eczema flare, or any other bout of irritation—a cold sensation can help dial down the discomfort.
Can lead to more youthful skin.
"Cold water also stimulates the tiny muscles in your pores to give you tighter, firmer, more youthful skin," notes Rodney. We need way more research on the topic, but we do know that cold temperatures can constrict the blood vessels in the skin (a process called vasoconstriction), which can reduce swelling and inflammation—it's why experts frequently recommend using ice under your eyes to get rid of dark circles and puffiness.
Shamban concurs: "The circulatory boost also gives an immediate, albeit temporary, improvement in the appearance of pores and skin tone," she says. "The tightening of pores can also temporarily help to reduce any ingress of pollutants and thus improve the skin's ability to function and respond to free radicals or fight cellular injury."
Keeps the scalp supple.
One more time for the people in the back! Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils. Now, the skin on your face and body tends to receive most of the attention, but let's not forget that your scalp is your skin, too—when the skin up top loses its protective oils, it can result in tension, itchiness, flakes, ashiness, or redness.
That's why celebrity hairstylist Annagjid "Kee" Taylor recommends a cooler shower to keep the scalp happy and hydrated. "Cold water, unlike hot water, does not dry out the naturally lubricated barrier that provides protection for your skin and hair, known as the sebum layer," she says. Bonus points if you incorporate scalp-specific oils (like jojoba oil) to further moisturize the skin: "Jojoba makes an excellent moisturizer for dryness since the active components of jojoba oil mimic the body's natural oils due to its waxy nature," notes naturopathic doctor Tess Marshall, N.D.
Cold water not only helps the scalp retain its moisture—it also seals down the hair cuticles and helps lock moisture into the strands themselves. "The cool water temperature closes and strengthens the hair cuticle, which can result in stronger, healthier hair over time," notes celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons. He especially recommends pairing a cold blast with deep conditioning treatments, as you want to immediately seal all of those five-star nutrients into the hair shaft.
Increases smoothness & shine.
A little hair care anatomy: Your hair's cuticles make up the outermost layer of the strand, and they lie slightly over one another—sort of like shingles on a roof. Heat and steam can open up these cuticles and make it easier for moisture to seep in (which is where hot oil treatments earn their acclaim), but if they stay lifted, your strands will be more prone to brittleness and frizz.
You want to seal down the cuticle after the hair soaks up all that moisture—when your cuticles are flat, your hair is healthier, shinier, and smoother. And that's where a cold shower comes into play: "Taking a cold shower leaves room for the cold water to close up your pores and cuticles, which helps keep the moisture in and creates smoother, shinier, and less frizzy hair," says Taylor.
We're primarily focusing on the beauty benefits here (if you're interested in how cold showers can benefit your health, we suggest reading our full guide), but we'd be remiss not to include an overall longevity angle.
In summary: Brief yet intense cold exposures have been associated with a balanced inflammatory response1, improved sleep2, muscle and joint health3, and mood support4—it's why longevity experts love a good ice bath. And according to longevity expert and Harvard geneticist David Sinclair, Ph.D., a cold plunge also activates the production of brown fat5: "Brown fat is super healthy," he says on the mindbodygreen podcast. Brown fat burns energy to create heat and manage body temperature, which is why it's activated by colder temperatures.
How long does it take to see benefits?
If all these advantages make you curious about a cold blast, you might be wondering how long (and how often) to stand under a shiver-inducing spray. Short answer? It depends on the benefit you're after:
- For skin: Generally, a tepid water temperature is best throughout the entire shower, says Shamban, so you don't strip the skin of moisture. Also be mindful of how long you spend under the spray: "Showers are best limited to five to 10 minutes with 60 seconds left to a cold burst," she notes. "This is enough time to cleanse and hydrate the skin without stripping and receive the benefits of the cold boost."
- For hair: Both Taylor and Fitzsimons suggest switching to cold water whenever you're rinsing any product out of your hair. "For those who may prefer a warmer shower, no need to worry. You don't have to keep the shower cold for the duration of your routine," Fitzsimons says. "Instead, I would recommend making the water colder right when you are rinsing out the product from your hair, in order to seal the hydrating properties for super-soft strands."
- For cryotherapy: To reap the benefits of cold therapy at home, Sinclair suggests a cold blast in the shower at least once a week. Just turn the nozzle as cold as you can, and stand under the spray for a few minutes. After those few minutes are up, turn the faucet up to high heat and let the shower steam up (an impromptu steam sauna!). Just be careful not to actually stand under the scalding water, as you can burn your skin.
Any warnings or risks?
Cold showers are generally OK for all skin and hair types to handle. "The concept of cold therapy or skin icing is not a new one. In fact, it has been around for centuries," Shamban reminds us. However, "those with highly sensitive skin may be more sensitive to extreme temperatures," she notes, including extreme cold, so make sure your body can handle the chill. On that note, you should always listen to your body, especially if you're new to the practice—a freezing shower might be shocking for a few seconds, but it should never feel severely uncomfortable.
Both Shamban and Rodney also recommend steering clear if you have an irregular or arrhythmic heartbeat, as you don't want to put additional unnecessary stress on your heart. If you're at all concerned, make sure to speak with your doctor before testing the waters.
Finally, remember to slather on a body lotion after stepping out of the shower, regardless of water temperature. Those water droplets—whether hot or cold—can easily evaporate off the surface of your skin and leave it even drier than before.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.