On hot, humid, sticky days, a cool shower sounds pretty appealing, and as it turns out, there are health-related benefits to taking a cold water dunk. While not as aggressive as cryotherapy—a favorite of Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake—cold water’s properties can similarly boost your health.
According to New York dermatologist Michele Green, MD, cold showers can increase brain activity as well as alleviate stress and even depression. “Cold showers wake up your skin receptors, which causes increased activity to the brain,” she says. “This can increase the serotonin levels that help improve mental acuity and relieve depression symptoms.”
“Cold showers wake up your skin receptors, which causes increased activity to the brain.” -Michele Green, MD
And a cold spritz could keep you healthier in general: A recent study in the Netherlands found that on average those who took cold showers for at least 30 seconds each day for a month experienced a 29 percent decline in sick days. And two-thirds of the test group continued taking cold showers after the study wrapped. Who knew icy rinses could become addictive?
Keep reading for more on the health perks of cold showers.
How and why to opt for a cold rinse
“A cold shower can be invigorating and depending on what you are doing beforehand (like working out), could be beneficial,” says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a dermatologist in New York. “When you work out, your capillaries dilate and heat is dissipated through the skin,” she says. So when you take a cold shower, the water constricts this dilation and the blood is then kept more central. “It feels invigorating, almost like a jolt of energy,” she adds.
Mariwalla recommends a minimum of two minutes and no more than 15 minutes in a cold shower. “You don’t want to take a cold shower that is so cold that it exacerbates any kind of vascular issues (like if you have a common condition called Raynaud’s Syndrome where fingers and toes get a little blue),” she explains, adding that taking a cold shower after shoveling snow (PSA for winter) or spending time in a cool place is also not recommended.
If that seems too difficult, Dr. Mariwalla advises taking a lukewarm shower followed by a 30-second blast of cold water. “That will give you good benefits while minimizing the risk of prolonged exposure,” she says.
Hot water can exacerbate skin issues
Despite feeling “cozy”, the downside of a hot shower is visibly apparent—think dry, scaly, or irritated skin. “If you are already battling skin conditions hot showers may exacerbate the problem,” says Jordan Carqueville, MD, a dermatologist in Chicago.
“We used to think a hot shower was bad and similarly was a cold one for people with eczema or sensitive skin,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “Now we know that is not true.”
For those who suffer from the common skin condition, it’s no secret that excessively hot water and harsh products can increase sensitivity. New York-based dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon Michelle Henry, MD confirms that cold water showers are better for eczema sufferers. “Hot water strips the skin of moisture, which can lead to dryness and the exacerbation of eczema,” she says.
And there are beauty benefits
If you need a beauty-based reason to power through an icy shower, well, prepare for the plunge: According to experts, cold water can give your face a more youthful and refreshed look. “A cold shower tightens the pores and it also seals in moisture,” says Dr. Green, adding that because cold water can cause blood vessels to constrict, the face may seem less inflamed or red.
“As a go-to beauty trick, cold showers are easy to do and have an immediate effect,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “However, the effect will not be for the entire day. Just like any extreme, I advise patients to be careful and to take a cold shower in the right context.” So as the saying goes: Netflix and chill.