Stepping into a freezing cold shower may not be anyone’s idea of a pleasant way to start the day—but what if it could actually be good for your health? As it turns out, cold shower benefits are numerous! They have more health perks than you’d think—beyond just cooling you down during hot summer days, of course.
The act of immersing yourself in cold water, in fact, is considered a method of cryotherapy, or cold therapy—a general term relating to using cold for treatment, says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., a board-certified internist and an expert in the fields of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, sleep, and pain. The term can “apply to ice packs, coolant sprays, ice massage, and whirlpools or ice baths,” he says (and even those viral “polar plunges” you might have seen vides of online!)—all of which are often used to alleviate pain, especially by athletes.
Though more research is needed on the effects of cold therapy—including cold showers—on your health, experts say that there is promising research that shows its potential to improve skin, reduce inflammation and pain, and even boost immunity. So if you’re wondering whether to lower the temperature of your usual hot showers, here’s what experts say you need to know about cold showers—including its risks, safety, and how to best take one to fully reap its benefits.
What are the benefits of cold showers?
1. Boost alertness.
It’s true: Starting your day off with a cold shower might actually help wake you up and help make you feel more energized. “[Cold showers] raise epinephrine, and thus alertness, as part of the body’s short-term modifications to deal with the threat of the cold,” explains Dr. Teitelbaum. In fact, in one non-peer reviewed study conducted in 2022, people who immersed their bodies in cold water for five minutes reported not only feeling more alert afterwards, but also more enthusiastic and active.
2. Soothe and calm skin.
Cold water can have calming and soothing effects on the skin, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Specifically, it can “constrict blood vessels to reduce redness and decrease skin puffiness,” he says —making it especially beneficial if you have a flushing condition like rosacea, or inflammatory conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
“Cold showers may be thought to help with skin as cool temperatures can help to reduce swelling, inflammation, and the overall appearance of redness,” explains Marisa K. Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “Since redness can occur as a result of enlarged blood vessels, when the blood vessels constrict, as a result of exposure to cold water, it reduces the appearance of redness.”
The constriction of blood vessels in the skin—a process called vasoconstriction—can also help reduce swelling and inflammation, helping to improve dry, itchy skin. “Cold showers can relieve the itch associated with certain skin conditions like allergic contact dermatitis, hives, sunburn, and eczema,” says Brendan Camp, M.D., a double board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in Manhattan and Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Furthermore, cold water is less likely than hot water to dry out your skin (and hair!) and strip it of its natural oils, he says.
3. Decrease inflammation and pain.
Beyond just helping to relieve inflamed and irritation skin, cold showers have been shown to generally decrease inflammation all throughout your body—and even help alleviate pain, according to Dr. Teitelbaum. “It is suspected that the cold both decreases inflammation and also numbs the pain receptors in the skin,” he says.
In fact, this very same reason is why it’s recommended to apply ice packs to injuries—and why you’ll often see athletes apply coolant sprays or take ice baths after a workout, or to help recover from sports injuries. Indeed, research does show that this form of cryotherapy is effective in improving exercise-induced inflammation and soreness.
4. Improve circulation.
Because cold temperatures result in the constriction of blood vessels, this can also help improve blood circulation in your body. “When the blood vessels at the surface are exposed to cold water, they constrict and shift blood flow to the deeper tissues of the skin, which may help to improve circulation,” explains Dr. Garshick. Good circulation is vital to your health, as it ensures enough blood and oxygen supplied to the body’s vital organs in order to function properly.
5. Boost immunity.
“Cold bathing has been shown to have immune benefits,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. He notes one specific study conducted in 2016, which found that people who took a cold shower for just 30 seconds a day for at least 30 consecutive days called out sick from work 29% less than people who took regular (not cold) showers. “Although it didn’t decrease the number of days that people were sick, the illnesses were milder,” he says. This suggests that cold showers could potentially decrease the severity of illness—though more research is needed on how cold therapy can bolster
What are the disadvantages of cold showers?
One of the biggest drawbacks to taking cold showers is the discomfort you’ll feel in the cold water—but there are some other potential risks to consider, too. “Water that is too cold can be harsh on the skin and lead to redness as a result of weakening the skin barrier, while other people can experience something known as cold urticaria, which refer to hives that develop in the setting of exposure too cold temperatures,” says Dr. Garshick.
Extremely cold temperatures can also lead to frost nip, a milder form of frostbite, warns Dr. Zeichner. Additionally, cold showers are not a good idea for those with Raynaud’s syndrome (or Raynaud’s phenomenon), a condition in which cold temperatures “causes constriction of blood vessels in the hands,” notes Dr. Camp.
What’s better, cold showers or hot showers?
Both cold and hot showers have pros and cons for your health. “Interestingly, hot showers can also decrease pain, by helping muscles to relax,” notes Dr. Teitelbaum. By helping relax the tension in your body, a hot shower taken right before bed may help you sleep better. Furthermore, taking hot showers can also provide relief from respiratory symptoms, as the steam from the hot water can help clear your nasal passages and loosen up phlegm.
However, there are some cons to taking hot showers, too. According to Dr. Garshick, hot water can “cause the blood vessels to vasodilate, or open up, which can contribute to increased redness, which can make acne breakouts appear worse.” Additionally, it can be “drying on the skin and hair, stripping the skin of its natural oils,” which can “potentially trigger more oil production and clogged pores,” she says.
Ultimately, whether you should take a cold or hot shower depends all depends on your personal preference—and what specific benefits you’re looking for. The bottom line, says Dr. Teitelbaum, is that both hot and cold showers can be healthy. “Simply do the one, or a combination, that feels best to you,” he advises.
What is the best temperature for a cold shower?
There is no official medical recommendation for what temperature is best for a cold shower, but generally, Dr. Garshick recommends aiming for around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. “Generally, it is best to avoid any extremes of temperature and even when using cold water, it is best to avoid icy cold water,” she says.
How long should I take a cold shower?
Some experts say that even just 30 seconds is enough to reap the benefits of a cold shower. “In many cases, even just 30 seconds to three minutes for a cold shower may be all that is needed and tolerated,” says Dr. Garshick.
Dr. Camp generally recommends a cold shower duration of 5 to 10 minutes. One important thing to remember, however, is that too long of a duration in a cold shower may be harmful to your health. “A cold shower should be ended if the skin is turning blue, which is a sign of altered blood circulation,” warns Dr. Camp. Dr. Zeichner, who recommends a limit of 10 minutes, also notes that “excessive exposure to water can strip the skin of essential oils.”
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