If a hot shower is what your body craves in the morning, you’re not alone. The majority of people crank the handle all the way up in order to feel the warm water all over their body. But did you know that cold showers should also have a place in your daily routine?
That’s right — cold showers. The ones you dread to take when you’re the last person to get up in the morning. But, if you give them a fair chance, you might find that you actually like how you feel after taking one.
Regardless of how you feel about either type of shower, research shows that both hot and cold showers have health benefits you should be aware of.
What’s so great about cold showers?
Benefits of taking a cold shower include:
- calming itchy skin
- waking you up
- increasing circulation
- reducing muscle soreness post-workout
- potentially boosting weight loss
- glowing hair and skin
Cold showers calm itchy skin
Cold showers help you wake up in the morning
When that cold spray hits your body, there’s a bit of shock. This shock increases:
- oxygen intake
- heart rate
Cold showers increase your circulation
Increased circulation is one of the top reasons experts recommend cold showers. As cold water hits your body and external limbs, it causes your blood to circulate at faster rates to maintain ideal body temperature.
In that sense, a cold shower has the opposite effect of a hot shower for someone with hypertension or cardiovascular disease, since exposure to cold temperatures triggers the circulatory system to reduce inflammation and can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Cold showers help reduce muscle soreness after intense workouts
Since cold water has regenerative properties, your muscles will relax and repair after a tough workout.
Cold showers may help boost weight loss
Some fat cells, such as brown fat, can generate heat by burning fat. They do this when your body is exposed to cold conditions like in a shower.
Gerrit Keferstein, MD, says these cells are mostly situated around the neck and shoulder area. So, perfect for showers!
Cold showers give your skin and hair a healthy glow
If you’re convinced a cold shower is totally out of the question, you might want to rethink your philosophy. Because unlike the long list of benefits that come with taking a cold shower, the list of cons is surprisingly quite short.
The cons of cold showers:
- Cold showers might not be a good idea if you’re already cold, since the cooler temperature isn’t going to help warm you up by any means. It could actually make you even colder and increase the amount of time it will take for your body to warm back up.
- They may not be a good idea if you’re sick, either. Initially, the cold temperature might be too hard on your immune system, so it’s best to ease into the cooler temperatures.
Why do we like hot showers?
If you have trouble relaxing or falling asleep at night, you might be tempted to take a hot shower to ease the stress of the day. This is a common practice for muscle relaxation before going to sleep because hot showers activate the parasympathetic nervous system which makes us tired, says Keferstein.
Other benefits of hot showers include:
- providing relief from respiratory symptoms
- helping with blemishes
- muscle relaxation
Hot showers provide relief from cold or respiratory symptoms
Standing in a hot shower with the steam surrounding you has long been used as a natural remedy to reduce cold and cough symptoms. The heat from the water and the steam can help to:
- open airways
- loosen up phlegm
- clear out your nasal passages
Hot showers help with blemishes
Hot showers can help to open up the pores of the skin, which allows you to clean out the trapped dirt and oil.
Hot showers are good for muscle relaxation
Being in hot water effectively relieves body tension and can soothe muscle fatigue.
But yes, your beloved hot shower does have some downsides. But the good news is, you don’t have to give them up completely. You just need to turn down the temperature a bit and take care of your skin afterward.
The cons of hot showers include:
- Hot showers can dry out and irritate your skin. Schaffer says the hot water causes damage to the keratin cells which are located on our most outer layer of the skin — the epidermis. By disrupting these cells, it creates dry skin and prevents the cells from locking in moisture.
- They can make also certain skin conditions worse. Higher temperatures make it easier for the skin to dry out and worsen conditions like eczema.
- Hot showers can cause you to itch. Friedman says the heat can cause mast cells (which contain histamine) to release their contents in the skin and cause itching.
- They can increase your blood pressure, too. If you have problems with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, taking a shower that’s too hot can make these conditions worse.
So, which type is better?
There are obvious benefits to both hot and cold showers, so what should you do? Well, in an ideal world, Friedman says you should take a lukewarm shower — so it’s tolerable — and apply a moisturizer to damp skin after bathing.
Another approach to try is what Keferstein describes as a contrast shower, which is an age-old technique developed by Dr. Sebastian Kneipp.
Basically, you get the water as cold as possible and stand in it for one minute. When the minute is up, you then change the water to as hot as you can handle for an additional minute. Alternate between one minute each of cold and hot for three to five cycles.
He said the health benefits come from the cold water constricting the blood vessels. This means all the blood will go to the middle of the body. The hot water will open the blood vessels and all the blood comes rushing out again. This can pump the blood completely through the muscles and organs and is great for regeneration and detoxification.