Most people like their showers long, steamy, and relaxing—so the thought of willingly standing beneath a stream of cold water seems like unnecessary torture.
There might be some magic behind this cold shower madness, though. After all, athletes have soaked in ice baths for decades—and recently, health personalities like Wim Hof have taken the frigid trend mainstream.
Regular cold exposure promises all sorts of perks, including reduced muscle soreness, boosted mood, and healthier hair and skin. Here’s what to know about dipping your toes in the cold water trend.
What Qualifies As A Cold Shower, Exactly?
Just how chilly does that shower need to be? Researchers officially classify cold showers as showers that use water under 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Colorado-based naturopathic doctor Dr. Jo Nell Shaw, D.C., N.D., though, showers that alternate between hot and cold temps (sometimes known as recovery showers or contrast showers) and showers that end with 30 seconds of more of cold water, qualify, too.
What Are The Benefits of Cold Showers?
Though these cold temps may not sound very appealing, proponents of cold therapy insist the shivering is well worth it.
1. Increased Lymphatic Drainage
Lymphatic-huh? Composed of lymph nodes, lymph channels (or vessels), and ducts, the lymphatic system “cycles fluids throughout your entire body and eliminates the body’s waste,” explains Shaw.
Sometimes, infection, parasites, and injury can cause lymphatic fluid to settle and lymph nodes to swell. Since cold showers make the lymph channels contract, “this pushes the lymph fluid and encourages it to keep moving so the waste can be drained,” says Shaw.
Obviously cold showers don’t kill the issue causing lymphatic back-up, but they can help your system keep chugging along.
2. Improved Energy
The most commonly reported benefit of cold showers? An increase in perceived energy, according to one 2016 study in the journal PLOS One.
Science explains why: The cold temps shock the body, instantaneously boosting oxygen uptake and heart rate, according to Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, M.D., medical advisor at Prescription Doctor. “The cold also causes the body to release endorphins,” he adds. Runners high without lacing up? Here for it.
3. Reduced Skin Irritation and Itchiness
The issue with your beloved hot showers: Heat causes the pores in hair and skin to open, allowing their natural oils to “seep” out and wash down the drain, explains Dr. Kemunto Mokaya, M.D. a dermatologist with Blount Memorial Physicians Group in Tennessee. The result: Your skin is left incredibly dry—and often itchy.
This can also exacerbate conditions like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and eczema. Meanwhile, “cold showers can help prevent the excessive dryness associated with [these conditions],” she says. They can also help soothe itchy bug bites and rashes.
In fact, Mokaya recommends short (less than 10 minutes) cold showers for immediate relief from psoriasis and eczema outbreaks. Just be sure to avoid any potentially irritating soaps and fragrances.
4. Healthier-Looking Skin And Hair
Another perk of keeping your pores tight and your hair and skin’s natural oils intact with cold showers: They look overall healthier. “Cold showers can help your skin and hair maintain their natural hydration levels, which are what give them a natural-looking glow,” says Mokaya. (Plus, cold water also increases circulation to the skin.)
5. Improved Immune Health
Yet another reason to hop on the cold water trend: It can do your immune system a solid. In fact, folks who take cold showers are 29 percent less likely to call in sick for work or school, found one 2018 PLoS One study of more than 3,000 people. The researchers found that just 30 days of cold showers (and just 30 seconds of frigid water) can offer benefits.
According to Aragona, cold water stimulates leukocytes (blood cells that are part of the body’s immune system), which can help build a person’s resistance to illnesses.
6. Faster Heart Rate Recovery After Exercise
In addition to feeling refreshing, a cold shower after a tough workout on a hot day may offer some legit health benefits.
One small 2019 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, for example, found that athletes who took cold showers after cycling for 45 minutes in 95-degree weather normalized their heart rates more quickly than those who did not.
Although the cold showers did not reduce core body temperature or salivary cortisol (a stress hormone during exercise), this research suggests they may help your body start to unwind after all the effort.
How To Incorporate Cold Showers Into Your Routine
If you want to give the cold shower trend a try, start by blasting yourself with cold water for the last 30 seconds of your normal shower. You can eventually build up your tolerance—to two to five minutes, total—from there, says Shaw.
To reap the hair benefits of cold showers, Mokaya recommends rinsing your hair when you turn your temperature way down, even if you initially washed it with warm water.
While some benefits of your icy blast will be immediate (like that burst of energy), some data suggests it takes two to three weeks for your immune system to adapt to the stimulus. So be calm and cold shower on.
Those who should avoid cold showers include anyone who’s pregnant or has cardiac disease, anemia, diabetes, or Raynaud’s syndrome (which can result in poor circulation to the hands or feet).
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