Cold showers are said to boost metabolism and even deliver beauty perks. But are the benefits for real? We asked doctors to weigh in.
A blast of chilly water may do the body good—but are the shivers worth it? Of all the beauty trends out there right now, this one might take the cake: searches for "cold showers" are up 75% on Pinterest, according to the social platform. Proponents claim the brrr-inducing temps help increase metabolism, boost mood, and even lead to healthier skin and hair.
But showers aren't just about getting clean (hello, relaxation!), so a cold one better offer real perks. But does it?
Well… maybe. First, let’s talk beauty benefits. In terms of your hair, "the cold will flatten the ruffled cuticles and lock in moisture to prevent breakage," says Jessie Cheung, MD, a dermatologist in the Chicago area. Cold water will initially help constrict blood vessels in your skin to temporarily tighten pores and decrease redness and puffiness, she adds. What’s more, cold temperatures boost circulation (it’s your body’s way of keeping warm). For your face, that might mean a healthy glow.
A cold shower is also said to help boost mood, but the evidence for this is slim. One study from the International Journal of Circumpolar Health looked at the practice of "winter swimming," which is popular in Finland. Their findings suggest that regularly taking a dip in cold water (the participants swam four times a week) might improve energy and overall well-being. And a 2007 study published in Medical Hypotheses found that short 2-3 minute cold showers may help relieve depressive symptoms—but the researchers noted more widespread studies on this are needed.
There has been some emerging research suggesting cold temperatures may stimulate brown fat, a type of fat that burns extra calories. In a small 2014 study, men exposed to a cold environment had an increase in brown fat volume as well as corresponding fat metabolic activity. But again, there’s not enough research to suggest that taking cold showers can lead to weight loss.
The real benefits may come from avoiding super-hot showers in the first place. Hot water might feel good, but it does a number on your skin and hair, explains New York City-based dermatologist Lance Brown, MD. "Hot water will strip away some of the natural, protective oils that your skin makes," he says, which can leave skin feeling dry and itchy and possibly exacerbate skin conditions like eczema. This is especially problematic during the winter months, when cold air outside and dry heat inside naturally make skin more parched.
The good news: "You don’t need to be in the cold for too long to see skin and hair benefits," says Dr. Cheung. "A short blast—aim for at least 10 seconds—at the end of your shower will do."
If that’s just not going to work for you, don’t feel guilty about skipping the cold shower altogether. Dr. Brown recommends short, 10-minute showers in lukewarm or mildly cold water. Lather up with a gentle, fragrance-free soap, pat your body dry with a towel, and follow up with a moisturizer on still-damp skin. Enjoy the glow!