Regularly “indulging” in cold showers doesn’t sound like a beauty secret. Actually, it sounds like a nightmare. But like so many other unpleasant-seeming practices (wheatgrass shots, raw food diets, running in pants that make running even harder), spending a few minutes under a flood of chilly water has major health benefits that might just outweigh the temporary discomfort. Might.
We aren’t making this up: Iconic beauty (and so much more) Katharine Hepburn swore by cold showers for maintaining her health and great skin. “Exhilarating!,” she said of the habit. Miranda Kerr also extolled the virtues of a “super cold” shower. “It feels so invigorating and is so good for your scalp and your face; it really wakes you up,” Kerr explained. (Well, it will wake you up, that’s for sure.)
The celebrity endorsements are indeed corroborated by actual medical doctors, including NYC-based dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, though she does recommend tepid water over frigid temps. “Hot water disrupts the skin’s natural oils, removing its natural ability to ward off dryness and irritants,” says Dr. Bowe. “Lukewarm water is much more gentle on the skin.” It can even help to tighten pores and reduce inflammation, including under-eye puffiness.
Additionally, it’s not just an old wives’ tale that cold water will make your hair shinier. “A cool rinse closes hair cuticles, boosting shine and locking in moisture,” Dr. Bowe agrees. “Extra-hot showers,” on the other hand, “can dry out your scalp and create dandruff.”
There are even more benefits of a cool shower beyond the numerous physical improvements: “Cold shower hydrotherapy” is recommended by medical professionals to patients with depression and anxiety as a naturopathic approach to mood improvement. Research has shown that lowering the brain’s temperature with cold exposure has “neuroprotective and therapeutic effects,” activating the brain’s release of norepinephrine, the adrenal hormone that helps people with depression to feel more “up,” naturally. Pretty cool—and even if you don’t struggle with depression, the cold exposure can work as a great mood-lifter for winter blues. (That is, once you get out of the shower’s path and safely into a warm pair of sweatpants.)
Verdict: While that scalding shower certainly feels good, especially in the winter, we’re missing out on the many great things that suffering through a cold shower can do for our bodies and brains. Start out at a comfortably warm temperature and turn it down to 68 degrees as quickly as you can tolerate—and try to keep it going for two or three minutes. At least we’ll have our tears to keep us warm as we shiver under the shower head.