Cold showers: Cool or cruel? Here’s when to take them and why

While a cold shower on a hot summer’s day can be refreshing, other times they can be jarring and downright dreadful. But it’s really a matter of knowing when to reap the benefit of a cold shower, and when to avoid one!

So, what are the benefits of having a cold shower, when should you take one and when are they downright cruel? Here are five great opportunities for a cold shower, and five situations in which you should avoid them.

1 – In the mornings

Okay, we agree with you – standing under a spray of freezing water as soon as you wake up is not the most pleasant of feelings. But one benefit of a cold shower is jumpstarting your sleepy body in the morning. The sudden shock of cold water will activate the stress hormone, adrenaline, and increase your heart rate and speed up circulation and oxygen delivery to your brain and tissues. That’s what wakes you up, fast!

Don’t be cruel: If you have cardiovascular ailments, it may not be the best idea to jolt your body into wakefulness. The sudden spike in your heart rate might have dangerous consequences if you have coronary heart disease, hypertension, or other disorders. In this case, it’s better to ease into your cold shower by starting with warm water and gradually shifting to a cooler temperature.

2 – When the weather is hot

The body’s core temperature is regulated by different mechanisms controlled by an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. One such mechanism is rerouting blood flow to and away from your skin when the temperature of the environment changes.

When the weather is hot, blood vessels dilate and blood flow increases to the skin in order to release body heat. This explains why your skin feels warm and looks flushed on hot days. On the other hand, in cold weather, blood vessels constrict and blood flow is rerouted away from the skin in order to keep heat inside the body, leaving your skin pale and cool to the touch.

You’ll benefit from a cold shower in hot weather because as the cold water touches your skin, it sends signals to your hypothalamus that the outside environment is no longer hot. The blood flow from your skin is then pulled back, and you feel cooler.

Don’t be cruel: It probably goes without saying, but avoid cold showers when the weather is already cold! Freezing showers in chilly weather will make your blood vessels constrict to prevent body heat from escaping through the skin. This decreases circulation and will make you feel even colder.

3 – After a workout

A punishing workout may push your muscles to the limit, and perhaps even damage a few. Taking a cold shower post-workout constricts your blood vessels around the strained areas. This reduces the swelling and inflammation of joints and muscles after a punishing workout. You’ll also experience less pain from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the coming days.

In the long term, the benefits of getting your body used to cold showers can improve circulation in general. Regularly bathing with cold water pushes your circulatory system to work harder to pump blood around the body and bring your temperature up. This can help make your heart and blood vessels more efficient, even when you’re not under the cold spray.

Don’t be cruel: Don’t take cold showers if you’re sick! When you’re running a fever, your hypothalamus is already having a hard time stabilising the rising temperature inside the body compared to the external environment. Dunking your body under cold water isn’t going to help! In this case, it’s better to take a sponge bath with lukewarm water. A tepid sponge bath also reroutes blood flow away from the skin and lowers temperature, but it will do so without making your temperature drop too quickly the way a cold shower would.

4 – To Keep your skin smooth and soft

Hot showers can be harsh on the skin, as hot water strips away the layer of natural oils on the skin’s surface that is responsible for retaining moisture. And if you take hot showers too often, your skin won’t have time to replenish the lost oil before the next shower strips the new layer away. As a result, your skin feels raw, dry, and even itchy post-shower.

Cold water won’t remove the oil on your skin as quickly as hot water can, so take cold showers instead to preserve your skin’s natural oils and prevent your skin from drying out. Cold water tightens your pores as well, ensuring dirt won’t enter them and cause blockages. Lean into the benefits of a cold shower further by using milder soaps and patting your skin dry instead of rubbing when you hop out of the shower. Finally, moisturise with soothing lotions to lock in the moisture and keep your skin soft and supple.

Don’t be cruel: If you must shower with hot water (such as in the winter), don’t stay in the shower too long to avoid drying out your skin. Transition into a cold rinse to close your pores when you finish.

5 – To keep your hair tame and manageable

Much like hot showers strip away oil from your skin and leave it dry and cracked, washing your hair with hot water also weakens it. In contrast, cold showers preserve the oil on your hair, so your strands stay strong and frizz-free. The roots of your hair can also be weakened by constant hot showers, leading to frizzing, curling, and split ends.

Warm water is good when shampooing or conditioning your hair, as it opens the hair cuticle and the pores of your scalp. This allows the nutrients from your hair products to seep in. But when it’s time to rinse, stick to cold water! Cold water closes the pores and hair cuticle and thus doesn’t allow dirt to seep in and cause blockages that could lead to greasy hair, frizz, or dandruff. This way your hair stays smooth, shiny, and manageable.

Another benefit of cold showers is improving the circulation to your scalp. This increases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your hair and supports healthy hair growth.

Don’t be cruel: Avoid cold showers when your hair is particularly dirty or greasy. In this case, using warm or hot water will help to really lift the dirt off your scalp and hair shafts. Just make sure to condition well after shampooing to restore the oils on your hair, and to rinse with cold water.

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