Which is better for your skin a cold or a hot shower?

Taking a shower is a ritual. Waking up in the morning and having an evening shower has something relaxing and a way to end the day. Ultimately, it makes you feel better getting out than getting in. But have you ever wondered whether a cold or hot shower affects the body?

Your temperature sensors in the skin

Your skin temperature is around 30-36 degrees Celsius and can differ up to 12 degrees depending on the localization where you measure it. Cheek and lips are most sensitive to temperature.

There are two temperature sensors: heat and cold receptors. Cold receptors are much more superficial in the skin than heat sensors. There are more cold receptors than heat: forearm 7 spots versus 0.24 heat spots per 100 mm2.

The heat receptors are: Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1-4 (TRPV 1,2,3 and 4). There are also certain substances that make the heat stimulate skin sensors. An example TRPV1 responds to capsaicin, the active component of a hot pepper. But also allicin and diallyl sulfide from garlic, piperine from black pepper and gingerol from ginger. Heat pain starts at 44ᴼC, 1st degree burn at 48ᴼC and 2nd degree 55ᴼC.

Cold receptors are transient receptor potential cation channel M8 (TRPM8) and TRPA 1 (transient receptor potential ankyrin 1). A substance such as menthol on your skin activates the TRPM8 cold receptor. Skin temperature colder than -10ᴼC, ice crystals form in the skin cells.

A fun fact about tiger balm

Most of us know tiger balm to relax your muscles or against local muscle or weight pains. It contains two active active substances: camphor and menthol. Camphor activates heat (TRPV1,3) and cold (TRPM8) receptors. Menthol stimulates the cold TRPM8 receptor.

A cold shower

A cold shower in the morning is a pretty unpleasant way to start the day for most of us. Yet many have been tempted to adopt the habit. Soaking in cold water has purported health benefits, both physical and mental.

Origin of cold shower

The origin of a cold shower was first performed for health reasons in the early 19th century. Physicians used this to treat “insanes” to “cool hot, inflamed brains and instill fear in order to tame the impetuous will.”

In the mid-19th century, the Victorians realized that the shower had other functions, namely washing. It would be even better if the water was warm. Thus, the shower changed from an hour and a half of mental reset therapy to one that was pleasant and lasted about five minutes.

What is the effect of a cold shower on your body

A Dutch study examined a group of more than 3,000 people in the month of December. They were divided into four groups and asked to take a hot shower every day. Group one was asked to end it with 30 seconds of cold water (10ᴼC), group two to shower off with cold water for 60 seconds and group three with 90 seconds of cold water. The control group was allowed to enjoy only a warm shower. The participants were asked to follow this protocol for one month.

After a three-month follow-up period, they found in the cold water groups, they had a self-reported 29% reduction in absenteeism from work. Interestingly enough, the duration of the cold water had no effect on absenteeism. After a month, 64% continued with the cold water regimen because they liked it so much! A possible explanation for this is the stimulation of your own immune system.

This study saw a 350% increase in your body’s metabolic rate after immersion in cold water (14℃). Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy, so a higher metabolism means more energy burned. This can help with weight loss.

A hot shower

That also has some benefits for the body. Hot showers relax the muscles and in the evening it can induce a feeling of fatigue and improve sleep. Warm water also promotes blood circulation in the skin and muscles.

However, a hot shower has fewer advantages than a cold shower.

For your skin

Cold or warm water affects your skin barrier function and transepidermal water loss (TEWL). The higher the TEWL, the more moisture you lose from the skin and the worse the barrier function of your skin is.

A study (from 2000) showed the impact of water temperature differences on the skin barrier. Both hot and cold increased the TEWL from the skin and also increased skin acidity. With warm water more TEWL and a slight increase in your acidity (pH) compared to cold water. The combination of disruption of your skin acidity and TEWL can lead to disruption of your skin barrier. This can make a difference, especially for people with sensitive, dry and/or eczematous skin. It is better for them to take less hot and short showers. More about what you can do more against dry skin


Both cold and hot showers have their own benefits. It depends on what you want to achieve and preference. While most of us prefer hot showers, lukewarm or cold showers are better across the board. Cold showers can help reduce irritated skin, preserve natural oils in the skin and possibly aid weight loss. While hot showers help relax muscles and improve sleep.

Now that you are here

Winter is over and your thick scarf and heavy parka are exchanged for a lighter coat. Just like changing your clothes, your skin care routine changes. The dry, cold air outside and the warm, dry heating heat inside can have major effects on your skin during the winter months.

Winter and our skin, what’s happening? The winter cold, wind, little sun, heating & lower humidity, possibly that you shower longer and warmer or bathe more often have influences on our skin barrier. This leads to reduced hydration of your top layer of your epidermis, the acidity (pH) of your skin rises and the lower temperature makes you sweat less. In winter, less ceramide is also formed in your sebum, a lipid (fat) that consists of 50% of your sebum composition. This results in your skin becoming drier.

More on spring skin care


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