The surprising benefits of cold showers

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10 October 2023

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Don’t believe in the benefits of cold showers? Neither did Sharon Stephenson, until she got the facts.

Never ask a woman who wears Ugg boots in January what she thinks about hot showers – unless you have 10 minutes you’ll never need back.

Because Ugg Boot Woman (me) would tell you how much she loathes the cold, how her home is heated to Bikram yoga levels and about the time she accidentally grew dreadlocks while backpacking through South America because every pensione had limited, if any, hot water.

Blame my ancestors who hailed from places far warmer than Aotearoa and who, tired of golden beaches and humidity you could slice with a knife, pointed their waka in the direction of the southern hemisphere.

And while I’m grateful to live here, strands of my DNA more attuned to warm temperatures don’t agree. It’s a rare day I leave the house without a thought bubble above my head that reads, “I’m cold. Does anyone have a spare cardi?”

But my greatest indulgence are showers – showers so obscenely long and hot that surely they must be melting ice caps somewhere (science was never my strong point, but you get where I’m going).

So when everyone and their Wim Hof started raving about cold showers, I was aghast. Who were these lunatics who thought that starting the day with freezing cold water was a good idea? And who believed that a cold shower each morning could increase metabolism, immunity and energy, lower depression, even aid weight loss?

A quick poke around the internet showed they might be right, because not only can a jolt from cold water at 7am give users an energy boost (Jack Dorsey co-founder and CEO of Twitter reckons that taking a cold shower every morning is “better than coffee”), it can also cause blood to charge around the body, keeping organs warm and improving circulation and cardiovascular health. It’s believed too that cold water can spike the brain’s nerve endings, helping to relieve the symptoms of depression and even stimulate “brown fat”, the deeply unattractive sounding fat that burns extra calories.

But it’s the beauty benefits that really captured my superficial heart. According to US dermatologist Dr Jesse Cheung, cold water can be magic for the skin. “Even a splash of cold water to the face can improve the overall texture and appearance of the skin,” Dr Cheung is reported as saying.

“Because cold water temporarily tightens and shrinks pores, decreases redness and puffiness and can keep the itch at bay for eczema and psoriasis sufferers.”

Here’s how it works: when exposed to cold water, less blood flows to the skin. But when the cold water stops, the body has to warm itself up, increasing blood flow to the surface for the skin, providing a healthy glow.

Hair is also the big winner in the cold shower debate, as it flattens the cuticles, making it shiny and less frizzy, and locks in moisture, preventing the breakage of delicate strands. Cold water can also keep our scalp healthy, because once the pores are closed, they’re less vulnerable to dirt.

People who know about these things say even 20 or 30 seconds of cold water can have huge benefits. Start with your usual warm shower (not hot, which can dehydrate the skin and strip it of essential oils such as sebum) and then gradually build up the duration. And if you still can’t face it, experts suggest having a quick final cold rinse.

Friends tell me to stop being a wuss, to join the cold shower brigade, and I have every intention of doing so. But maybe when summer rolls around again.

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