Wait, Can Cold Showers Help With Acne? Derms Tell Us Everything
The standard skincare recommendations aside, there's certainly no shortage of out-of-the-box acne treatment ideas floating around the Internet. And it makes sense—acne is different for everyone, and it often takes some trial and error to find what works best for you. As is the case with most home remedies, some of these have more validity than others. For example, drinking spearmint tea can have legit benefits, while using toothpaste as a spot treatment is likely to do more harm than good.
The latest skin-clearing trend taking social media by storm is taking cold showers. "Cold showers for acne" videos have garnered over 102 million views and counting on TikTok as a growing number of people seek them out as a remedy—and rave all about them if it seems to be working. So where does this fall on the spectrum of bogus to valid? We asked top dermatologists to give it to us straight. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about cold showers for acne, from the list of potential benefits to caveats you should note before trying this method.
Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centers in New York City and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian-Cornell.
Melanie Palm, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Art of Skin MD in San Diego.
Geeta Yadav, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Facet Dermatology in Toronto.
The Basics of Cold Showers for Acne
It's not just acne: The internet, and social media in particular, is filled with videos and posts claiming that cold showers and cold plunges have a variety of health benefits. (And, cold showers aside, there's also tons of content touting that submerging your face in ice water can have an anti-acne effect.) But if you've seen enough people promoting this remedy, you've probably started to wonder where the idea of healing your breakouts with cold water comes from, anyway.
The basic claim is that cold showers can treat acne by reducing oil production and slowing breakouts, says board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD. "There's logic there," she explains. "Oil doesn't flow through pores as easily when it's cold, and cold water reduces the inflammatory effects of acne, which is where a lot of discomfort comes from." Not to mention, cleansing your face with cold water is often preferable to scalding hot water, which can strip your skin of its natural oils, compromise your skin barrier, and possibly irritate existing breakouts, according to board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD.
That being said, it's really not quite so simple, and it's imperative to not take all of the social media hype and promises at face value. "In most cases, a 30- to 60-second video doling out skincare advice is leaving out critical information and nuance," Palm cautions.
Do Cold Showers for Acne Actually Work?
Cold showers can potentially help with acne, but certainly not in the extreme, cure-all way as is often portrayed online. Cool temperatures constrict blood vessels, which can reduce swelling, inflammation, and overall redness, explains board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD. All of these are components of acne, but they're not the only ones—excess oil, clogged pores, and bacteria are also key players. Acne has multiple factors and requires a multi-prong treatment approach. "An effective skincare routine for acne-prone skin requires much more than cold showers," Palm tells us. "It involves proper cleansing, using the right skincare ingredients consistently, avoiding comedogenic products, nurturing a healthy skin barrier, healthy lifestyle changes, minimizing hormonal fluctuations, and in some cases, prescription topicals or oral medications."
It's also possible for cold showers to have the opposite effect and end up exacerbating your acne, as cold water isn't as effective at removing potentially pore-clogging dirt and oil from the surface of your skin. "If you've ever washed a pan that had coconut oil, you've seen this play out in real time," Yadav says. "Think about what happens to coconut oil when it gets cold—it solidifies, or thickens, and is harder to wash off, even with plenty of soap. Conversely, when coconut oil is hit with warmer or hotter water, it softens and emulsifies easily with soap, rinsing away much more quickly. If you regularly use cold water to shower, oil and dirt can build up not just on the skin's surface, but within the pore, too, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria."
Also, super icy water isn't generally ideal for your skin, be it on the face or elsewhere. "Water that is too cold can be harsh on the skin and end up weakening the skin barrier and causing redness," Garshick explains, adding that some people even experience a condition known as cold urticaria—hives that develop as a result of exposure to cold temperatures.
Benefits of Cold Showers for Acne
Despite the potential risks, there are still some major benefits to washing your face and/or body with cold water if your skin tolerates it well. All of the dermatologists we spoke with agreed that because cold water constricts blood vessels, it can reduce puffiness. When the blood vessels at the surface constrict, it shifts blood flow to the deeper tissue, which may improve circulation and help make skin look healthier and more radiant, Garshick notes. Still, she says that these effects (in addition to other potential benefits) are all temporary, lasting only several hours. But even if nothing else, Palm notes that taking a cold shower and/or washing your face with cold water will help you feel more awake and ready to take on the day.
The Final Takeaway
Cold water may have some temporary benefits when it comes to calming inflammation and breakouts, but it's certainly not a panacea or singular solution for clear, acne-free skin. At the end of the day, your best bet is to avoid extremes on either end—both super hot and super cold water—and stick with lukewarm temperatures when washing your face and in the shower. Your skin will thank you for the gentle approach.
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