Do Cold Showers Help With Acne? (Or They Make It Worse)

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: November 29, 2023
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Anyone who has suffered from acne breakouts at some stage of their life will know that you’d go to all extremes to fix the problem.

But is taking cold showers a bit too extreme or even crazy?

As someone who had acne as a teenager, this was a topic I wanted to know more about.

So our team did some research to see whether cold showers help or make things worse and what other benefits you might get from them.

Let’s get right into it.

Quick Summary

  • Cold showers tighten skin pores, potentially reducing acne inflammation and enhancing the effectiveness of other acne treatments.
  • Regular use of cold water in showers can help lock in skin nutrients, aiding in the regeneration and recovery from acne damage.
  • A dermatologist suggests cold showers can offer symptomatic relief by decreasing skin irritation and inflammation associated with acne.
  • Personally, I've found the experience of cold showers challenging but rewarding, especially considering their potential skin health benefits.

How Does Your Skin React To Cold Water?

woman showing her back while taking a shower

Now, there was a time when cold showers were pretty much the only type of shower, but there are some good reasons for using cold water as part of your skin care routine today.

And it’s not just for comfort reasons

We got some input from a dermatologist about what happens to the skin in general as well as what happens to acne.

General Reaction

The main reason for having hot showers is to open up skin cells all over your body to make it easier for soap to extract dirt, impurities, dead cells, and bacteria.

Cold water, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect.

Pores close up as your skin tightens, and one advantage of that is that the process locks in water and keeps out dirt.

But what does that mean for pimply skin?

Acne Reaction

woman focusing camera phone on her face acne

A common myth suggests hot water opens pores and clears clogged sebum, aiding skin repair.

However, this can actually increase sebum production and leave pores prone to dirt. In contrast, cold water tightens pores, preventing germs and product residues from causing infections. It also reduces inflammation, which can soothe breakouts.

When used alongside treatments like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, cold water's pore-tightening and anti-inflammatory effects can boost these acne solutions, promoting clearer and healthier skin.

But there's more to it.

Skin Benefits Of Using Cold Water

woman giving thumbs up while in bath robe

Before exploring the benefits of cold shower therapy for skin health, it's crucial to first avoid skin-damaging habits like using oily face creams, neglecting hydration, and skipping facial cleansing post-workout.

“Working out can cause excessive sweating, as well as a buildup of oil, dirt, and bacteria on your skin — all of which can lead to acne.”

- American Academy of Dermatology Association

Now we can see the benefits:

1. Improved Moisture Levels

So, as I already mentioned above, cold water may calm sebum production and protect your skin from harmful germs.

And with gentle moisturizing soap, cold showers can also help to lock in more moisture, making your skin appear healthier and even less wrinkled.

2. Healthy Hair Condition

man brushing his curly hair

What’s even more interesting is that something similar happens to the follicles on your scalp.

They close up and tighten, making them stronger and more efficient at growing more hair.

Now, I have to admit that it’s one step I’m still struggling with.

Whatever about counting down from 10 while letting freezing water run down your body, putting your head under that shower is another thing.

Believe me, as someone who's endured the toughest physical challenges, the initial shock of cold water is a unique test of resilience.

3. Reduce Swelling

With a bad acne breakout, one of the big problems is inflammation and swelling.

People who suffer from bad acne often find that it’s very painful, and they can’t even bear touching the skin.

Cold showers may reduce the inflammation associated with acne by constricting blood vessels and decreasing skin irritation, offering symptomatic relief, as suggested by Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, a board-certified dermatologist.

4. Lock In Nutrients

With a well-chosen acne cleanser, you should also be feeding your skin with vitamins and minerals to help it regenerate and recover from the damage.

By rinsing your face off with cold water, you’ll lock more of those nutrients in and give your skin the best chance to repair.

Downsides Of Using Cold Water

woman in a bath robe raising a thumbs down

OK, so there are benefits, but we have to highlight a few downsides before you think you’ve found the ideal skincare solution in a cold shower.

1. Locking In Impurities

I wouldn’t recommend only washing your face with cold water. The whole idea of a cleansing routine is to get rid of excess oil, brown fat, and sebum.

To do that, you need to open the pores enough to release it, so I would suggest washing with lukewarm water first.

Then, rinse off with plenty of cold water so that you don’t lock in the impurities for longer than you have to.

Your routine should be a combination of opening pores, releasing the dirt, and then closing them again.

2. Less Effective Skin Care Products

white putting cream on his acne face

In my journey with various skin care treatments, I've realized the importance of water temperature in activating product ingredients.

And many people underestimate how important that is.

You could end up spending a lot of money on specialist acne cleansers, only to wash away most of the content without any benefit.

Ideally, find an acne product that works with lukewarm water to limit how much the skin on your face opens up.

3. Far Less Enjoyable

Speaking from experience, I must admit that the discomfort of cold showers is real yet manageable.

While I appreciate the benefits of a cold shower, I look forward to it about as much as standing in the rain after missing a commuter train.

Just make sure you get your head around the fact that the advantages for your skin could be significant, and you’ll build up the courage.

How To Get The Most Out Of Cold Showers

hands checking water from shower head, man after his shower

Drawing from my extensive experience in MMA and personal training, I've explored beyond skin benefits to understand the full spectrum of cold shower advantages.

Research, including from UCLA Health, reveals they can enhance immunity, accelerate muscle recovery, and alleviate inflammation [1]. Intriguingly, a PLoS One study highlights broader well-being benefits [2].

To integrate cold showers seamlessly into daily routines, I recommend a tailored approach for a more enjoyable experience:

1. Time It

What I do is set myself a time on my fitness tracker (make sure it’s water-resistant).

At the start, it was just 5 seconds, but I’ve managed to increase it to over 30 seconds. And keep in mind that you don't have to be a superhero like crazy Ken at my gym, who will sing away for 3 minutes under a cold shower.

2. Aim For Certain Times

woman in a bath robe while holding a bed side clock

I would generally suggest doing this in the morning. It’s great for waking you up and kick-starting your day, even if it makes getting out of a cozy bed a bit tougher.

The reason I wouldn’t do it at night is that warm showers tend to help with relaxing your body for sleep, and a cold one might make it more difficult to get to sleep.

3. Gradually Lower The Temperature

Don’t change the temperature to the lowest setting and then stand under it. That can be quite unpleasant and a shock to your heart rate and blood flow.

Instead, over a few days and weeks, gradually reduce the temperature further after washing your body so that you get a bit more used to the experience.


Does Acne Look Worse After a Shower?

Yes, sometimes acne looks worse after a shower. This is mainly due to exposing the skin to a lot of hot water for a longer time. As a result, pores open up for too long, allowing impurities to enter and producing more sebum.

Do Cold Showers Clear Skin on Your Face?

Cold showers don’t directly clear the skin on your face, but they may help to protect the skin from germs and reduce inflammation. Ideally, you should be washing your face with warm water and then rinsing off with cold.


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