A hot shower is one of life's simple pleasures. After a chilly day, is there anything that feels better than letting the warmest water you can tolerate hit your skin after the anticipation of waiting for the showerhead to rain down that perfect temperature? And it's especially gratifying if you're sore from a tough workout, no matter the weather outside. But as fantastic as it feels in the moment, a hot shower could be doing more harm than good when it comes to your skin's health.
"Any skin condition characterized by a defective skin barrier can be worsened by a hot shower," board-certified New York City dermatologist Shari Marchbein says. "[It] strips the skin of sebum, the healthy fats and oils necessary for skin health, and dehydrates the skin."
You know how your fingers can look wrinkly when you've been in a hot shower for a while? She says it's a sign that the moisture has literally been stripped away from your skin.
But it's not just people with certain skin conditions who should avoid hot showers. Extended periods of time under hot water can have negative effects on otherwise healthy skin — and even hair. We chatted with experts to find out why such a common, everyday activity can have such a harsh impact and if there's any hope for those of us who can't imagine life without starting or ending the day in a steamy shower.
"We see a lot of eczema [cases] get worse with long, hot showers," board-certified dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali says of his New York City practice, Hudson Dermatology.
But eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is not the only condition that can be exacerbated by hot showers, according to Marchbein, who says psoriasis, acne, rosacea, and excessively dry skin can all be worsened by long, hot showers because they're all characterised by skin-barrier repair defects.
"In general, dry skin is caused by an impaired skin barrier and dysfunction or deficiency in the necessary, healthy fats in the top layer of the skin — cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides — which are essential to normal skin function," Marchbein says. And that dry skin can become a more serious issue with regular and extended exposure to hot water, which further strips away the protective lipid layer responsible for keeping moisture in and bacteria and irritants out. "Those with extremely dry skin or who are genetically prone to having sensitive skin can develop eczema, characterized by itchy, dry, pink patches."
Even if you don't suffer from dry skin or any condition aggravated by hot water, a hot shower still isn't doing your skin any favours. "While counterintuitive, showering for too long makes you more dry by stripping the 'good' oils from your skin," says Bhanusali, who says moderation is key when it comes to hot showers.
Furthermore, hot showers are a great way to become someone who does have dry skin, especially during the colder, drier winter months. "We are all more prone to itchy, dry skin as the humidity levels drop and the hot water in showers — as well as hot, dry air from radiators — draws moisture out of the skin," Marchbein says.
Although there's no proof that rinsing your hair with cold water will make it shinier, that doesn't mean you should go ahead and blast hot water on your head. Bhanusali says that, similarly to the skin on your face and body, hot water can strip necessary oils from the scalp, resulting in inflammation and impeded hair growth. "Think of an inflamed scalp as trying to grow little plants in lava — almost impossible to have happy, healthy hair," he says.
And it's not just the scalp you need to be concerned about. Too hot of a shower can directly affect the hair itself. "Hot water can be equally stripping for hair," Marchbein says. "But also, if the water is too hot, it may prevent shampoo and conditioner from being fully rinsed, which can further affect hair quality and texture."
"Just like cold baths can be helpful for recovery, hot showers can definitely loosen you up," says Bhanusali, who, like Marchbein, recognises how relaxing they can be. But skin benefits? Not so much.
If keeping your skin happy, healthy, and hydrated is a top priority, Marchbein says lukewarm water is the way to go. You can also add a little skin-barrier insurance by using a gentle body wash that doesn't have stripping soaps in its ingredients, like the Dove Deep Moisture Nourishing Body Wash.