Some like it hot, and some like it cold. We know that cold therapy can have beneficial effects for your body internally, but is washing with cold water good for your face, too? What about your daily hot shower — is that going to strip your skin?
You may have heard the advice that you should wash your face with hot water to open up clogged pores and rinse with cold to close them, but has that conventional wisdom been debunked?
When it comes to washing your face with cold or hot water, what’s the right temperature to use, and is hot water bad for your skin?
If you’ve been wondering, “Should I wash my face with cold water or hot water?” you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to get into all of these questions and more below.
Understanding Your Skin’s Acid Mantle
You may be aware by now that washing too frequently, too vigorously, or with water that’s too hot can damage your skin’s acid mantle — not what you want. This protective chemical barrier is a slightly acidic film made up of sebum and a little bit of sweat.
It helps protect your face and prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) so hydration doesn’t escape from your skin.
If you’re not gentle when washing your face, you risk disrupting this barrier, which can dry skin out and lead to an overcorrection of sebum, causing greasy skin and breakouts. Hot water is a common culprit, as it tends to strip your skin of its natural oils.
So if protecting your moisture barrier is such a concern, should you even wash your face in the first place?
The answer is yes. While our skin helps filter out toxins and pathogens from entering our body, we live in a world where it’s common to encounter everyday pollution in the air. And if you didn’t wash your face, everyday dirt, dust, grime, toxins, and dead skin cells would accumulate on top of your skin and get trapped.
On top of that, if you touch your face throughout the day, or have hair that touches your face, you risk transferring more germs and oil into your pores. If you wear makeup, it’s especially likely that your skin can become clogged or irritated by the end of the day.
Washing is a necessary step in building skin health — you just want to be sure you’re using the right type of facial cleanser and technique. Opt for a gentle cleanser free of sulfates and drying ingredients. In particular, you want to avoid a common ingredient called Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) that’s used as a degreasing, foaming agent in many skin care products. This is a harsh ingredient to avoid in skincare because it can strip your skin and are too alkaline for your barrier’s pH.
Look for a gentle milky cleanser like Milk Cleanse, whose sulfate-free, pH-balanced bubbles come from Coconut Ferment, not drying sulfates. The formula helps you cleanse your skin effectively without risking harm to your moisture barrier.
Benefits of Using Cold Water
Cold plunges and ice baths have been shown to have numerous health benefits for your system. But what about your skin?
Reduces the amount of sebum your skin produces
Unlike hot water, which can strip your skin and potentially lead to more grease and breakouts, cold water is considered better to avoid disrupting your moisture barrier if you have dry skin. It can actually help reduce the amount of sebum that your skin produces, which can help if you have greasy skin.
Reduces the appearance of pores (H3)
You may have heard that hot water “opens up” your pores for cleansing, while cold water “closes” them at the end of your facial routine. This is a little misleading. Because pores don’t have muscles, they aren’t actually opening and closing.
That being said, cold water (think any water below 70 degrees F) can act as a natural astringent, helping to reduce the appearance of pores by constricting the blood vessels beneath your skin.
The downside is that with any “tightening” effects to your skin, and without hot water to dissolve excess oil, bacteria and grime may be more likely to stay trapped in your pores. For that reason, the conventional wisdom that it’s a good idea to cleanse with warm water first and rinse with cold water last holds true.
Stimulates blood flow
Because it boosts blood circulation, cold water can also help wake up a tired face and stimulate blood flow to your skin to give your face a healthy glow.
While hot water dilates your blood vessels, making your skin appear redder, cold water is also a better choice if you want to even out your complexion and soothe swelling. Washing your skin with cold water could also benefit hydration, since cold water can help your skin retain moisture.
Helps regulate nervous system
As another added benefit, immersing your face in cold (like, ice cold) water can help activate the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system by triggering a response in the vagus nerve. This is related to our mammalian diving reflex. In an emergency situation in which we might drown, our body responds by slowing down the heart rate and breathing to conserve energy for survival. When cold water hits our face and nose, even though it feels refreshing and can help wake up our faces in the morning, it helps regulate our nervous system, leading to a feeling of overall calm and well-being.
To activate the diving reflex, splash ice cold water on your face or submerge your face in a bowl of ice water for about 10-15 seconds. A small bag of ice cubes on your temples or wrist can also help do the trick.
Overall, there are several benefits to using cold water to wash your face. If you’re looking to calm redness or swelling, stimulate blood flow to your face for a quick glow, activate your rest and digest response to boost your sense of well-being, temporarily reduce the look of pores, and avoid acne, cleansing your face with cold water can help.
Benefits of Using Hot Water
What if you love a hot, steamy shower to help you relax at the end of the day? Are there any benefits to washing off with hot water?
Loosens sebum from pores
While hot water and steam won’t open your pores, they can help loosen sebum, allowing it to slip out of your pores when you wash with a facial cleanser. For that reason, hot water does help your face get cleaner than washing with cold water.
The problem is, you don’t want to remove all the sebum from your face. Again, washing with water that’s too hot can lead to dryness and inflammation, and your parched skin can actually overcorrect by producing more sebum than it needs, clogging pores and potentially leading to breakouts.
For that reason, it’s better to keep water lukewarm instead of hot, or use a hot, moist washcloth to steam your face for a second at the beginning of your routine instead of introducing hot water directly on your skin. If you have clogged pores, try a liquid exfoliant with AHA and BHA acids to penetrate the skin and unglue old skin cells.
Showering in hot water can help your muscles relax, which can help you unstress and unwind. But where your skin is concerned, it’s best to keep showers under 104 degrees and under 10 minutes, if you can, especially if you’re face washing at the same time.
Washing Your Face With Cold Water Vs. Hot Water
Washing your face with cold water or hot water: which one is ultimately better? When it comes to washing your face, the answer is clear: avoid using hot water, since it can strip your skin of its natural oils. Instead, go lukewarm or use cold water (or both).
Using water that’s room temperature, or about 68-72 degrees F, is always a safe bet because it doesn’t mess with your skin’s natural physiology.
Colder water can have both a refreshing and a calming effect, so rinsing your face with cold water in the morning can help you reset for the day and start your nervous system off on the right note. If you’ve washed the night before, you likely don’t need to wash again. Just splash your face with some cool water and continue with the rest of your skin care routine, pulling in that hydration with a Hyaluronic Acid serum and sealing it in with a dewy moisturizer.
In the PM, washing your face with lukewarm water can help you relax and unwind for the night. Feel free to gently steam with a hot washcloth and wipe away makeup with the help of a gentle facial cleanser like Milk Cleanse. For more tips on washing your face, check out our guide on how to use facial cleanser.
Sign Up, Nerd Out
Get wellness tips, education, and recipes
delivered straight to your inbox.
Get wellness tips, education,
and recipes delivered
straight to your inbox.
Let’s debunk the myth once and for all that hot water can “open” your pores. Pores can’t actually open or close, and taking hot water to the face will likely dissolve more oil than you bargained for. However, it’s true that cold water can make your pores appear visibly smaller because of its ability to constrict your small blood vessels, and this can also help reduce puffiness and inflammation, albeit temporarily.
To best clean your skin and keep it hydrated and healthy, start with water that’s room temp, and finish with colder water at the end of your routine. If you need to depuff, wake up your face a bit, or tighten the look of pores, choose cold water for an energizing splash.
- Kinoshita, T. Nagata, S. Baba, R. Kohmoto, T. Suketsune, I. Cold-Water Face Immersion Per Se Elicits Cardiac Parasympathetic Activity, Circulation Journal, 2006, Volume 70, Issue 6, Pages 773-776, Released on J-STAGE May 25, 2006, Online ISSN 1347-4820, Print ISSN 1346-9843, https://doi.org/10.1253/circj.70.773
- Kryiakoulis, P. Kyrios, M. Nardi, A. Freire, R. Schier, M. The Implications of the Diving Response in Reducing Panic Symptoms. Front. Psychiatry, Sec. Mood Disorders, Vol. 12. 2021 May 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.784884
- Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. N Am J Med Sci. 2014 May;6(5):199-209. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935. PMID: 24926444; PMCID: PMC4049052. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4049052/