Did you know hot water can be the culprit for increased sensitivity and skin condition flare-ups?
Like many people, I eagerly await warm, sunny weather. Not least for the ability to be outside more with less to lug along; instead of umbrellas, puffy coats and rain-proof shoes, I travel lightly with just a lip balm and a small SPF for top-ups. Similarly, my skincare routine becomes more streamlined: the cool showers I can’t stand in the winter (and often swap for languorous baths) become moments of intense relief from heat-induced irritation, a habit I notice has profound results on my skin.
While hot water can feel intensely relaxing, it can also wreak havoc on the skin, increasing the likelihood of a compromised skin barrier, sensitisation and condition flare-ups. I notice when I tip the balance too much in favour of hot baths and almost-scalding showers, my eczema returns almost immediately – a visceral reminder of what happens when the skin is put under too much stress.
But, what to do instead? Here, three skincare experts break down how to properly care for your skin and it all comes down to a few tiny tweaks.
What happens to the skin when you wash your face with hot water?
A host of not very good things, according to the experts.
“Hot water can do more harm than good,” cautions GP and Faace dermatologist Dr Sonia (Sonakshi Khorana). “Hot water strips the skin of sebum, healthy fats and oils (cholesterol, fatty acids, ceramides) that are necessary for the skin’s health. This compromises the skin barrier function which is your skin’s ability to protect itself. The skin barrier is responsible for keeping moisture in (this is why your skin looks wrinkly when you’ve been in a hot shower) and, if compromised, can lead to increased sensitivity and heightened vulnerability to irritation.”
The skin barrier is much like a seal, of sorts. It works at retaining necessary moisture within the skin but also at keeping out harmful environmental stressors. When this barrier is compromised, the skin is less able to maintain this healthy balance, resulting in sensitised, stressed skin that’s easily irritated.
“Using lukewarm water does not strip away sebum, healthy fats and oils (cholesterol, fatty acids, ceramides) necessary for skin health and this keeps the skin barrier functioning properly which is your skin’s ability to protect itself – so, lukewarm water equals less risk of irritation, sensitivity and your skin is not left vulnerable.”
OK, so what temperature is best for washing your face?
“Lukewarm water will do an effective job of thoroughly cleansing the skin without overly drying it out,” says Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics. I advise most people to double cleanse and lukewarm water won’t cause irritation during this process. Instead, it will leave your skin ready for the next stage of your skincare routine. Splashing some cold water on afterwards will help with puffiness and leave you and your skin feeling more awake and refreshed. There really is no reason to be using super-hot water on the skin at all.”
However, Dr Perry cautions that there’s no joy to be found in cool or extremely cold water, either. “Cool water is not as effective at cleansing the skin and getting rid of the bacteria and dirt from the previous day. Lukewarm water does exactly the job it’s required to do of cleansing without stripping.”
Can I still use cold water to reduce puffiness?
Some mornings, especially those graced by the hell of hayfever or a severe lack of sleep, require a cold splash of something. The key thing to remember is that cold water shouldn’t be used as a cleansing step, but instead to reduce puffiness and soothe irritation.
Award-winning celebrity aesthetician and founder of 001 skincare Ada Ooi explains why: “If you’re looking to reduce swelling and puffiness when you wake up, cold water works well. It constricts blood vessels in the face, which reduces blood flow, reduces swelling and can calm irritation. It also helps to tighten the appearance of the skin and reduce redness or inflammation.”
Is the same true for the skin on the body?
Cold and cool showers have long been the fodder of the wellness world, credited with reducing inflammation, helping with stress management and training the sympathetic nervous system to remain calm in stressful environments, boosting alertness and improving cognitive clarity. But, what have they done for the skin on our bodies lately? According to the experts, a lot more than hot water.
“It’s not recommended to bathe or shower in water that is too hot – it’ll strip the skin of natural oils, similar to the skin on the face. If you’re prone to dry skin conditions, hot water will only make the skin feel drier. If you prefer long, relaxing, hot baths, try not to stay in them for too long,” says Dr Perry.
So, hot water anywhere is pretty much a no-no. However, you don’t need to go to the other end of the scale and dread a freezing cold shower every day either. Try turning the thermostat down a few degrees to begin with and go from there. Plus, with warmer weather here at last, a cooler bathing ritual might feel more like a blessing than a burden.
Main image: Getty