Are Hot Showers Ruining Your Skin Barrier?

Some days, a long hot shower feels like the only way to decompress, relax, and reset the nervous system. And if you live in a cold, icy climate, you might be jumping in the shower even more often. Or if you're sore after an intense workout or a long hike, there's likely no other place you'd rather be than in a hot shower to ease those tight muscles. It's a little escape from the external world where you aren't to be bothered and can really hear yourself think, possibly for the first time all day. There's a reason some of the best ideas are born in the shower.

According to Medical News Today, hot showers can increase blood flow to joints and muscles, boost sleep quality, and even aid in cardiovascular health. They can also help with respiratory health and clearing the nasal passages (via Healthline). Sounds like a pretty beneficial practice. But what about when it comes to the skin? Is it possible that a hot shower may be causing more harm than good to the skin barrier? Let's take a deeper look.

Prolonged, scalding hot showers are not great for the skin

So, you may have had your fingers crossed that this wasn't the case, but unfortunately, hot showers do ruin the skin barrier. And what exactly does that mean? "Any skin condition characterized by a defective skin barrier can be worsened by a hot shower," said board-certified New York City dermatologist Shari Marchbein, in an interview with Allure. "[It] strips the skin of sebum, the healthy fats and oils necessary for skin health, and dehydrates the skin."

Essentially, that super relaxing hot shower is actually drying out your skin. Apart from being itchy and uncomfortable, dry skin increases the appearance of aging and could even make your skin more prone to infections (via Mayo Clinic).

Even if you don't have eczema and psoriasis, extra hot showers can still be harmful to healthy skin. If you can't fathom cutting out hot showers altogether and opting for shorter, lukewarm showers, then at least try moderation. "While counterintuitive, showering for too long makes you more dry by stripping the 'good' oils from your skin," said board-certified dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali told Allure. Hot showers can also damage the hair, as healthy scalp oils are also washed away with hot water, which can lead to hair growth issues.

There's got to be another way, right? Nothing can quite replace a hot shower, but there are some other routes worth exploring.

Alternatives to long, hot showers

Cold showers have been all the rage over the past few years (Wim Hof fans will be nodding in agreement) as they've been shown to decrease inflammation, increase metabolism, and lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, per Medical News Today. If you can't stand to take a full cold shower, try alternating between cold and warm water. Also, limit your shower to 5 to 15 minutes, though we know how tempting it can be to stand in there for longer. And be sure to moisturize your skin afterwards, head to toe. 

If it's the warmth and relaxation you're really after, the bathtub is your new best friend. Bathing offers many benefits that showering doesn't. Baths tend to get us sweating and detoxing (while just hanging out and sitting there!), which is truly great news. Baths can also improve blood flow and they can be great for mental health — be sure to look into the spiritual bath trend. There's also an opportunity here to make more of a ritual out of your bathing hour. Epsom salts, essential oils, candles, a book — the bathing experience can work wonders for stress and becoming a more centered individual.

The warm water even "gives us connotations of being in the womb, and it is very comforting," said chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee for the British Spa Foundation Dr. John Harcup, per Town & Country