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Getting into Hot Water – Is it bad for your skin?

March 5, 2010

When in comes to a winter bath some might say the hotter the better – it isn’t worth doing if you don’t come out sweating!  While others like nothing better than a body-temperature esque 40C or so to soothe away the stress of the day. But what is best from a skin care perspective?  Are we doing ourselves more harm than good by sweating it out or are we missing one of life’s simple pleasures by going cold-turkey?  Let’s look at the science.

Turning up the heat at bath time

Our body sits at a rather cozy and oh-so-constant (unless sick) 37 ish C on the inside while the outside can get as cold as 6C or as warm as 37C depending on where we are, what we are doing and how long we do it for.   It is important for our insides to remain at a constant temperature as this provides the optimum environment for our organs to work, blood to flow and water to be managed. Our bodies are constantly trying to keep things in balance – the term for this is homeostasis.

Our outside is a different story! If you think about it, it is important for us to ‘feel’ cold or warm on the outside so that we can make the environmental changes needed to help our insides in regulating temperature. Our skin has many nerve cells running through it to pick up on heat and cold as well as other stimuli.

But does a hot bath do damage?

A number of scientific studies have shown skin to become more permeable (the ease of which things can pass through) to water as the temperature rises (here is a study that is free to view). This would lead me to believe that as the bath temperature increases, your skin temperature increases and therefore the permeability of the skin increases.  If your skin is more open to sucking in water at higher temperatures it would probably mean that it would go wrinkly quicker in hot water than cold – what a great experiment to do at home! 

But isn’t more water in the skin a good thing?

Replacing lost moisture is a good thing but becoming water-logged is another. Once your skin has too much water in it the barrier function of the skin is compromised meaning that the skin can start to let stuff in that you might not want.  In addition to that it can also let go of things that you want such as the skin’s natural moisturising factor.  Both of these factors would leave your skin dryer than it started!

The Itch Factor.

Have you ever found yourself itching in a hot bath?  That could be due to a number of things:

  • As the temperature increases so does your blood flow, this increase can make you itch.
  • The drying out of your skin due to the heat can make it itchy as the barrier starts to break down (this can be repaired before you start panicking.
  • As your skin’s barrier is being washed off any bath oils or bubbles in the water can get deeper into the skin where they could irritate already sensitive skin. This is most likely to happen when the ‘additives’ are there in abundance and you already have a tendency to dryness.

So the colder the better it is then?

The optimum bath temperature for skin-barrier health and mental relaxation would be between 37-43C – just like those home birth pools! However, turning up the temperature a little won’t do your skin any long-term damage although it may irritate eczema and other dry-skin conditions.   Just go easy and remember that if you are sweating heaps it is probably too hot, the heat can exhaust you and a bath should be a relaxing and reviving experience.  Slap on some simple moisturizer and avoid bubbles if you want to burn baby burn.

Whatever temperature you go for we suggest that you lay back, switch off and enjoy a bit of you time!

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