As if the last year wasn’t punishing enough, the latest transformative trend to make the rounds on TikTok and Twitter is the time-honoured cure-all: a cold shower. It’s a fable as old as beauty blogging itself — cold water apparently makes your hair shinier, stronger and voluminous. But that’s not the only thing this remedy is said to do. A quick Google search will tell you that cold showers are capable of all manner of things, from ridding you of muscle soreness and blemishes to energising and reducing your chances of getting ill. At any rate, if social media gurus and the whisperings of comments sections are to be believed, it’s a surprise we ever invented the hot tap.
I’ve always been sceptical of the healing powers of cold water. Mostly because I don’t like to be cold. Faced with a swimming pool on a hot day, I’m a dip-your-toes-in-first kind of gal. But as ferociously as I disdain cold water, I love the promise of glossy hair. My hair has always been somewhat coarse and frizzy, and is still recovering from bleaching. So in the name of beauty journalism (and through a selfish desire for hair salvation), I was almost ready to embark on a chilling two-week quest to see precisely what happens to your tresses when you have only cold showers. But first, I needed more convincing.
What are the benefits of washing hair with cold water?
According to the gospel of social media, washing with cold water is the secret to happy hair. Tweets on the topic are akin to "This is your daily reminder to drink water" memos. But what do the experts say? I reached out to trichologist Simone Thomas to see whether the benefits are to be believed. "Rinsing with cold water helps close hair cuticles after your hair is washed," she says. "It gives your hair a better chance of staying shiny, healthy and frizz-free."
Conversely, Simone determines, hot water will damage the roots. "If roots are weakened your hair starts to curl, becomes frizzy and can be in danger of premature greying." Simone says cold water has other perks, too. Namely, improved scalp circulation and cleanliness. "Rinsing with cold water will 'close' the pores on your scalp, which helps prevent dirt, grease and oil getting in. Plus, it can reduce hair shedding."
How should you be washing your hair?
Luckily, I have a thick head of hair and shedding is not an issue. My scalp, on the other hand, could definitely use some TLC. As a longtime dandruff sufferer, my ears pricked at the thought of a cure that isn’t colour-stripping anti-dandruff shampoo. Simone says it’s not exactly showering but the cold rinse that’s key. In fact, opened cuticles (and as such, warm water) is beneficial while shampooing and conditioning to get the best out of your product's ingredients.
Unsure whether I should be cold showering or cold rinsing, I ventured for a second opinion. But the result I got was a little surprising. Hair transplant surgeon and researcher Dr Bessam Farjo tells me that cold water’s power to improve hair quality is a common myth. "There isn't any solid scientific data or proof that washing hair with cold water increases the quality, or has any benefit." This was not what I wanted to hear. "The optimum temperature for washing hair and scalp is with warm water or a comfortable temperature. Not too hot and not too cold."
Confused and none the wiser, I figured it was time to take matters into my own hands. What happens when you have cold showers for two weeks? And so, with a shriek ricocheting off the ceramic bathroom tiles, my new routine began. Rather than cold rinse, I started bravely, following advice circulated online. That meant showers as cold as I could bear. Motivating myself to get into the bathroom was a lot harder than usual and showering became a quicker affair. I’d like to say it got easier each time, but honestly? It didn’t. I can’t vouch for health benefits but I’ll admit I emerged more energetic than the sleepy, comfortable haze following a steamy shower.
Hair-wise? The result was disappointing. In the interests of fairness, I continued my haircare routine as usual. Shampooing and conditioning with Redken’s Nature + Science Extreme Sulfate range, spritzing with Biosilk’s Silk Therapy Thermal Shield while damp, drying with a hairdryer and finishing with Biosilk’s Silk Therapy Serum. Much to my dismay my hair felt more tangled, more frizzy and more difficult to get a brush through than it had before, and I didn’t notice significant growth. None of this was visible to friends or family who Zoomed or visited over that time but personally I felt that my hair was slightly (although not noticeably) worse off.
Is a cold rinse beneficial for hair?
After nine days, I decided to change tack. It was time to give Simone’s theory a spin. Rather than the vague ‘cold wash’ suggested on social media, I switched to cold rinsing instead, washing first with lukewarm water. This time, my hair felt closer to its normal texture. For the last five days of my self-imposed sentence, I carried on in this way. But in the end, while some smoothness was visible, the differences were barely perceptible. My hair looked and felt pretty much the same as when I started. However, there was one positive result: my scalp.
Within two cold showers, the flakiness and itchiness were near-gone and by the fortnight’s end my scalp was smooth and no bother at all. So what does this mean? If you’re suffering from a dry scalp, maybe try this trend. But when it came to my hair, the difference was barely noticeable. A total cold wash? No way. According to Dr Farjo: "The products used to wash hair are more relevant than water temperature. Look for the right pH in products to ensure a healthy scalp and hair." According to Schwarzkopf, hair products with a pH between 3.5 and 5.5 are best for hair and scalp but this is rarely stated on the bottle, so it's all down to trial and error and personal preference.
Overall, perhaps I’ll cut down on heat styling and switch up my products — but you won’t catch me cold showering every day.