Should you wash your face with hot or cold water?
I had a friend who swore by cold showers. He was a recent transplant to New York from California. While he insisted cold showers every morning seriously improved his skin, increased his mental clarity, and even his libido, I labeled it a New Age-y California ritual that I, a New Yorker, would never adopt.
It turns out, he might’ve had at least one point with all those unbearably cold showers.
But before we get to the question of water temperature, let’s first establish how often your face-washing routine happens.
How often should you wash your face?
It’s almost universally recommended you wash your face at night (because you need to rinse off the sunscreen you should absolutely be wearing every day). Whether or not you wash your face in the morning largely depends on your skin type and who you listen to — there’s some disagreement amongst the experts. Because I have oily skin and live in New York where even having two air purifiers in my apartment won’t stop the air from containing pollutants, I wash my face in the morning and at night. This is a good idea if you live in a Metropolitan area, if you have oily skin, or if you tend to sweat in your sleep.
What’s perhaps more important than whether you wash your face once or twice a day is that you’re not washing it more than twice a day (unless you’re doing a really sweaty workout). Overwashing the skin can strip it of essential oils, drying it out and making it patchy.
You know what else can dry out the skin? Washing it with scalding hot water.
Stop washing your face with hot water
While there are benefits to washing your face with cold water and lukewarm water, washing in with scalding hot water (or whatever temperature you prefer your shower at) is a serious skincare faux pas. Hot water, like overwashing, strips the skin of its essential oils. It makes dry skin dryer and sensitive skin more sensitive. And don’t think if you have oily skin, this could be an excellent solution to addressing it: your skin can respond by producing more oil and, with it, breaking out.
This means that a steaming hot shower is not the best place to wash your face. An added benefit of moving your face washing ritual to the sink is you’ll never be tempted or wash it with bar soap or one of those dreaded “all in one” face, body, and hair wash products.
So when it comes to cold water vs. lukewarm water, which comes out on top? Well, like most things with skincare, it depends.
Choosing between cold water and lukewarm water for face washing
Cold water is better for toning the skin, acting as a natural astringent, and reducing puffiness. It’s also great for waking you up. I wash my face with my water ice cold in the morning (you can step up to this, making the water colder and colder over a week). One of the downsides of cold water is it tightens pores and can trap dirt and bacteria under the skin. This is something I counter by using a strong (but gentle!) balancing exfoliant in Biologique Recherche’s cult favorite, Lotion P50.
Lukewarm water, or room temperature water, is recommended by many experts. Not only is it ideal for balancing the skin’s natural oils, but many skincare products were also created and tested with lukewarm water. So a face wash, for example, will be at maximum foaminess when the temperature is somewhere in between hot and cold. I like using LaserAway Beauty's Come Clean Purifying Face Wash, which gently removes makeup and impurities without stripping skin of essential moisture.
I mix it up with cold water washing in the morning and lukewarm water at night. Since I stopped washing my face in the shower, my skin barely ever breaks out. A bonus is there were a few days last year when I lost hot water, and my cold water face washing routine made it only half as annoying as it would’ve been otherwise.
Khalid El Khatib is a Brooklyn-based writer and marketer who tweets too much.