Health & Beauty Benefits of Cold Exposure

Ice therapy is no stranger to health and wellness spas as part of a ‘Thermal Journey’. It’s long been acknowledged that ice therapy and immersing yourself in cold water can have amazing results, not just for athletes, it’s become extremely popular in many realms of health and beauty.

The history

Ice bathing and cold showers have long been documented as a form of relief from muscle inflammation for athletes but there is also a long tradition of Orthodox Christians in Russia and Ukraine plunging into icy water. To celebrate Epiphany Day in January, holes are cut through thick ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves to purify their souls for religious purposes every January. Katharine Hepburn spent a lifetime preaching the advantages of cold showers, claiming it increased her energy levels.  Similarly, brave ocean goers who partake in polar bear plunges in the New Year claim it gives them a shot of adrenaline, leaving them renewed and fresh.

How could using an ice fountain and contrast shower benefit me?

Relieves stress naturally

The shock of the cold ice on warmed skin can create laughter, thus aiding relaxation as well as increasing tolerance to stress. Where as the warm and cool contrast of water and the sensation of such can contribute to a calming experience. The most extreme example of cold exposure you may have heard of is the Wim Hof method. The theory is that day-to-day, the average person doesn’t expose their bodies to particular extreme environments which would allow the body to withstand and adapt to stresses. The method is named after the man himself -Wim Hof,  ‘the crazy Dutch man’, teaches how to adapt to the power of cold to reduce stressors by boosting your immune system, burning fat, reducing inflammation, increasing hormone levels, boosting sleep quality and increasing the ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain known as ‘endorphins’ (nature’s own mood boosters). Wim Hof has undertaken some very extreme challenges to illustrate what the body is capable of coping with, such as holding the longest time record for being submerged in an ice bath of 1 hours and 52 minutes and climbing Mount Everest in just shoes and shorts! Learn more about The Wim Hof Method

Relaxes muscles, reduces inflammation and gives natural pain relief

Athletes and those who undertake regular, intense bouts of exercise have long sworn the benefits of an ice bath, such as Heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and British tennis champion, Andy Murray. They praise ice baths for aiding faster muscle recovery, reducing swelling and flushing out toxins such as lactic acid. Australian Sports Scientist, As Ned Brophy-Williams, who has authored several leading papers on cold water therapy, explains in an article that cold water immersion works by redirecting blood flow “from the peripheral to deep blood vessels, thereby limiting inflammation and swelling and improving venous return (the amount of blood returning to the heart).”

But what about the rest of us? If we’re not training for marathons, or aiming for the Olympics, is an ice bath really worth all the pain and goosebumps? Well perhaps not. But there are ways in which cold exposure and ice therapy can be introduced into your life for the better. A 2009 study reports that a quick cold shower after breaking a sweat from activities such as resistance training, cycling or running can be just as effective as an ice bath in relieving delayed-onset muscle soreness. It’s thought that the shock intensity of a cold shower or applying ice to the skin increases blood flow to warm the body, which is said help your muscle relax. A 2008 study also found that cold hydrotherapy has an analgesic or ‘painkilling’ effect, which does not appear to have noticeable side effects or cause dependence.

Cleanses skin and nails and makes hair shine

It is said that one of the most natural ways to maintain the healthy appearance of of you skin and hair is the use of cold showers or ice application. Hot water has the tendency to dry out our skin, so it’s claimed that cold water will restrict blood flow to capillaries which will temporarily tighten your cuticles and pores and ‘seal’ them, which may prevent dirt getting trapped under nail beds or pores becoming clogged. Plus, as we all know, water helps to clean away sweat and other eliminatory products, which is especially important after heating up in a sauna or steam room. The benefits to your skin continue...The shock cooling effect can also reduce any morning puffiness and swelling of your face to give you an instant wide-awake look. And if it’s good enough for supermodel Kate Moss, then it’s good enough for us mere mortals! In an interview with Stylist magazine, she revealed: “If I wake up looking tired and puffy, I fill a sink with ice and cucumber and submerge my face. It tightens everything making you look and feel instantly awake.” Jessica Krant, a board-certified dermatologist, told The Huffington Post that ice-cold or lukewarm water can help our skin and prevent it from being stripped of its healthy natural oils too quickly. As the circulation improves in order to warm the body, blood flows to the smallest capillaries bringing with it fresh oxygen and vital nutrients helping the skin to glow.  The skin can also benefit from the exfoliating effect of rubbing ice from the Ice Fountain on to your skin. It could offer great results for hair too. The cold water helps to flatten the follicles and increasing their ability to grip the scalp, making hair look shinier, smoother and healthier.

Helps with depression

A 2007 study published by a molecular biologist named Nikolai Shevchuk found evidence that cold showers can help treat depression symptoms, and, if used regularly, might even be more effective than prescription antidepressants. The study claims that cold water can flood the mood-regulating areas of your brain with happy, sparkly neurotransmitters. Other studies have reported that winter swimmers have “significant decrease[s] in tension and fatigue and an improvement in mood and memory.” Strengthens the immune system Rubbing the skin with ice or standing under a cold shower can stimulate circulation, encouraging our blood to surround our organs, which is thought to help combat some skin and heart problems. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, a natural health expert, the shock cooling makes the veins expand and contract, leading the arteries to more efficiently pump blood, therefore boosting overall heart health; possibly helping to prevent some circulation problems, clear blocked arteries and strengthen the immune system.

Increases alertness

Although taking a cold shower in the morning, feeling cold water pour down over our body seems more horrifying than soothing, yet the shock is said to help increase alertness, encouraging you to stay sharp and retain your focus. The deep breathing in response to our body’s shock helps us keep warm, as therefore increases our overall oxygen intake. Thus, our heart rate will also increase, releasing a rush of blood through our entire body. This gives us a natural dose of energy for the day. Katherine Hepburn, a Hollywood actress, swore by cold showers. She began taking them daily after being pushed by Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist and pioneer in social hygiene, The New York Times reported. Katherine would take ice-cold baths or showers during childhood and for the rest of her life and advised others to do so as well with a high energy level to support her claims.

Top Tips for incorporating cold exposure in our Thermal Suite*

  • Some experts claim that the principle is 3 -1. You want to be in the hot water 3 times longer than the cold water, so 90 seconds hot, 30 seconds cold.
  • Due to cold water and ice helping to close the skin’s pores, we advise not to have a cold shower or rub ice into your skin directly following a dip in any of our pools, as there is the potential to trap chemicals etc. in the pores potentially causing rashes and irritation, please be sure to shower with warm water first
  • Read how to incorporate cold exposure into your thermal journey here.

Use of our ice fountain and contrast showers is included for all guests of the hotel, spa members and spa day package guests.


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*These statements are for informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for medical counselling. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Saunton Sands and Source Spa shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss, damage, or injury caused directly or indirectly by the information contained herein.