Let’s talk about hot and cold. No, no, not the Kary Perry song. We’re referring instead to hot and cold therapy—using temperature to help us feel relaxed and rejuvenated, or to bring about certain health benefits. This can include anything from saunas to cold water swimming. Ready to explore the world of hot and cold therapy? Let’s dive in (no pun intended).
What is hot and cold therapy?
Thermotherapy (or thermal therapy) is the use of heat, while cryotherapy is the use of cold. You might already be familiar with the concepts. For example, if you’ve ever used a heating pad for menstrual cramps or put a bag of frozen peas on an injury, you’ve employed these therapies.
Around the world and throughout the ages, people have used hot and cold therapy techniques. Ancient Greeks and Romans, for instance enjoyed bathing in thermal baths and felt that these waters had healing properties. And who could forget the time-honored tradition of the Finnish sauna? Spending time in these heated rooms is considered cleansing and restorative.
Benefits of hot and cold therapy
There are many different forms of hot and cold therapy, all with different health benefits. In general, applying heat to warm the temperature of the skin helps to widen blood vessels and increases blood flow, and is believed to accelerate tissue healing. By contrast, applying cold to cool the temperature of the skin decreases blood flow, and is believed to reduce inflammation. However, when used appropriately, both hot and cold can help reduce pain.
Here are some other potential benefits of hot and cold therapy, according to recent scientific studies:
- eatHeat therapy may help reduce blood pressure.
- Lifelong sauna use has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
- Heat application is thought to be helpful for pain related to arthritis (both osteoarthrosis and rheumatoid arthritis), menstrual cramps, and lower back pain.
- Cold application is thought to be best for acute injuries. That’s because it reduces nerve activity, pain, inflammation, and swelling.
- Cryotherapy is used to remove warts, and can be done easily and quickly at your doctor’s office.
Anecdotally, using cold on one’s face (such as facial icing) may also temporarily help reduce the look of wrinkles, tighten the skin, and shrink the look of pores.
It’s important to note that hot and cold therapy can have risks, too, and is not suitable for everyone. Ask your doctor before engaging in hot or cold therapy, and always make sure that you follow product instructions carefully to avoid potential injury.
Try it at home
Visiting a sauna or spa can be a wonderfully restorative experience. Look up options near you—or consider a spa- or sauna-themed getaway. And, of course, hot and cold therapies are used professionally by various health practitioners. But here’s more good news: Some methods of hot and cold therapy can also be practiced at home! Here are a few to consider.
- Use a warm compress on your eyes to help treat a stye or relieve dry eyes.
- Do an at-home facial massage using a facial oil. As you gently massage your face, your skin will warm up. You can look up specific techniques on YouTube for inspiration, but in general, you want to work in an upwards and outwards motion.
- Apply a heating pad to sore muscles, such as a sore back or for period cramps.
- Have a hot shower. Apart from feeling amazing, it may help soothe stiff joints and promote relaxation and sleep.
- Consider hiring a professional to create a home sauna for you.
- Using a cool compress on your eyes to help reduce the look of bags under the eyes.
- Do an at-home facial massage that incorporates ice or a cooling tool. Some tools are designed to be cooled in the fridge or freezer and then used on the skin.
- Employ the “RICE” technique immediately after an injury. Rest and protect the injury, apply an ice or cold pack to help minimize swelling, Compress it with a bandage, and Elevate it using pillows.
- Have a cold shower, which may help decrease fatigue. Many people find cold showers to be invigorating. Remember to start slowly with water that feels slightly uncomfortable, and only for a couple of minutes to begin with. You can even take a regular shower and switch to cold at the very end.
- Some people enjoy alternating between cold and hot water immersion, also known as contrast water therapy or thermocycling, either by bathing or showering. Research shows that doing so may improve feelings of relaxation and reduce feelings of fatigue.
Polar Bear Swim, anyone?
Some people love going for a cold water dip every January 1. And some people love doing so even more frequently! A cold-water plunge may have health benefits. In a recent study from 2022, researchers reviewed 104 studies about swimming in cold water. They determined that cold-water swimming may help reduce fat in men, as well as insulin resistance. However, more research needs to be done.
Want to improve your skin further? Consider upping your skincare game this spring by adding a serum. Serums can have hydrating, soothing, and antioxidant properties. These days, you can even find innovative serums that contain CBD. Although more research needs to be done, studies suggest that topical CBD may act as an anti-inflammatory and help relieve acne.
There are approximately 3.3 million saunas in Finland—and approximately 5.5 people. So important is the practice of sauna to Finland that UNESCO has placed sauna culture in Finland in the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
A study from 2016 found that participants who took cold showers took fewer sickness absence days from work.