Can a Face Ice Bath Really Cure a Hangover, Bust Anxiety, Clear Skin, and More?
Experts say the TikTok trend might help with some of these things, but if it ‘cures’ your hangover, you probably weren’t hungover in the first place.
If after a night of imbibing, you’ve woken up with a throbbing headache, waves of nausea, or feeling foggy, TikTokers want you to try their solve: Dip your face into a bowl of ice water.
They claim it can also help depression, reduce anxiety, and improve skin.
Model Bella Hadid posted a video clip of herself icing her face in an Instagram post on February 19, 2022. A few months later, TikToker Edward Zo (1.8M followers) posted a video of himself dunking his own face in an ice bath on May 5, 2022, crediting Hadid as the reason he had to try it. Zo’s video now has more than 17.6 million views.
Marissa Littell's TikTok feed (82.2K followers) is filled with posts about the purported benefits of the face ice bath. In a video from April 3, 2022, with 8.9 million views, she claims the chilly dunk is an anxiety reliever. A day later, she posted a video claiming the ice bath is her “hangover ritual.” And this month, she’s posted other videos about why the ice bath is her summer morning routine and a facial that can reduce puffiness and clear blemishes.
Others are trying it out — #icefacial now has 227.8 million views on TikTok, #icewaterfacial now has 7.5 million views, and #faceicebath now has 853.5 thousand views.
What Is the Face Ice Bath?
The concept is straightforward: Fill a large bowl with ice and water and dip your face in.
TikTokers, like Zo and Littell are seen lowering and resting their faces into large bowls filled with ice water anywhere between 5 and 20 seconds, repeating this four or five times.
What Experts Are Saying About the Face Ice Bath
Experts say the face ice bath may indeed help when it comes to some of these claims. But there are some noteworthy caveats to keep in mind.
As a Hangover Helper
Hangover symptoms tend to vary from person to person, and may include fatigue, weakness, thirst, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound, according to the National Institute of Abuse and Alcoholism.
Hangovers are caused by a variety of factors such as poor sleep, dehydration, mild electrolyte imbalances, and gastric reflux, says Adam Lake, MD, a family physician and addiction medicine specialist in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
It could temporarily relieve some of these symptoms because water submersion triggers the “diver’s reflex,” says Dr. Lake, who is also a medical reviewer for Everyday Health. The reflex slows your heart rate, suppresses your breathing, and shifts blood away from your muscles. It’s caused by an increased parasympathetic drive (your body’s calming response to stressors), Lake says. “Anyone who has jumped in a cold pool may be able to relate to the change in breathing that happens immediately,” he explains.
This activation of the parasympathetic nervous system response stimulates the vagus nerve, which plays a major role in how our brains communicate with our digestive and immune systems, research has shown. So that may explain why the ice bath helps relieve nausea temporarily for some (but it’s far from a proven fact).
As a Mental Health Booster
There’s some evidence that full body, cold water submersion can help with anxiety and depression, says Allison Young, MD, a practicing psychiatrist and adjunct professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, and medical reviewer for Everyday Health.
One study, for instance, found that winter swimming was linked to less tension, fatigue, and negative moods, as well as improved self-reported energy and vigor.
Dr. Young isn’t aware of evidence that just dunking your face in ice water has benefits because it hasn’t been formally studied, but it could share some of the same effects that cold water submersion has on the body.
Submerging in cold water causes the body to release noradrenaline and beta endorphin, two “feel-good” hormones, says Young. This triggers your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the same effect that other relaxation techniques, like deep breathing practices, have on the body, she says.
As a Skin Clearer
Water temperature is the likely explanation behind why the trend’s touted skin benefits. The cool water constricts blood vessels, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
When this happens, redness, swelling, and inflammation of the skin are reduced, he explains.
Though products with benzoyl and salicylic acid are usually best for treating acne, Dr. Zeichner adds that the ice bath may help reduce some of the redness that comes with pimples (though this hasn’t been formally studied either).
Who Should Try (and Who Should Avoid) the Icy Trend?
If you are wanting relief from your hangover, Lake says for most generally healthy people it couldn’t hurt to try the ice bath (especially for nausea). But he adds that it likely won’t help with every symptom. “If this ‘cures’ your hangover, then you were probably more tired than hungover,” he adds.
Lake also recommends hydrating and taking an over-the-counter medication, like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), to help recoat the stomach lining to improve nausea.
And it’s important to note that the shock of the cold water could trigger physiological changes in the nervous system that could cause arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) for some, Young cautions. If you have a cardiovascular or other nervous system condition, check with your doctor before trying it.
And if you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, particularly if you suspect they’re severe enough to require treatment (such as insomnia, trouble concentrating, dramatic changes in appetite and weight, or having little interest in things you once enjoyed), Young suggests talking to your doctor before trying any on-your-own, at-home treatment. The risk with the DIY-approach is that you could be missing out on evidence-based treatment that could be much more effective if you need help, she says.
And when it comes to your skin, it’s likely safe as long as you don’t overdo it, says Zeichner. “Exposure to extremes in cold temperatures can be actually damaging to the skin,” he says. “Limit your exposure to short periods of time to avoid any harmful effects.”
And take extra caution if you have sensitive skin or rosacea because the cold dunk could be particularly irritating, Zeichner adds. “In rosacea, the blood vessels of the face are overreactive to begin with, so exposing them to extremes in temperature could lead to a flare,” he says.
The Bottom Line on the Face Ice Bath
While the face ice bath may have theoretical benefits when it comes to lessening some hangover symptoms and feeling refreshing for skin, it is not necessarily the cure-all that TikTokers are making it out to be. (And it’s important to note that there’s still no formal research on the practice.)
If you decide to take the plunge, try shorter periods of time in the water to avoid irritating skin or other potential risks. If you have known circulatory issues or different skin conditions, it is best to consult a doctor before trying this home remedy.