I think we can all agree that there are few things in this world that sound less appealing than dunking your face in a bowl of freezing-cold ice water. And yet, ice-water facials recently went viral on TikTok, and A-listers like Sydney Sweeney, Bella Hadid, and Kate Hudson swear by them for the sake of their skin. Clearly, if all of these people are willing to put up with the cringe-inducing discomfort that comes along with submerging yourself in ice, there’s gotta be something to it, right?
To find out if the practice is truly worth the pain, I treated my face to a polar plunge every morning for a week. Keep scrolling to see if it was worth the brain freeze.
What is an ice-water facial?
Giving yourself an ice-water facial is just about as simple as it sounds: Fill a bowl with water and ice, then submerge your full face in it for 20 to 30 seconds. That’s it.
Though the method is currently trending, it certainly isn’t new to 2022—its roots can be traced back to ancient civilizations. “Full-body cold plunges go back many centuries,” Geeta Yadav, MD, a board-certified Dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology. In fact, ice baths go all the way back to ancient times, when ancient Greeks and Egyptians used cool water submersion to ease muscle fatigue and skin irritation. Flash forward to the 21st century, “facial plunges in ice water are a natural progression,” Dr. Yadav adds.
The benefits of an ice-water facial
As you may have guessed, the skin-care benefits that come along with ice-water facials make the practice worth the initial shiver. “Cold plunges reduce inflammation while energizing the skin,” says Dr. Yadav. “Relieving that inflammation can help temporarily reduce redness or tenderness in blemishes and rosacea-prone skin.”
When your skin interacts with super-cold temperatures, it causes the blood vessels beneath its surface to constrict. This reduces blood flow to that area, which decreases redness, swelling, and puffiness. When your face returns to homeostasis (aka its normal temp), your capillaries will open back up and you’ll be left with a nice, refreshed-looking flush.
“Cold water helps give your face vitality and more color. It also enhances the brightness of your skin by getting the circulation going and literally waking up your skin,”board-certified dermatologist Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, previously told Well+Good. “Since cold water is capable of shrinking the pores, it’s also something that can help make your face less shiny. That’s because it’s via your pores that oils produced by the sebaceous glands reach the surface of your skin. With the size of your pores considerably reduced, the number of oils that cover your face can be kept to a minimum.”
A few more (non-skin-care-related) reasons to go for the plunge? It can calm anxiety and, of course, “It’ll also wake you up,” says Dr. Yadav. What a way to start your day.
What happened when I tried ice-water facials for a week
Before I started giving myself ice-water facials, my skin was in a post-travel slump. I was coming off a three-week stint in Europe that involved minimal sleep and too much time on airplanes, and my face was puffier than usual—which meant I would really get to see whether or not a week’s worth of icy dunks would make a difference.
Each morning, I filled a bowl with ice water and dunked my face into it for 30 seconds straight. The first couple of days, it took me multiple tries to keep my head underwater for that long—but by day three, I had gotten the hang of it. One thing I didn’t get used to, even after a week? The shock to your system that comes along with sticking your face in an ice bath moments after you wake up. I’m not naturally a morning person, and this was quite a way to start the day.
Though I never looked forward to my morning dip, I did look forward to the way my skin looked afterward. My cheeks looked noticeably less puffy, and the swelling around my eyes and chin diminished. Beyond that, my skin tone looked visibly smoother and more even—so much so that I decided to skip complexion products a few times over the course of the experiment. See ya, concealer (at least for now).
Overall, I loved the way my skin looked after a week’s worth of ice baths… but not enough that I plan to make it a part of my everyday routine. The process is more work than it’s worth, and the rate it requires me to refill my ice trays simply isn’t sustainable for my lifestyle (plus, dumping out the excess post-facial water weighed on my conscience every time).
If the morning polar plunge doesn’t appeal to you either, don’t worry: There are other ways to use cold therapy to achieve lifted, luminous skin. “If you’re not into the idea of plunging your face into an icy bowl of water, using tools like ice rollers and chilled face globes will accomplish the same effects,” says Dr. Yadav. “You can also refrigerate sheet masks to achieve similar results, albeit on a smaller scale.”
Stow this hardworking tool in your freezer for a cool to the touch roller. The egg shaped, stainless steel roller stays cooler for longer. Run under your eyes to banish bags.
Yes, you can grab regular ice cubes from your freezer but what fun is that? These antioxidant-rich cubes (think verbena leaf and copper) are designed to tone and firm skin with each run.
Cool down these wands by placing them in the fridge (not the freezer) or a bowl of cold water. Roll them over clean skin or on top of your favorite serum. The teardrop shaped ends comfortably fit against the curves of your face. Each pass feels so good, you’ll be tempted to push out your next facial.
Blueberries contain important antioxidants and coconut milk promotes collagen production. Follow Dr. Yadav’s advice and stick this in your fridge for an extra cooling sensation upon application.