Comfort over health: the conundrum of hot-water baths

Sophie Rivera, a 26-year-old, working mother of two energy-filled toddlers had a stressful life. Running a chaotic household and a clinic sounds impossible without a few drinks. However, consuming alcohol while lactating wasn’t an option for Sophie. So, she took an alternative we all like to resign to after a stressful day: a hot, steaming bath every night before sleeping. The hot water would soothe her sore body and relieve the perpetual muscle pain she experienced. Instead of a glass of wine, her hot bath ensured a good night’s sleep. This escape to comfort didn’t last for long.

After a few months, a strange thing started to happen. Sophie’s once smooth skin started to become blistered. Beginning with a dry and itchy patch of skin, her body flared up with blisters. She also experienced sudden nosebleeds whenever under any sort of stress. Horrified and more stressed than ever, she consulted her dermatologist and doctor.  Sophie was diagnosed with eczema and hypertension.


The idea of hot water baths has become associated with comfort over a long period of time. The origin of hot water baths has been drawn to the sixth-century B.C in Greece. It had been an activity that consisted of herbs and essential oils in heated water to relieve the sore muscles of soldiers back home from the battlefield.

Slowly, this activity spread among the workers as a recreational pleasure and break from their daily, physically-tiring labor. However, as everything good gets commercialized, the idea of a healing bath turned into a recreational activity. Bathing and luxury went hand-in-hand. It became so popular that huge common bathtubs sprung up throughout Europe. Again, as it is with everything good, things took a turn for worse.

Diseases like cholera spread throughout Europe due to the overuse of the same water by thousands of people. The bath which was meant to be a healing space turned into a disease breeding spot. With this, the concept of shared baths declined but the idea of hot water baths being a comfort and stress reliever prevailed.


Health Benefits of Hot Tubs [infographic] | Outside In Leisure

As the phrase goes, too much of everything is bad. The benefits of a hot water bath are backed by a lot of research; it is recommended to have a 10-minute bath in warm water daily. This evidently improves a person’s well-being and diminishes stressors like anxiety. A research study had also found bathing in warm water to recover depression and increase blood flow.

However, an important thing to note is the appropriate temperature for the bath is 104-degree Fahrenheit.  Also, it is advised to not stay in the water for more than 30-minutes. Sophie had not kept either of these precautions in mind. Her baths often lasted for a stretch of 50 minutes with the temperature as high as 140-degree Fahrenheit.  Little-by-little a lot of ugly side-effects surfaced because of her carelessness. These side-effects then aggravated to the extent of it becoming a skin and health condition.


Sophie’s body had shown symptoms of distress early on in her routine. Often after her long baths, she would emerge with pruned fingertips and not give it much thought. The initial relaxation of her baths faded, and soon more physical symptoms of distress came about. Here are some symptoms she reported:

  • Headaches: Sophie reported that she developed severe headaches within almost 3 weeks of adopting the hot-water bath routine. Headaches are a common side-effect of soaking for too long in the bath. Studies have attributed these baths as a reason for the development of paroxysmal headaches I.e sudden or sporadic headaches with a piercing, sharp pain. Hot bath headaches have been linked to overstimulation of temperature-sensitive receptors in the face and scalp. Soaking in hot water increases the activation of temperature-sensitive receptors, which can cause headaches.
  • Dry skin: One of the major concerns for Sophie was how her once smooth skin had lost its luster. The reason for this is the damage that keratin cells (tough, fibrous proteins that protect the surfaces and cavities of the skin) sustain. Excessive heat can harm this epidermal layer, and reduce the skin’s lipid layer, which keeps moisture locked in and fights off germs. This was the reason why Sophie was infected by eczema.
  • Dizziness: Sophie frequently felt dizzy after her long baths. The reason for this is attributed to the fact that hot water thickens blood arteries, lowering blood pressure. This leads to feeling dizzy and even fainting at times.

Sophie made the huge mistake of brushing off these symptoms as merely being a side-effect of taking on more stress of work from the clinic. This carelessness led to a flare up in these symptoms and took a serious turn.


Hot water baths can lead to serious ailments. Eczema and hypertension- conditions that struck Sophie- are only two such ailments. There are many negative results of these overheated and long baths:

  • Eczema: It’s a common skin rash characterized by red, irritated, itchy, and inflamed skin, as well as the creation of fluid-filled blisters.
  • Hypertension: A person can experience a spike in their blood pressure due to overexposure to the heat. Sophie had a history of hypertension in her family tree which had been passed onto her genes. Lying dormant for years, the disease finally emerged due overexposure to heat from the bath.
  • Harmful to fertility: Studies have shown that hot water baths can affect the fertility of a person. People with fertility issues are especially advised not to take hot water baths.
  • Harmful for eyes: The small blood vessels in the eyes dilate when exposed to hot water. Blood vessel dilation causes a drop in blood pressure, which causes lightheadedness and weariness.
  • Hair fall: Hot water deprives the scalp of its moisture and damages the hair roots which can lead to the weakening of the hair and make it unhealthy. This leads to the problem of hair fall.


Bathing should be a systematic ritual rather than a source of stress relief or comfort—in other words, one should recognize that bathing is to eliminate toxins from the body to maintain cleanliness rather than spending hours in the bathtub. 111-degree Fahrenheit is considered as the ideal temperature to draw a bath. It is advised that one should take a bath with water that matches their body temperature. During winters too hot water baths should be avoided. Lukewarm water should be used to take baths in the winter.

Unlike Sophie, one should keep hot water baths as a once-in-a-while stress reliever rather than making it a daily routine. The reason to do so is simple- prevention is always better than cure.