Why Do Cold Hands Burn When Exposed to Hot Water?

Why hot water on cold hands causes thermal injury. Learn why using cold water is the right approach.

Why Do Cold Hands Burn When Exposed to Hot Water?
Photo by The Tonik / Unsplash

You return home after a long walk in the cold, and there it is – the familiar sensation.

As you reach for the tap and turn on the hot water, anticipating relief, you are met with an unexpected burning sensation.

Why does this happen?

The Body's Response

When exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period, blood vessels in the skin constrict, directing blood flow to essential organs to maintain core body temperature.

As a result, the outer extremities, including the hands, receive less blood flow.

When the cold hands come into contact with hot water, the sudden increase in temperature causes the blood vessels to dilate rapidly, leading to discomfort and the sensation of burning.

Thermal Injury Risk

This rapid dilation of blood vessels due to the temperature shift from cold to hot can potentially cause thermal injury to the delicate tissues of the hands.

Thus, it is crucial to avoid using hot water immediately on cold hands, as it may lead to tissue damage.

Cold Water Remedy

A common remedy for cold hands is to use cold water initially to gradually warm them.

This approach helps to slowly increase blood flow to the hands, preventing the shock of rapid temperature change and minimizing the risk of thermal injury.

Scientific Recommendations

Medical experts recommend allowing the hands to warm up naturally or using tepid water first, gradually increasing the temperature, to avoid thermal injury and discomfort.


Understanding why cold hands burn in hot water sheds light on the body's fascinating response to temperature changes.

Employing scientific knowledge to care for our bodies, especially in extreme temperature conditions, can help us prevent discomfort and potential injury.