From Wim Hof to Your Bathtub, Why Cold Baths Are the Hottest Trend: A Cold Therapy Consumer Insight Industry Report

My mother used to say you will catch a cold if you go outside with wet hair when it’s chilly. So, a quick scroll through Instagram Reels would probably leave her thinking the world has gone mad. From half-naked people jumping into a freezing lake to gym bro’s pretending they are relaxing in a bathtub full of ice, cold therapy appears to be the latest craze. As a marketing agency for health brands, we’re data geeks who live and breathe health trends. In this report, we crack the code of search engine data to show you what’s really heating up (or cooling down) in the cold therapy world.

What is cold therapy and how cold does the water need to be?

Cold therapy is a catch-all term. It can include cold water therapy, cryotherapy and ice bathing. Yet, getting these mixed up in front of cold therapy advocates is sure to attract their wrath. So, for the purposes of this report and to ensure you avoid their rolling eyes, let’s break down what each means:

  • Cold water therapy: A broad term encompassing any exposure to cold water, including ice baths, cold showers, swimming in cold water, etc. The water temperature usually ranges from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 60°F).
  • Cryotherapy: A more specific term involving specialised chambers or chambers that expose the body to very cold air, typically ranging from -140°C to -170°C (-220°F to -280°F).
  • Ice bathing: A specific type of cold-water therapy where the body is immersed in a tub of water filled with ice. This usually results in temperatures around 4°C to 10°C (40°F to 50°F).

Since cold water therapy covers the widest range of treatments, we will use this as the basis for our analysis.

Woman showering in cold water and doing cold therapy
A woman showers in cold water – an easily accessible form of cold therapy

Interest in cold water therapy heats up

Over a five-year period (2019 to 2024) interest in cold water therapy in the UK has skyrocketed by 633%. Yet, given this is a trend that was almost non-existent five years ago, this is not a surprise. So, looking at a two-year period (2021 to 2024) perhaps provides a clearer picture. In the last two years interest in the UK has grown by 206%. That’s a lot of interest for a therapy that doesn’t exactly sound relaxing.

As the graph below shows a similar picture emerges in the US and worldwide. Over the last five years, the US has seen a 475% increase in interest whilst worldwide it is 600%. Over the last two years that interest has grown 143% and 114% respectively.

Cold water therapy trends over last five years have skyroacketed, especially in the UK.
Graph shows that interest in cold water therapy has been increasing rapidly

At first glance, we could assume the US, as it often does when it comes to health, is driving this trend. We have seen this with NMN supplements and CGMs. Yet, a closer look at the data provides some surprises.

Americans think this cold therapy is cool but perhaps they have seen better

The data shows there are only approx. 8,000 monthly searches in the US for cold water therapy. This is approx. the same as the monthly search volume in the UK. Even when combined with other cold water therapy-related searches, both nations have a monthly search traffic of 15k. When you consider the US has a population that’s five times larger than the UK, this would indicate the trend is not mainstream in the US.

The graph below illustrates that the UK is actually the leading nation for cold water therapy in terms of interest. The darker the blue, the more interest there is relative to all other searches in that specific country. However, it’s important to note, that whilst countries like India and South Africa show some interest, cold water therapy does not appear to be trending in those regions. However, it could indicate the start of a trend,

Map of the world show cold water therapy is most popular in the UK
The UK is a hotspot for cold water therapy. At least Brits are finding the positive in having bad weather

Cold water therapy benefits: People looking for the positives when researching cold therapy

Interestingly, across both the US and UK people appear more interested in the benefits of cold-water therapy rather than the dangers. Whilst research is still in its infancy the main benefits that have been identified include:

In the UK there are 1,900 monthly searches for the benefits of cold water therapy. In the US there are only 1,300. However, those searching for the dangers of cold therapy are much smaller. In the UK a measly 480 people investigate the dangers of cold-water therapy per month. That equates to only 3.2% of searches related to cold water benefits per month. In the US it’s slightly better with 5.8%.

So, what are the dangers of cold-water therapy?

The data is surprising given the obvious dangers of plunging into cold water. These dangers include:

  • Cold shock response which is a sudden and involuntary reaction to entering cold water
  • Increased risk of hypothermia
  • May hinder muscle recovery if used frequently
  • Increased risks if you suffer from a specific condition. For example, those suffering from nerve disorders, heart issues, high blood pressure, or other circulatory issues should be careful

So, why are more people not interested in understanding how to do cold water therapy safely? The answer perhaps lies in the popularity of the trend across social media platforms.

Wim Hof drives interest in cold therapy

Wim Hof aka “Iceman” is an extreme athlete from the Netherlands. He’s celebrated for his extraordinary prowess in braving icy temperatures. He has held Guinness World Records for his feats like swimming under ice and enduring extended full-body ice contact. Yet, his chilling achievements appear to be redefining what it means to push the boundaries of human endurance.

Wim Hof swimming in icy lake doing cold therapy
Wim Hof a famous proponent of ice bathing

On Instagram, Wim Hof-related hashtags have been used approximately 800k times. Surprisingly this is much higher than on TikTok where Wim Hof-related hashtags have less than 100k views. Moreover, he has approx. 4m followers across both platforms. This is perhaps a key reason why his name alone is searched for 33,100 times per month in the UK and 74,000 times per month in the US. In addition, 19% of those making Wim Hof-related searches in the US are 18-24, perhaps indicating the reach he has on social media.

However, it would be a mistake to attribute cold water therapy’s popularity completely to Wim Hof. The growth in the biohacking movement on social media alongside accounts focused on preventative health has risen. A quick glance at a number of those accounts also shows people participating in cold water therapy regimes.

The US appears to embrace more advanced treatments, but is that true?

At first glance, it would appear the US is perhaps more interested in advanced treatments like cryotherapy than cold water therapy. Each month the US has approx. 165,000 cryotherapy related searches. This dwarfs the UK where there are still a sizeable 22,000 monthly searches.

However, analysing trends over the last five years conjures some interesting insights. As the graph below demonstrates, interest in cryotherapy is actually declining in the US. From 2019 to 2024 interest has declined 37.5% in the US. Worldwide a similar pattern emerges with a decline of 26%.

Cryotherapy trends over last five years have flatlined
Cryotherapy is declining in interest in the US and Worldwide

However, as we can see the UK has seen some growth in interest. With a 26% increase, it appears it is still a growing market. Yet, unlike many of the other health trends we see it is nowhere near as pronounced. Moreover, as the graph below highlights, the leading marketing for Cryotherapy remains in the US, suggesting it’s not trending anywhere.

Map of the world show cryo therapy is most popular in the US
Interest in cryo therapy might be declining but the US remains the most popular place for it

The reasons for the differences between cryotherapy and cold-water therapy are unclear. However, it could be due to the differences in practicalities and cost. Cold water therapy is available to all whilst cryotherapy requires visiting a clinic.

Maybe 2014 was a visionary year – Ice Bucket Challenge returns

Remember 2014? Facebook was still a cool platform where all the kids hung out. Also, something strange was going viral. The ice bucket challenge. For some reason unbeknown to any rational human being, people started throwing buckets of ice water over their heads. That’s something people 100 years from now will look back on and ask the very pertinent question – why?

Well, maybe we were onto something. As the graph below shows, ice baths are fast trending upwards. Five years ago, in 2019, interest in the US, UK and worldwide was low. Yet since then, the UK has seen a 925% increase in interest, the US a 500% rise and worldwide a rise of 767%.

Ice bath trends over last five years have skyroacketed. They are one of the most popular cold therapy treatments
Ice baths are a big deal. Interest is rapidly increasing in them as a mechanism for cold therapy

However, percentage increases from low search volumes can be misleading. Therefore, even if we consider the last two years, we see a high surge in interest. Interest has grown 300% in the UK, 239% in the US and 359% worldwide

The ice generation?

Interestingly, proportionally we can see there is more interest in the UK vs the US when factoring in population sizes. There are approx. 49,500 ice bath-related searches per month in the UK whilst in the US there are approx. 74,000 searches per month. It appears ice baths follow a similar pattern to cold water therapy.

The similarities don’t stop there. People searching for the risks of ice baths remain extremely low. In the UK, risk-related searches are only 0.5% of the total volume of people searching for ice baths. In the US it’s 1.4%.

Yet, looking at demographic data perhaps generates the biggest surprise. Of the 49,000 monthly searches for ice baths in the UK, 39% are made by people aged 18 to 24. The influence of social media again appears to be having a profound impact. With this in mind, perhaps the leaders of tomorrow’s society will treat ice baths in the same way most people think about going to the gym, drinking green juice or heading to a spa.

Man walking into a cryotherapy chamber
A man walks into a cryo chamber. It looks cool but it’s not trending

The future of cold therapy

The journey from traditional wisdom about catching a cold with wet hair to the contemporary fascination with cold therapy encapsulates a dynamic shift in wellness trends. Social media has clearly had a big impact on shaping perceptions. Yet, the data indicates low-tech cold therapy interventions are perhaps the path forward for the industry. People want convenience and value for money. With solutions like taking a cold shower offering many of the same benefits as cryotherapy, it’s difficult to see this changing.

However, that’s not to say technology can’t play a role. But it will perhaps take a different form to what we see today.  Many of the risks could be monitored through the introduction of cold-water wearables. Whatever, the future, one thing is clear. Cold therapy appears to be a trend that is here to stay.

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