Skip

Why do I get a thrill out of washing my hands in painfully hot water?
May 17, 2014 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I have a habit of washing my hands in incredibly hot water. Not painfully hot to start, but increasingly hot, in a boiling-frog sense. There's something about the sensation that goes beyond "soothing" (like one gets from a garden-variety hot shower) and into the territory of a mild high — or at least the best itch that's ever been scratched.

I'll start with warm or lukewarm water, and keep my hands under the stream as the temperature rises — well beyond the level that would have felt too hot to stand, had the water started at that temperature. Along the way I'll often tell myself I shouldn't be doing it, that I should stop, but the sensation practically puts me in a fugue state, and I end up seeing just how hot I can let the water get before I pull my now-quite-red hands away in pain/pleasure.

I guess my question is part "Is this normal / shared by anyone else," part "Why do I enjoy this," and part "What do I do about it?"

I know it's not good for me — it dries out my already-sensitive skin, exacerbates my existing eczema, and I've even heard that it can lead to long term issues (nerve damage and/or a weakened epidermis). As I've become more self-aware about this, I've tried to stick to cold water when I wash my hands, so I'm not tempted to do it... but even then sometimes the water will start warming up and I'll lose myself for a bit. And boy is it good (if temporary) stress relief during a rough day. But behind that, is it some kind of self-sabotage / self-destructive urge? A fetish? Sufficient grounds for getting professional help? (I deal with some mild anxiety, but no real experience with therapy.) Or should I just accept that it's a weird thing I do, and keep plugging away at kicking the habit?
posted by unauthorized.cinnamon to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pain_and_pleasure

This is totally a thing. People get this from doing martial arts, or lifting weights until their muscles give out, or getting piercings and tattoos, or practicing S&M, or any other painful thing you can think of. They do these things not necessarily DESPITE the pain, but in many cases BECAUSE OF the pain. Pain releases all sorts of delightful chemicals into our brains, so it's really no surprise. There's also a certain pleasure to be taken in testing one's limits and enduring something that other people might find unendurable.

There are probably other outlets for this sensation that would be better for your skin, of course, but don't freak out about it!
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:35 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Well, to cool down your body temperature, you can run your wrists under cool water, so perhaps the warming of the blood that happens as you raise the temperature and keep your hands there gives you an overall feeling?

Also, one of my aunts had terrible eczema and would run super-hot water over her hands to stop the itching (it was awful for her, but she said sometimes it's the only thing that helped), so maybe you're gaining some relief from itchiness?
posted by xingcat at 2:35 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I'll leave it to you to figure out what you personally get out of it but this is definitely a thing.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:05 PM on May 17


This is a known effective treatment (folk-wisdom-ish, but known) for poison ivy rash. Anecdotally I can attest to it feeling AMAZING and relieving the itch better than anything else, although briefly.

So the real answer to your question might just be "because you're itchy."
posted by jessicapierce at 4:00 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I do this. Has to start with cooler water and work it's way up, too. I find it dries the skin out faster than anything else, though, so it can cause my excema to flare up because my skin is very dry. No idea as to the medical causes or reasoning behind it, but it's a harmless fun thing to do. So far as I know, anyway.
posted by Solomon at 4:07 PM on May 17


Could you wash your hands, then put on gloves for the hot-hot water part?
posted by theora55 at 4:23 PM on May 17


I have a habit of washing my hands in incredibly hot water. Not painfully hot to start, but increasingly hot, in a boiling-frog sense. There's something about the sensation that goes beyond "soothing" (like one gets from a garden-variety hot shower) and into the territory of a mild high — or at least the best itch that's ever been scratched.

I would hardly call "the best itch that's ever been scratched" a "mild" high.

Also, one of my aunts had terrible eczema and would run super-hot water over her hands to stop the itching (it was awful for her, but she said sometimes it's the only thing that helped), so maybe you're gaining some relief from itchiness?
posted by xingcat


I think xingcat's got it: you're relieving the itch of your eczema, including a level of itch you may not even be perceiving consciously because you've learned to partially suppress the sensation.

It turns out that a small subset of pain nerves have receptors on them that allow them to also transmit itch signals:
The scientific controversy over pain and itch centers around a group of nerve cells known to respond electrically to painful stimuli such as molecules of capsaicin, the fiery ingredient in chili peppers. A small subset of these nerve cells also responds electrically to itchy stimuli because they have on their surfaces receptors for molecules like histamine.
However, when the other kinds of pain nerve cells around them are transmitting strong pain signals, the receiving areas in your spinal cord and brain interpret the signals from the itch nerves as pain too, and the sensation of itching is immediately relieved.

I think one strong line of evidence for this is the way opiates are often associated with intractable chronic itching; the pain goes away and signals from the itch-specific nerves can only be interpreted as itching.

Another line comes from the way old people tend to develop chronic itching:
Chronic itching becomes more common with age. One reason is that older people often develop dry skin, but Dr. Yosipovitch said the itching also might occur because certain nerves in the skin deteriorate — nerves that transmit pain and inhibit itching. “Then itch kind of pops out,” he said.
Anything that helps you with your eczema will probably help you with this too, but it think the final link points up a significant danger from the hot water treatment: if that hot water causes the other pain nerves to deteriorate, it could cause the itching to "pop out," and you could end up being quite a bit worse off than you are now.
posted by jamjam at 6:02 PM on May 17


When I get itchy mosquito bites I run water as hot as I can stand onto them, incrementally increasing the temperature as I acclimate until it's seriously near burning. It initially feels super intense, like a mosquito-bite orgasm, and then the sensation eventually dies down in strength, I turn off the water, and my bites are blessedly numb for several hours. Articles I've read about this suggest the heat releases the histamines all at once.

When the really hot water splashes onto parts of my body that aren't bitten, it just hurts.

Here's a reddit thread discussing the topic, including people like you who have excema.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:42 PM on May 17


Pain feels good, man.
posted by hamsterdam at 2:25 AM on May 18


As a data point from a fellow eczema sufferer... I do this too.
posted by jferg at 7:07 AM on May 18


I lived in an apartment for a couple years with electric heat and it just wrecked the skin on my arms and sides -- dry itchy/painful grossness. Almost unbearably hot water on those areas was, indeed, like "the best itch that's even been scratched." I think it dried my skin out even more in the long run, but in the moment it felt so good. You sort of give in and it's relieving and relaxing and ahhhhh.

Good as it felt, moisturizer and cortizone were more effective in the long run. (That and a new apartment.)
posted by postcommunism at 10:47 AM on May 18


« Older I want to buy a used iPad - th...   |  My 7-year-old enjoyed watching... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments



Post