Plunging feet-first and neck-deep into a vat brimming with frigid water may not sound like everyone’s idea of a good time. But a growing number of followers say the resulting adrenaline rush and overall sense of well-being afterwards is well worth the initial shock and discomfort from the extreme temps.

Paula Karol, NP-C, included a cold-plunge tub and sauna when she designed DermaSea salon, which she opened this spring in Vineyard Haven. Jeanna Shepard

Cold water has been tapped for therapeutic and wellness uses since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans, for purposes ranging from illness cures to skin care. Practices vary from brief cold showers to longer soaks in ice-filled tubs, and proponents say the mental and physical benefits can be immensely meaningful.

Paula Karol, a nurse practioner specializing in dermatology and the owner of Vineyard Haven–based spa DermaSea, first tried cold-plunging in January 2022 when friends convinced her to join them on an icy dip into the Atlantic.

“The impact was profound,” she says. “I had this feeling of accomplishment and it really stuck with me.”

After that first exposure, Paula knew she wanted to incorporate a method for cold plunging into the spa she was planning to build. When DermaSea opened this spring, the wellness facility specializing in medical dermatology and healing included a room with a cold-water immersion and a sauna for heat therapy.

“I was thinking about cold plunges from my own experience,” she says. “There are a whole list of health benefits, but I was focusing on the sense of well-being I felt, which fits right in with my objective for DermaSea.”

Scientific research into cold plunging is still relatively inconclusive, but athletes and fitness trainers have long relied on cold-water immersion to speed muscle recovery and to reduce inflammation. The most widely known advocate for cold plunging is Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, who earned his nickname “The Iceman” after setting a series of world records for cold exposure.

The DermaSea cold immersion room also features a sauna. Jeanna Shepard

Wim Hof has made it his mission to prove the benefits of cold for the average person. His methods involve a series of exercises and breathing techniques intended to help individuals who are not extreme athletes safely reap benefits such as reduced levels of stress, better sleep and heightened mental clarity.

How cold is cold? That depends on your goals. Wim Hof practitioners say the benefits start with exposure of 10 minutes or less in temperatures below 57 degrees. As the temperature decreases, the benefits accrue with less time. And they discourage plunging alone, both for the sake of safety and enjoyment.

Wim Hof–certified massage therapist Deborah Wirzburger stresses the social aspect of plunging. “Wim wants to make it safe but he also wants to make it fun,” she says, explaining that incorporating friendly competitions and taking photos are encouraged as part of his method.

After 15 years of working as a licensed massage therapist on Martha’s Vineyard, Deborah was searching for ways to help her clients relax at the outset of their sessions so that her therapeutic work would be more effective. She attended a wellness industry conference in Helsinki, Finland, where she was reminded of the joy she had felt sauna bathing and then being rinsed off with cold water in her Finnish grandfather’s yard as a kid.

“Cold rinsing was part of the traditional sauna bathing experience,” she says, recounting how these Finnish practices work wellness into daily routines. She realized she wanted to bring both heat and cold therapy into her work and decided to pursue the Wim Hof certification, eventually incorporating training sessions into her menu of offerings for clients. “The concept of cold exposure is to push yourself to the edge, and get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she says.

Deborah’s business, The Nordic Mermaid, provides massage, cold plunging and sauna therapies at clients’ homes or in retreat settings on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. A “Mobile Spauna,” which is a custom-designed party-bus-style spa incorporating a wood-burning sauna and ice bath, is being built and planned for launch next year.

Paula Karol's son Kevin Beaulieu takes the plunge at DermaSea. Jeanna Shepard

If you’re thinking of giving cold plunging a try, the experts recommend checking in with your health professional or a Wim Hof–certified professional to get you started. And though the chilly ocean waters surrounding the Vineyard are actually too warm in the summer season to reap the benefits of plunging in nature, Islanders have plenty of other options for getting their cold on.

Along with Nordic Mermaid’s mobile sessions, the cold plunge room and sauna at DermaSea are available in 45-minute sessions that cost $65 for one person or $100 for two. Paula offers a tutorial and some tips, and she will stay in the room at the client’s request. She also offers packages for multiple sessions with discounted pricing.

Or you could take advantage of an Arctic dip into a tub set up by the Cold Plunge Guys at Nomans in Oak Bluffs. As part of Self-Care Sundays, Nomans is hosting the innovative company from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays from now until the end of the season. The Beverly, Mass.-based company sells cold-plunge and sauna equipment and has run more than 100 cold-plunge events throughout New England (including the Vineyard) in the past year.

Cold Plunge Guys Bryan McShea (left) and co-founders Mitch Cunningham (middle) and Lou D'Agostino (right) give a round of applause to Pinky after her plunge at Nomans. Jeanna Shepard

At the events, co-founder Mitch Cunningham says the goal is to introduce people to the idea of cold plunging without pushing people to go in. “Usually they see someone else doing it, and then they want to try too,” he says. “By the end of the event, people say they are so glad they did it. They feel great.”

The Cold Plunge Guys are also available for private events and parties, which typically involve “lots of screaming, laughing and smiling,” Mitch says.

If you’re all in and want to consider purchasing your own tank, the Cold Plunge Guys offer a range of products for home use including a Martha’s-Vineyard-inspired red cedar barrel.

“Our tubs offer the convenience to build the cold plunge into a daily habit,” Mitch says. “Until you get in and try it, you won’t understand the feeling we’re chasing.”


Sara Mason Ader is a freelance writer and editor based in Hingham, Mass. She enjoys travel, reading and swimming, and recently resumed piano lessons after a decades-long hiatus.