Everything You Need to Know About Cryofacials and Cryotherapy | Allure

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In today’s day and age, we learn a lot from TikTok. While some topics are unique to the platform, others have been around for a while and are just now being discovered by the app’s largely Gen Z userbase. Case in point: Cryotherapy, the practice of applying ice-cold temperatures to the face and body to reduce inflammation and — according to TikTok — enjoy a bevy of internal and external health benefits. Laser

As millennials may remember, cryotherapy was a budding trend several years back. As "cryospas" started cropping up around the country, Allure published a feature in 2015 on the various potential benefits of intense cold therapy. (Though, like many “new trends,” the wellness modality had first emerged decades earlier — this time in Japan in 1978 as a remedy for rheumatoid arthritis.) Considering TikTok didn’t start to snowball until around 2020, it’s not surprising that the topic is only now flooding the app, prompting mass interest in the ultra-cold therapeutic approach. (The hashtag #cryofacial has garnered over 2 million views, while cryotherapy as a topic has amassed over 174 million views on the app.)

So if you’ve been curious about the icy facials and full-body freezes filling your feed, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about cryofacials and cryotherapy as a whole.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, “cryotherapy is [the] ‘super-cooling’ of the body for therapeutic purposes.” Things as simple as ice packs and cooling beauty products (like the Boscia Cryosea Firming Icy-Cold Cleanser and Charlotte Tilbury Cryo-Recovery Face Mask and Eye Serum) and tools (such as the TikTok-beloved facial ice roller) could be considered cryotherapy — as can treatments as immersive as ice baths (like those at Remedy Place, a celebrity-frequented “social wellness club” in LA and NYC).

In a dermatologist’s office or medispa setting, though, cryotherapy involves the application of freezing-cold vapors anywhere you would normally use an ice pack or ice roller. It’s often done locally on injuries to soothe inflammation — some orthopedic doctors will use it as part of rehabilitation programs. When applied on the face, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman says that in addition to reducing inflammation, cryotherapy can promote collagen production and even offer migraine and sinus relief. (One 2013 study found that the application of a frozen neck wrap at the onset of a migraine headache “significantly” reduced migraine pain among participants.)

While you might think that exposing yourself to ultra-cold air could pose a risk for hypothermia, think again. “Cryotherapy involves exposing the body to external cold temperatures around -270°F for only two to three minutes, which in turn cools the skin surface temperature to approximately 32°F,” explains Isabelle Soh, MD, MPH, an adjunct clinical assistant professor of medicine at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “During this process, the body constricts its peripheral blood vessels in order to protect core internal organs and thus the core temperature does not decrease significantly, so there is no risk of hypothermia.”

When applied to targeted areas, such as during a cryofacial or to treat skin conditions like warts, cryotherapy can "enhance exfoliation of dead cells on the surface of the skin and strengthen the skin as a whole,” Joshua Zeichner, director of clinical and cosmetic research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, previously told Allure.

While exfoliation is a common denominator, the type of cryotherapy used for facials is different from what’s used for removing warts. “An in-office cryofacial is a cryotherapy treatment in which vaporized nitrogen is used to cool the skin of the face, scalp and neck area,” says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Hadley King. “Liquid nitrogen (around -200 degrees celsius) vaporizes — making it no longer as cold — and is pumped out of a hose and onto your skin.” Meanwhile, the type of cryotherapy used on warts is liquid nitrogen, which is colder and can be more uncomfortable than the vaporized variety, Dr. King says. While OTC liquid nitrogen kits exist for wart removal, Dr. King advises against them. “Liquid nitrogen should not be used at home because of possible risks of burns, frostbite, and nerve damage,” she warns.

Now, a few years back, when cryotherapy was first becoming popular for everyday folks (as opposed to just professional athletes accustomed to submerging themselves in tubs of ice), no skin-care devices harnessing the technology were FDA-approved, or even cleared. (FDA-cleared products and treatments are those that have undergone a 510(k) submission that’s been reviewed and accepted with the conclusion that it won’t cause harm, while FDA-approved products and treatments have been rigorously tested for effectiveness.) That’s still true for whole-body cryotherapy, but now there’s one FDA-cleared treatment for the face: GlacialRx.

“GlacialRx uses precision cooling technology [in the form of ice-cold air blown onto the skin] to reduce inflammation and redness, brighten skin, and accelerate exfoliation,” says Dr. Engelman. On its own, it can be used to treat redness and inflammation (as well as benign lesions and dark spots), but it can also provide cooling relief following other aesthetic treatments.

Whole-body cryotherapy treats the entire body at once in an effort to reduce inflammation throughout, and it can include the ice baths we mentioned earlier or specialized chambers. “The whole-body cryotherapy chamber is a full, walk-in [closet] that the guest spends roughly three minutes inside of at around -150F,” says Kyle Jones, cofounder and chief innovation and branding officer of iCRYO, which has over 250 locations nationwide.

“Unlike ice or an ice bath, the dry cold provides a cold but comfortable feeling during the session,” says Jones. Personally, I’ve tried a cryotherapy facial as well as a cryotherapy treatment on my foot after a sprain and at no point was I in pain from either treatment. But a full-body experience can feel anything from slightly-strange to downright unbearable, depending on who you ask — at a recent industry event, one beauty editor had to step out before the full three minutes.

As with an ice plunge, participants are expected to wear bathing suits or underwear — specifically those without metal, as the cool vapors can react negatively with the material. Because of this, jewelry and watches are not to be worn during the session.

While there are no studies that establish what number of sessions will provide maximum benefits in the long run, Dr. Soh says that utilizing cryotherapy during moments of physical and mental stress can help to soothe the body and mind immediately. “The cold temperature stimulates the vagus nerve which in turn triggers the body to switch from sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ to the parasympathetic, which reduces inflammation and stress, and improves mood,” she explains.

Is this why athletes turn to ice baths after a long practice or big game? “While there is no scientific evidence that ice baths or cryotherapy help athletes, many feel there is some benefit in reduction of pain, inflammation, muscle soreness and swelling, with improvement in circulation,” explains Edwin Kornoelje, DO in sports medicine at University of Michigan Health-West. He points out that, at the very least, cryotherapy could be beneficial because of how it’s perceived. “Like many routines athletes follow, if they think it helps them, it will, both mentally and physically.”

Considering cryotherapy’s potential benefits and the relatively low risk involved, it’s a therapeutic modality that can be utilized by all, whether you’ve been experiencing chronic pain, recovering from an injury, or just feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. As Dr. Soh points out, other anecdotal benefits of cryotherapy include clearer thinking, more energy, and less anxiousness overall.

A 2017 review published by Frontiers in Physiology found that whole-body cryotherapy is an effective treatment “in relieving symptomatology of the whole set of inflammatory conditions that could affect an athlete.” Meanwhile, a 2021 review in the European Journal of Applied Physiology reports that cryotherapy is the key to rapid recovery post-exercise (which contradicted previous findings that it may just be a placebo effect). Another 2021 study published in Pain and Therapy found that “local and non-local cryotherapy can be low-risk and easy treatment options to add in the management of chronic pain.” (Though, they did point out that the patient’s underlying ailments play a role, and that further research is necessary to provide a concrete assessment of the modality.)

All this to say, if you’re looking for a way to boost your mood, reduce pain, and accelerate muscle recovery, signing up for a cryotherapy treatment might just be worthwhile. Of course, you could always start off by taking the coldest shower possible to see if you’d even be able to tolerate taking a plunge. (Keep in mind, localized cryotherapy tends to be much more tolerable, as it’s not a full submersion.) Or, consider investing in an at-home ice roller for your face, which can help treat the inflammation associated with inflammatory skin conditions like acne when used over time. (Though not as instantly or dramatically as super-cool liquid nitrogen.)

As with any beauty, health, or wellness offering, cryotherapy prices vary depending on your location and the specific areas you want to treat. At Restore Hyper Wellness, with 200 locations throughout the country, whole-body cryotherapy (AKA a session in their chambers) ranges from $27-$41 for members and $42-$63 for non-members. A ten-minute cryofacial runs $175 for members and $245 for non-members. iCRYO offers their services at a comparable price range and operates on a similar model, offering clients passes that allow them to book multiple services at a lower price. Meanwhile, dermatologist-administered cryofacials with devices such as Glacial Rx can cost between $500 and $1,500 depending on location.

It’s subjective. While more and more studies and reviews are coming out supporting cryotherapy, along with word-of-mouth commentary from people undergoing cryofacials and entering into cryotherapy chambers, there’s still not enough conclusive scientific research on the subject. One downside of cryotherapy is that it can be potentially dangerous without proper supervision. "Unmonitored exposure to extremely cold temperatures can lead to damage to the skin, which, in some cases, could result in permanent scars," Dr. Zeichner previously told Allure. "We still need [more] studies to fully evaluate its true benefit."

That said, there’s no harm in trying it for yourself so long as you go to a licensed aesthetician or dermatologist well-versed in cryotherapy, and make sure not to endure more than a few minutes of exposure.

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