Cryotherapy is the use of extremely cold temperatures used primarily to treat inflammation and injuries, however, it has been purported to treat a wide variety of skin and health conditions, as well.
The Egyptians used cold therapy to treat injuries and inflammation as early as 2500 B.C.E. The simple application of cryogenics may employ the use of frigid water immersions or ice packs for pain management, which have been particularly advantageous for athletes involving sports injuries.1 The application of ice packs and the alternation of cold stimulus has also been widely used in the spa and skin care industry for both the body and face, based on the concept of “kneippism.” Cryotherapy utilizes Sir Isaac Newton’s “Law of Cooling.” This law promotes the idea that the internal, natural heat produced in the body will be reduced greatly by transferring the heat energy via intensive cooling of the external skin temperature. The cooler the temperature, the faster the transfer; in the case of cryogenics, the frigid surface or air. The resultant effect will cause a rebound for the internal temperature to rise rapidly, thus instigating circulation, oxygenation, and respiration.
Interestingly, cryotherapy initiates distinctive body responses due to the extreme temperature changes. The “cold shock” will prompt the skin temperature to drop, effecting the core and the entire body. As a result, thermoreceptor neurons and nerve endings send messages to the brain to release cold shock proteins (norepinephrine) that inhibit tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) production. TNFa is an inflammatory cytokine produced by the immune system in response to infection and injury. At the same time, the brain senses a rapid heat transfer due to extreme temperatures and facilitates a parasympathetic circulatory reaction. This reaction causes the blood to draw from the extremities to immediately transfer to help protect the core and organs. This entire transfer can happen within just a few minutes of exposure to whole body cryotherapy. Among the most impressive reported health benefits include the modification of important biochemical changes, including the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, changes in antioxidant status, and very positive effects on muscular enzymes involved in muscle damage.1 With regard to weight loss, it is proposed that when the body is taken to drastic cold temperatures, the immune system catapults into survival mode, accelerates the metabolic rate, and may burn as much as 800 calories per session or 300 calories per day. Fat loss has been claimed by one provider, including as much as two pounds per month through a calorie deficit.5 Other potential weight loss benefits include greater distribution of body fat, improved blood circulation and muscle tone, and an increased metabolic rate.5
Whole body cryotherapy is a modern approach to cold therapeutics and employs a rapid application of cryogenics to achieve a variety of effects in comparison to localized applications. This form of cryotherapy first appeared in Japan during the 1970s and has been increasing in popularity for weight loss, pain management, and various health claims that the FDA has yet to support and substantiate, however, many health studies have been conducted to support the potential benefits of Whole Body Cryotherapy.1,2,3,4 It involves exposing the body to liquid nitrogen vapors from temperatures ranging from -200 to -300 degrees Fahrenheit for one-to-three minutes to inspire a rebound effect, encouraging the skin temperature to raise back to a normal 90.5 degrees.2 It can be administered in a “cabin” for a few people at a time or a single occupant pod capsule or cyrosauna. In a cyrosauna, the head is kept well out of the frigid vapor range to avoid skin, nerve, or health complications – a head cap and protection for ears, hands, and face is worn in full-exposure treatments. Cryotherapy may be also applied in sectional body or limb applications for addressing injuries.
Whole Body Cryotherapy is promoted for improved sleep; firmer, healthier skin; decreased fatigue; weight loss; and natural detoxification. It is said to boost the immune system and energy levels, increase blood circulation, stimulation of collagen growth, and reduction of pain and inflammation. It also assists in pain relief from arthritis and nerve pain, decreased muscle soreness, and increased muscle repair.
Cryotherapy has also been widely used in dermatology for many years and, more recently, in clinically supervised skin care settings. Cryotherapy is performed with liquid nitrogen used at below 196 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide snow (a cylinder-shaped mixture of frozen liquid nitrogen snow and acetone used at -78.5 degrees Celsius), or dimethyl ether and propane (DMEP) used at -57 degrees Celsius. Depending on the area to be treated, type of lesion, and general purpose, the materials may be swabbed on with a cotton or foam applicator, a glass applicator rod, or sprayed on. A very popular cyroprobe device, which features liquid nitrogen cartridges, is also used for minor skin imperfections.
The dermatological and aesthetic benefits of cryotherapy include treatment and removal of actinic keratosis, seborrheic keratosis, skin tags, and verruca. It also helps to increase skin tone, reduce fine lines, oxygenate the skin, address the appearance of pores and hyperpigmentation, and provide facial rejuvenation.
Cryotherapy may have a great future in the spa setting as more research is conducted and popularity reigns. Cold water and cold therapy has been a beauty secret for many, many years. Look to add cooling instruments, such as beauty globes and the cold hammer, to the spa’s collection of aesthetic accessories for adding the cool touch to facials.
1 Bleakley, C. M., et al. (2014, March 10). Whole-body cryotherapy: empirical evidence and theoretical perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956737/
2 Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC): A "Cool" Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks. (2016, July 5). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm508739.htm
3 Costello, J. T. (2015, September 18). Whole-body cryotherapy (extreme cold air exposure) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise in adults. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26383887
4 Borsuk, P., et al. (2013, March 27). Mental state and quality of life after 10 session whole-body cryotherapy. - PubMed - NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23535078
5 10 Cryotherapy Cold Sauna Weight Loss Benefits and Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cryotherapytoronto.ca/10-cryotherapy-cold-sauna-weight-loss-benefits-and-facts/