The topic of cryotherapy and cold immersion can be downright polarizing. Whether you love or hate the cold, experts from a variety of backgrounds have recommended everything from icy massages in the morning to sculpt the face to hot-and-cold contrast therapy to stimulate detoxification via lymphatic drainage. Chances are that you've heard of athletes recovering in ice baths, or Wim Hof — the Dutch man whose breath work and ice bath practices have earned him celebrity praise from Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Beiber alike. But aside from the merits that these treatments have on overall health, the benefits of cryotherapy for the average beauty connoisseur are substantial enough that it might be worth the extra five to ten minutes out of your day.
If you’re unfamiliar, cryotherapy in skin care is colloquially used to refer to the therapeutic application of cold — or freezing — products to the face. This is not to be confused with bodily cryotherapy — a practice using a cryogenic chamber (at -220 degrees Farenheit) for up to four minutes to promote muscle recovery, metabolic rate, immune health, and more, or contrast therapy, which refers to the wellness practice of switching between ice baths and hot temperatures — like saunas — in order to to stimulate your circulation and promote lymphatic detox. Rather cryotherapy for the skin uses the same principles, but typically refers to one of two specific applications, either with a skin care professional or at home.
In a dermatologist’s office, cryotherapy refers to procedures that make use of frozen gases. However, with your esthetician or in your at-home regimen, cold therapy is applied to the skin via masks, crystal rollers, cooling orbs, facial massagers, and ice. While these tools are among the most popular forms of cryotherapy, true to form, the world of beauty has much, much more to offer in the form of in-office treatments and at-home beauty tools.
What Are The Benefits Of The Cold & Cryotherapy?
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nancy Samolitis, owner and co-founder of Facile, notes that in dermatology, cryotherapy's therapeutic use of the cold actually goes back all the way to the 1930s for the use of acne. It was — and is — considered a great treatment for reducing acne, or really any kind of inflammation, in addition to stimulating blood flow, skin oxygenation, and lymphatic drainage.
Boosting Glow & Reducing Redness
Celebrity aesthetician Celeste Rodrigues notes that "Every practice that I've worked in has always had some form of cryotherapy [for] brighter complexion, immediately reducing redness and inflammation, and reducing the appearance of pores." This is due to a process called vasodilation — initially the cold temperature causes the blood vessels to constrict, but as the skin again warms, the vessels dilate, driving circulation. This, in turn, is oxygenating the blood and boosts skin radiance. Dr. Samolitis tells TZR that "this [process] usually results in the skin temporarily appearing pink and glowing.” So while the results might not last as long as you might like, after a night of drinking or eating a lot of sodium, cryotherapy might be the ideal morning-after treatment to banish that tell-tale skin dullness.
Scientifically speaking, objects expand when they are warm, and contract when they are cold. Turns out, the same goes for your skin and its musculature. Cold therapy refines the pores and moderates sebum production, theoretically by constriction of the pore and of the sebaceous glands. Overall tightening results via the constriction of the facial muscles. Dr. Samolitis says, “Cryotherapy has a temporary effect lasting hours, or a few days at most, to make the skin and pores appear tighter and reduce oil production. It does not have any long-term ability to tighten skin overall, however.”
Cryotherapy’s contouring function and ability to reduce puffiness on and around the eyes and face comes down to its manual stimulation of lymph fluid and circulation. Lymph fluid contains the toxins that our body naturally eliminates through the lymph nodes. When lymph fluid becomes stagnant — such as when we are immobile, asleep, or reclined in positions that hinder circulation — this can actually exacerbate lymph-induced puffiness. By gently massaging the face and getting the sluggish lymph moving, drainage is stimulated and the bone structure of the face can take on a sculpted appearance. Coupled with the tightening and radiance boosting effects of the cold, the results are even more noticeable.
Cryotherapy At Your Dermatologist
When it comes to in-office cryotherapy, Dr. Samolitis says that the best acne treatment uses "liquid nitrogen or CO2 (i.e., dry ice) mixed with acetone," a treatment popularly referred to as "the slushie." As she explains, "The temperature achieved with this type of facial is more likely to kill bacteria associated with acne, reduce inflammation, and gently remove dead skin cells from the epidermis — including those that are clogging pores." She adds that this type of facial requires an experienced practitioner because working with extremely cold gases can be dangerous and can burn the skin if misused.
"Cryotherapy has increased in popularity tremendously over the past two years," says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Ben Talei. "Doctors — including dermatologists and plastic surgeons — have now incorporated it into their post-surgical treatment plans, as well as for the treatment of acne and other skin disorders,” he says. “We've been using cold rollers for years to help decrease swelling with cooling and improving lymphatic drainage." He recommends the practice of cold rolling to his pre- and post-op patients for facelifts, lip lifts, and eyelid surgeries.
At Facile, Dr. Samolitis offers a less intensive version of a cryofacial, which is gentle enough to be received once per week. The treatment uses liquid nitrogen, which is applied using cotton swabs, and takes only a few minutes. "It feels cool and refreshing and functions to remove dead cells from the surface and pores of the skin, and to reduce acne," she says. “It is completely painless, so no numbing is needed, and the results are more subtle than a peel.”
Cryotherapy With Your Esthetician
Outside of the dermatologist's office, estheticians utilize cold treatments to promote lymphatic drainage and detoxification. For instance, Rodrigues regularly uses customized jelly masks for a gentle cryotherapy facial. They are made from algae and therefore feel cool and soothing to the face. Once you are settled under the mask, she applies cold rollers over the mask to enhance the therapeutic effects.
Kasey Boone, celebrity aesthetician and owner of Glow Skincare LA, is such a fan of the practice that she has her own line of cold rollers, incorporating them into her facials regularly. In her many years of experimenting with cold application, she has noticed that it is especially therapeutic to the skin post-workout, post-hot towel, post-procedure or peel — essentially any time the skin is hot or partially inflamed. As explained above, this is due to principle of contrast therapy — intermittent hot and cold exposure which impacts vasodilation, boosts circulation, oxygenation, et al. Plus, as she points out, you cannot overuse your cold roller — she uses hers morning and night daily. Just be sure to always check the temperature of the tool with your hand — it should be cold but not too freezing.
Cryotherapy At Home
With the countless cold rollers, ice globes, ice massagers, and ice masks on the market, it's easy to try cryotherapy at home as part of your own DIY facial and skin care regimen. For instance, Dr. Talei recommends that his patients store their jade or quartz rollers (crystals stay preternaturally cold) in the fridge and use them on their under-eyes in the mornings, when puffiness is at its height.
For some added glow and de-puffing before applying makeup, celebrity makeup artist Katrina Klein frequently puts face masks into the fridge before applying them to her clients. "I find it tightens the skin and boosts circulation, which helps the client look more radiant," Klein says. "If I could carry a bucket of ice water to dip the client's face into, I would — I think it works wonders."
If you have an event for which you would like an extra boost to your complexion, Boone always recommends alternating between hot-and-cold for the perfect "red carpet" glow. "Apply a warm towel or compress for 30 to 60 seconds, then cold roller the skin for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat at least three times," she says. "Believe me, you will look vibrant, glowing, and ready to take on the day. This is also an amazing mood booster and the easiest natural way to oxygenate the skin.
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