Many spas and wellness centers now offer whole body cryotherapy — meaning exposing your body to extremely cold temperatures that are meant to result in a myriad of health benefits. It could be immersion into a cold ice bath, or entering a chamber set at temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit. Does the chill really hurt or help your health? And what about your skin? Can it tolerate the extreme cold temperatures without harm?
Two Types of Cryotherapy
Dermatologists have been using targeted cryotherapy for decades: using extreme cold to freeze off warts, precancerous skin growths, and other lesions. This use of cryotherapy is extremely safe.
However, what we are evaluating is the more recent phenomenon of immersing your entire naked body into extreme cold that is well below freezing temperatures.
The Health Risks of Whole-Body Cryotherapy
Whole body cryotherapy is not currently approved by the FDA, and only the slimmest research backs the many anecdotal and advertising claims of benefits such as: pain relief, reduced inflammation, weight loss, and reducing the symptoms of migraines, dementia, anxiety, depression and cancer. Much more study is necessary to ascertain whether cryotherapy is worth the risks
The first and foremost risk is death. Staying in a cryotherapy chamber for more than just a few minutes can result in hypothermia. A second risk is skin-damaging frostbite, which can cause permanent skin damage. A third risk is frozen limbs. There are cases where cryotherapy clients actually had their arm freeze, resulting in severe skin and tissue damage as it thawed. Finally, the irritation of continued low-level frostbite from cryotherapy can cause a rash. Your eyes can also be injured during cryotherapy.
People who are pregnant or nursing, or who suffer from heart or neurological disease, should not use whole body cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy and Skin Health
While proponents of whole body cryotherapy claim that it can help those with eczema, psoriasis, and acne, the American Academy of Dermatology warns against it, since the risks to skin far outweigh its unproven benefits.
People who suffer from skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, TSW, and acne, are often desperate for a cure and can fall prey to new trends that promise relief. That’s why it’s always important to review the research and balance the claims against possible risks and side-effects so that you can make the safest choice to protect your health.
While we love hearing of new health trends that explore natural ways of healing, we’re voting to wait a bit before jumping into Cryotherapy, or at least experiment with caution. We hope that future studies provide more solid backing for cryotherapy’s claims and that its evolution will include improvements in safety.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.