What exactly is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, basically involves exposing your body to extremely cold sub-zero temperatures typically between -110C and -160C. It was first developed in Japan in the 1970s and has been used by athletes to aid muscle recovery for many years, but it’s only recently become more mainstream.
“Cryotherapy is a fast and healthy process that accelerates the body’s natural recovery while improving overall wellbeing and energising the body,” explains Maria Ensabella, the founder of LondonCryo. “It is an incredible adjunct to a generally healthy lifestyle. It integrates perfectly into any training regime, can aid in healing and recovery, can improve skin texture and tone and can help manage chronic pain and fatigue.”
Cryotherapy sessions involve stepping into either an ice chamber which has been cooled through the use of electricity or nitrogen gas, or a sauna-like pod which confines your body up to your neck and uses nitrogen gas to lower your temperature. You’ll be expected to stay in for two to three minutes to gain the full benefits.
So how exactly does it work? “Reading signals from skin receptors, the brain realises that it cannot fight this extreme cold and starts very unique counter measures,” Maria explains. “Rather than send warmed blood to the peripherals and skin, the body undergoes severe vasoconstriction of blood vessels and capillaries in order to keep the body’s core temperature at 37°C. Blood is shunted away from the peripherals and into an internal cycle to protect vital organs. This process triggers the enrichment of blood (with hormones, enzymes and oxygen) and circulation to the internal organs under higher blood pressure. When the cryotherapy session is completed, the body undergoes rapid vasodilation as the higher internal blood pressure drives the enriched blood back to the peripherals.”
This whole process is thought to boost your metabolism and circulation, alleviate aches and pains, and give you an amazing rush of endorphins.
Brr…that sounds chilly. Is it uncomfortable?
Although you will feel a chill when inside the chamber, any feelings of cold tend to go away as soon as you step out after your session. “The experience is definitely not painful,” adds Nyambe Ikasaya, founder of SaiSei Cryo. “It’s actually very tolerable due to the lack of moisture in the cold. Of course, we all have different sensitivities to lower temperatures, but few people find it uncomfortable. Discomfort is usually down to not knowing what to expect when experiencing cryotherapy for the first time.”
Gloves, socks and sometimes headbands or earmuffs are provided for your extremities and to prevent frostbite. Men are required to wear underwear, whereas women can choose whether to remove or keep their underwear on.
What can it help with?
Fans of the treatment say there’s a huge list of possible benefits which can be achieved through a cryotherapy session. As well as helping with sports recovery, it’s believed to stimulate a powerful anti-inflammatory response throughout the whole body which can relieve aches and relax your muscles. And it’s thought that the treatment could even boost your metabolism and aid weight loss.
“Many different hormones are released during cryotherapy,” Nyambe adds. “This includes endorphins, which are natural pain relievers and help create a sense of euphoria, serotonin which boosts your mood, and norepinephrine which helps regulate your sleep cycle and enhance sleep quality.” An increased level of testosterone could improve muscle tone, libido and mental health too.
For Maria, the benefits can be felt across the body, and she says it can rejuvenate and refresh our whole system. “Vasoconstriction followed by vasodilation causes lymphatic drainage, reducing swelling and pain caused by water retention. It also accelerates the blood flow, bringing enzymes, nutrients and hormones to those areas of the body which need them for recuperating and healing,” she explains. “The immune system is also fortified by cryotherapy and this helps to maintain overall health.”
What about cryofacials?
Following on from the interest in full-body cryotherapy, cryofacials have gained popularity. These tend to involve cold jets of liquid nitrogen gas being targeted onto the face and proponents say it can improve skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as help tighten pores, firm skin and reduce fine lines.
While some experts aren’t convinced that these facials deliver their promised results, it’s worth noting there is a form of cryotherapy that is used as part of medical treatments by the NHS.
“Skin treatment with cryotherapy dates back to almost 100 years ago,” Dr Kathy Taghipour from DermConsult explains. “Dermatologists use liquid nitrogen, usually in the form of a spray, to freeze and subsequently destroy abnormal cells in warts, sun damage or pre-cancerous lesions of the skin. This treatment is localised to the affected area.”
Does science back up all of these claims?
The answer to this is not clear cut. As already mentioned, cryotherapy is used by the NHS for certain medical treatments, but the jury is out on the benefits of full-body cryotherapy and cryofacials. While some studies have shown benefits in terms of improving muscle recovery and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, there is currently limited evidence to support many of these claims and the evidence is far from conclusive.
Is there any reason why you shouldn’t try it?
It’s best to always check with a doctor if you think you may not be able to have the treatment. This is particularly true if you have high blood pressure (as this process raises blood pressure even further) and if you are pregnant. It’s probably also best for you to steer clear if you suffer from claustrophobia.
Ready to feel the chill? Here’s where to go…
This Spitalfields-based clinic offers full body cryotherapy treatments for sports recovery and pain relief and can also provide localised cryotherapy for facials and injuries.
Prices start from £30 for localised cryotherapy and £90 for full body cryotherapy.
Enjoy whole body cryotherapy, cryofacials or cryoshaping (designed to eliminate fat cells in areas of your body that are resilient to exercise and healthy eating) at this Stoke Newington-based clinic.
Prices start from £89.
Fancy a cryo session after your shopping trip? 111 Cryo is based on the fourth floor of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge so you can pop in after hitting the shops.
Prices start from £95 for a full body session and £95 for a facial.
Sunday Riley at Hershesons
Book on for one of Sunday Riley’s Ice Facials at Hershesons and reap the benefits of both cryo and LED technology.
Prices start from £60 for an express facial.
The Teresa Tarmey Cryoball
Enjoy the cryotherapy experience from the comfort of your own home with this Cryo-Ball Cryotherapy Kit, which you simply pop in the freezer 24 hours before you want to use it.
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