Cryotherapy may freeze out signs of aging—literally.
If you’ve ever iced your knee post-injury, you’ve experienced cryotherapy. The term technically describes using low temperatures (read: cold) for medical therapy. Whole body cryotherapy refers to something like an ice bath, in which your whole body (rather than just one part) is chilled to reduce inflammation or help your muscles recover faster.
Now the practice is heading out of locker rooms and into spas with a more accessible—and less painful—form that’s gaining popularity. Freezing chambers allow you to experience cryotherapy in a matter of minutes and a number of celebrities are allegedly fans of the treatment for differing reasons. Demi Moore reportedly uses it for the anti-aging benefits. Daniel Craig supposedly used whole body cryotherapy to prepare for his role in Skyfall.
Cryotherapy chambers allow you to experience the treatment in a matter of minutes. Instead of ice, you are enveloped with cold (very cold; sub-zero) air cooled with liquid nitrogen, says Joanna Fryben, CEO and founder of Kryolife, the first East Coast-based cryotherapy spa. The temperature in the chamber goes down to negative 154 degrees Fahrenheit but you’re only in it for one and a half to three minutes (much shorter than a soak in an ice bath!) and you’re wearing socks, clogs, gloves, mittens, and underwear to minimize discomfort.
Fryben notes that cryotherapy has been reported to reduce wrinkles and firm skin, but she was inspired to bring the chambers to the U.S. after seeing the healing effects on her mom in Poland after knee replacement surgery. “Her orthopedic surgeon recommended the treatment and her recovery was three to four times faster,” recalls Fryben, who then researched the technology and found “the only machine designed by the European Medical Association” to install in her Manhattan location, which opened last year. She notes that Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgewick and Yoko Ono are customers, as well as Tony Robbins and his wife, Sage, who use the treatment regularly.
Cryotherapy chambers boast a variety of head-to-toe health claims, such as cellulite reduction, increased collagen production (the Kryolife NYC spa offers a Cryofacial, which is meant to give your skin added glow), pain relief from joint issues like fibromyalgia, decreased inflammation and faster muscle recovery after exercise.
Sounds like a miracle cure!
Well, not so fast. Although many people report that cryotherapy works for them, the solid research isn’t quite there yet. “It’s one of those cases where a practice’s popularity is outpacing the science to support its efficacy,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, exercise physiologist and Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise. “Many athletes use whole body cryotherapy and report that their muscles feel less sore and that they feel like they recover more quickly when doing so. But the very modest amount of research that has been done hasn’t been as supportive as the anecdotal reports,” explains Brant.
As far as safety, cryotherapy shouldn’t pose any risk. “Even if it’s some fanciful placebo, what you’d be losing is perhaps just a little time and money,” says Bryant. One caveat: If you have cardiovascular issues, you shouldn’t step into a chamber. “Your blood vessels will naturally constrict to preserve blood flow to keep your body warm,” says Bryant. For a person with heart disease, this reaction could cause an exaggerated blood pressure response.
If you’re cool with anecdotal evidence, cryotherapy may be worth a shot. But if you’re a stickler for science who needs hard evidence before you jump in, this might not be the right choice for you just yet.