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Does the thought of a beauty treatment during which you freeze leave you cold? Well that was certainly my initial reaction. Then I found myself on the receiving end of media clips and press releases about treatments variously referred to as Frotox or cryotherapy and began to wonder whether I should warm to the idea. First a look at the cold hard facts.
Cryotherapy has been mostly used for pain relief and popularized by elite athletes using it to control muscle pain. More recently celebrities have claimed it causes rapid weight loss, not to mention a brief high. Usually the entire body is exposed to extreme cold (-110 to -170 degrees Celsius), lowering the skin surface temperature to approximately 32 degrees F in 30 seconds (source).
Typically treatments are in a chamber or a tub and use electricity or liquid nitrogen. Maximum time allowed in the chamber or tub is about three minutes and gloves and booties need to be worn to prevent frostbite. Medi-spas are also introducing facials in which a controlled beam of vaporized liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the skin of the face and neck.
Control of muscle pain sounds plausible — after all, that’s what an ice pack is for. However, apart from acting as a brief pain killer, science isn’t certain as to what is going on. In one study (there aren’t many of them, by the way), researchers concluded that cryotherapy blunted inflammatory responses to muscle pain, but they also said that the mechanism by which it did this was unknown and may have adverse longer term effects (source).
Anti-aging claims seem to stem from the notion that freezing reduces inflammation (one of the causes of aging). There are also claims that a cryo-facial will boost collagen production, evict toxins and enhance product penetration.
According to one company that has pioneered the frozen facial, the treatment causes something called “paradoxical vasomotricity” that stimulates circulation, improves oxygen to the cells and the penetration of topical skincare products. I could find no independent verification of paradoxical vasomotricity. Other theories revolve around the idea that freezing temperatures shock the body into moving blood throughout the body. Supposedly, nutrient-enriched blood flushes the body of toxins.
The so-called Frotox targets nerves on the face with liquid nitrogen and puts them into temporary hibernation, with immediate effect and for a few months, according to a doctor that provides the treatment (source). I find it hard to imagine how this can happen without damaging said nerves.
I am far from convinced by any of this. But even I was telling myself to chill and give Frotox the benefit of the doubt, I read on CNN.com that these procedures are not regulated by the FDA, nor approved to treat any condition. Nevada has hurriedly created guidelines for use of these machines and chambers after the tragic and very recent death of a young esthetician at a Las Vegas spa (source).