The first time that I heard about cryotherapy, it was in conversation with a friend. “It’s that thing that all the models are doing where you freeze yourself,” was her exact description. No other details provided. I immediately started to picture creepy chambers full of floating bodies. Don't they do that to dead people they're planning on bringing back once the science is solid enough? I had to know more.
As it turns out, cryotherapy is a whole lot less science fiction than my imagination made it out to be. Doctors have used it for years in physical therapy, and major athletes from Usain Bolt to Cristiano Ronaldo swear it improves performance and reduces injury recovery time.
On a basic level, cryotherapy is a process in which you subject the body to extreme cold for a short period of time in order to reduce inflammation. This makes it an excellent treatment for muscle soreness and joint swelling. Rather fortuitiously, according to practitioners, this also means that the treatment can boost metabolism, stimulate collagen production, increase endorphins, reduce cellulite, and improve energy. Whether or not I had any swollen joints at that moment, the rest of the side effects (or side perks, really) were all things I wanted. So, I found KryoLife, an NYC-based company offering whole-body cryotherapy treatments, and booked the next available appointment.
Walking into the office a few days later, I was greeted by KryoLife founders Joanna Fryben and Eduardo Bohorquez-Barona. They discreetly asked me if I would mind waiting a few minutes because Yoko Ono (!!!) was just finishing a treatment. Off to a great start.
When my turn came, and I shed my clothes and donned socks, a pair of wooden-soled clogs and some ultra-thick mittens. “Make sure to dry off any sweat,” Joanna called into my dressing room. “You want to avoid frostbite!” Naturally that caused me to panic and I immediately broke out into a nervous sweat.
The actual machine (called a cryosauna) looks a lot like a spaceship. I stepped in, tossed my robe to Joanna, and she pressed a button to start it up (still nervous, still sweating). From the moment you begin the treatment, you are enveloped by icy air (cooled by liquid nitrogen) that hovers somewhere between -184 and -292 degrees Fahrenheit. In case you are wondering, that is really cold . A thick white vapor pours out of the top of the sauna. You stay for a maximum of three minutes. As I stood in the chamber, shaking like a leaf, Joanna served as my personal cheerleader, chatting with me over the hissing of the machine and convincing me to stay just 15 more seconds (the longest of my life). When I eventually stepped out of the sauna, my legs felt like icicles that might shatter at the slightest touch. I took a few tentative, foal-like steps over to a stationary bike where I gratefully collapsed into the seat and then pedaled to restore my circulation.
After I finally warmed up, I stepped back into the dressing room and surveyed the results. I could see noticeable inflammation reduction (aka my stomach was seriously flat) and my skin was pink and glowy.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m something of a sucker for unconventional beauty treatments though, so I checked in with Dr. Linda Khoshaba, a naturopathic practitioner based in Arizona, to find out if cryotherapy is legit. According to her, it is and there is a lot of research to back it up. Basically, she says, it works by affecting the skin’s thermoreceptors and triggering a chemical reaction that releases endorphins. This leads to increased circulation, detoxification, and tissue repair. She also confirmed that the treatment is safe (though a risk of mild frostbite is real). But, the crucial question for me: was it really going to help banish my cellulite and perfect my skin? “With an increase in blood flow, more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the body and since the skin is the largest organ in the body, that is where the numerous health benefits occur,” she says. I’ll take that as a yes.
To back up these beauty claims is a whole crew of models who swear by the treatment: Crystal Renn, Maryna Linchuk, and Laura Love are all repeat customers. “It’s very cool, no pun intended,” says Love of her experience in the chamber. “I get this crazy spurt of energy afterwards,”
Walking out of the office, I asked Joanna how long my newly flat stomach would last. “A couple of hours, probably,” she said. “Maybe a few days,” My joyful, still-pink face fell. Joanna explained that to see lasting results, a series of 10 or more treatments is necessary every few months. Some people even do cryotherapy every day. But, at $90 a session, I’m not quite sure I’m prepared to make this daily routine. And just like that, it’s back to Pilates for me.
Photos courtesy of the author.