Next Level Icing With Liquid Nitrogen


A liquid nitrogen treatment for your face is nowhere near as immersive as cryotherapy for your body. No shedding of clothes, handing of clogs, or wearing of mittens is required. Yoko Ono probably will not be there—unless, maybe, you share her dermatologist.

That’s where I receive—and have been receiving for a long time—liquid nitrogen treatments to help with acne. “Treatment,” though, is a misnomer. It’s more like an add-on to my regular, check-in appointments and the closest I've come to participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. While commonly used to freeze off skin lesions through aggressive blasting, liquid nitrogen for acne has a much gentler approach. Here’s the process: my derm dips a cotton swab in the stuff and then rolls it over my face, kind of like an icy toner. The total time: less than three minutes. The feeling is best described as a “prickly chill.” Areas where pimples appear will sting, while the rest of my skin is just a little cooler than usual. It’s uncomfortable enough to make you believe it’s doing something, but not to the point of dread like you might feel for other dermatological treatments (ahem cortisone shots ).

The immediate effects are, in fact, similar to icing—pores appear tightened, oil glands less active and skin more matte, if slightly flushed in certain problem area (with reason—liquid nitrogen exists at -320 degreesº F). The real benefit is the gentle exfoliating of dead skin or “uncapping of comedones,” (i.e. blackheads and whiteheads) according to my dermatologist. This, I find, allows your latest prescriptions to penetrate more deeply and thus, effectively. After my most recent trip, a quick sweep of liquid nitrogen that day and an application of Tazorac that night cleared up my sandpaper-fine comedones almost over night. While I hypothesize the switching up of products (goodbye for now, trusty Retin-A) as the main contributing factor in my skin’s clearer texture, I recommend asking your dermatologist about it—if not for the results, then for the novelty cool.

—Alexis Cheung

Illustration by Lucy Han. Read more about acne here.