The Crazy Truth About Cryotherapy

From pictures popping up on celeb’s social media streams to claims that promote promises of superfast calorie-burning, the phrase “full-body cryotheraphy” seems to be on everyone’s radar. And, now, in an unfortunate turn, the modality is also under some very serious scrutiny, not so much for its results, but for its safety record, as October’s death of salon worker Chelsea Ake-Salvacion of Las Vegas has brought the beauty buzzword to new levels of interest.

For starters, in the world of skin care and dermatology, cryotherapy is standard—not a new trend. “I use it to treat precancerous lesions and it is very effective. Many lesions may need to be retreated and patients like the quick and consistent results,” explains Montclair, NJ, dermatologist Jeanine B. Downie, MD.

But full-body cryotherapy (a newer device that involves some sort of chamber or ‘sauna’ apparatus you get into) is different. “Full-body cryotherapy is used to burn 500 calories at a clip and you are only supposed to stay in there for a short amount of time. The cryotherapy unit provides minus 196 degrees Celsius temperature to your entire body and is advertised to melt fat quickly,” Dr. Downie explains. 

So does it work? “There is a lot of hype and little proof that this does what it claims to do. We do have scientific data to back up that it helps athletes in the form of an ‘ice bath’ to treat muscles,” says La Jolla, CA, plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD. "The rest is hocus pocus.” Adds Dr. Downie, "Unfortunately, quality clinical studies on this new device are lacking. This is an unfortunate situation. I feel strongly that this device should not be sold to salons at all and only to doctor's offices.”