- Cryotherapy facials use a blast of extremely cold air to treat a variety of skin conditions on the face and neck.
- These facials are said to help reduce inflammation and promote collagen production, although there is little scientific evidence to support this.
- Possible side effects include hyperpigmentation and a very small risk of frostbite.
Cryotherapy facials—aka frotox—are the newest installment in celebrity facial trends. Liquid nitrogen is used to blast a near-freezing stream of air on the face. This is reported to result in a wide range of benefits, from less prominent pores to improved blood flow.
Here we will explain the history of cryotherapy and what to expect during a cryotherapy facial procedure. We will also investigate the scientific evidence for cryotherapy facials, discuss possible side effects, and briefly outline alternative facial treatments.
History and uses of cryotherapy
In the 1970s, cryotherapy was popular in Japan as a treatment for multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Eventually, it spread to Western countries and became known as a treatment for muscle soreness and inflammation, hence its popularity among elite athletes.
In recent years cryotherapy has slowly filtered into the aesthetic realm as well, and has been touted as a treatment for both weight loss and wrinkles. Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) involves standing in a deep-freeze tank or chamber—at up to -250°F—for two to four minutes at a time. More localized treatments can also performed to target sore muscle and specific areas of the body.
Although it’s only recently gained popularity as a facial treatment, dermatologists have been aware of the clinical benefits of cryotherapy for some time.
“Cryotherapy is a common procedure dermatologists perform to remove warts and treat skin lesions. Using a targeted spray, we’ll apply icy cold nitrogen in liquid form to create those freezing temperatures,” explains Dr. Bobby Buka, a leading dermatologist in New York City and the founder of Bobby Buka MD Dermatology. “The sudden and intense cold freezes and kills the skin cells on contact. The whole procedure takes a few minutes at most.”
How are cryotherapy facials performed?
During cryotherapy facials, an aesthetician will blow subzero air—made from a controlled stream of vaporized liquid nitrogen—onto the face and neck. Celebrities like Mandy Moore have used this trendy treatment to freshen up their faces; Moore had a cryotherapy facial for the Golden Globes earlier this year.
Every spa uses a slightly different process for cryotherapy, but the overall approach remains the same. The esthetician will clean and then exfoliate the skin using a scrub, peel or microdermabrasion. A serum may then be applied to the face to prepare for the cryotherapy portion of the facial.
Moving the cryotherapy wand constantly so the cold doesn’t stay too long in one spot, the esthetician will circulate the ultra-cold nitrogen air over the face and neck area. This usually lasts between 10 and 20 minutes.
Cryotherapy may be followed by other popular spa treatments, such as a facial massage or a hydrating mask, although these are add-ons to the actual cryotherapy process.
“Unlike other treatments, this is noninvasive, and no leave-on treatments are applied to the skin,” explains Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and founder of BeautyStat.com.
Does Frotox actually work?
According to fans, Frotox cryotherapy facials offer benefits on a number of levels.
“Aside from the cold, refreshing sensation on skin, the treatment claims to immediately firm the skin and tighten pores,” Robinson explains. “Then it’s supposed to leave skin brighter and radiant, as well as help boost collagen.”
Here are the main claims of cryotherapy facial advocates:
- The air further exfoliates the outer layer of dead skin cells, making it appear smoother and more youthful.
- The cold reduces puffiness, dark circles, and redness by temporarily causing the blood vessels to constrict.
- The skin absorbs more product as the blood vessels expand after the treatment (this is why serums are often applied).
- The rapid temperatures changes encourage blood flow and the distribution of vitamins and nutrients, which in turn increases collagen production.
What the evidence says
Since cryotherapy facials are so new, almost no scientific studies have been conducted on them specifically, and the evidence for their claims is far from conclusive.
Cryotherapy facials’ other major claim is the reduction of wrinkles and fine lines. As Dr. Buka points out, cryotherapy has been shown to help with certain skin conditions, such as wart removal and the reduction of keloid scarring, but in most other cases—including wrinkle reduction—the evidence is a bit murky.
One study from 2015 did find that focused cold therapy helped reduce hyperdynamic forehead wrinkles (those unsightly horizontal lines created over time by muscle contractions), but again this is only one study.
“Certainly, people will experience a very cooling and refreshing experience and might see some immediate brightening and tightening benefits,” Robinson says. “But more studies would be needed to confirm that it does indeed stimulate collagen.”
Possible side effects
Skin can also discolor after treatment, especially if it is already dark and contains a fair amount of pigment, or if you’ve been tanning recently.
Your esthetician can advise you on whether you’re a good candidate for a cryotherapy facial. Because of the possibility of hyperpigmentation, you should avoid using acid-based facial treatments (such as salicylic or kojic acid) for a few days before and after the procedure, as that can make the skin more susceptible to coloration changes.
In its consumer update on whole body cryotherapy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also notes there is a risk of oxygen deficiency, frostbite, burns, and eye injury from extreme temperatures. There is less risk of this in a cryotherapy facial, since only your face and neck are subjected to the cold temperatures (plus the esthetician should keep the cryotherapy wand moving to limit prolonged exposure). However, you should still be careful, and make sure only a trained professional treats you.
If you have existing skin conditions, such as rosacea or atopic dermatitis, exposure to extreme temperatures—including cryotherapy facials—can worsen the condition. If this is your situation and you’re thinking about getting a cryotherapy facial, talk to your dermatologist first.
Alternative facial treatments
If you’d still like to get a professional treatment, but you’re not sure about cryotherapy facials, there are a number of alternatives you can explore.
“There are so many treatments out there that can tackle wrinkles and other issues associated with maturing skin. Cryotherapy should really only be used for removing skin growths, which is to say the excessive skin tissue, not normal tissue,” Dr. Buka says.
Microdermabrasion uses a rotating instrument to remove the top layer of skin, to smooth skin’s appearance and allow it to grow back stronger and healthier with higher collagen levels.
Microdermabrasion can be used to treat a variety of minor skin problems, such as clogged pores, fine lines, roughness and minor scars. See our complete guide to microdermabrasion for more information.
Chemical peels are offered at three levels of intensity—light, medium, and deep—and use varying concentrations of acid to remove the top layer of skin and reveal the newer skin underneath.
Chemical peels can help address multiple skin conditions, such as age spots, acne scars, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and sun damage. For more information, check out our complete guide to chemical peels.
Photofacials, or photo rejuvenation, uses light to treat the skin on a molecular level and addresses skin conditions such as rosacea, spider veins, freckles, fine lines, and age spots.
There are two main types of photofacials: LED facials (light-emitting diode) and IPL facials (intense pulsed light). Both types can be provided by a professional dermatologist or spa, and there are even some LED facial at-home devices available for purchase as well.
» If you’re considering a cryotherapy facial or debating between several alternatives, ask a cosmetic doctor for advice and schedule an appointment using Zwivel’s free online consultation tool.
- Cryotherapy Reduces Inflammatory Response Without Altering Muscle Regeneration Process and Extracellular Matrix Remodeling of Rat Muscle (2016) nature.com/articles/srep18525
- Pigment Changes in Human Skin After Cryotherapy (1986) ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3769517
- Safety and Effectiveness of Focused Cold Therapy for the Treatment of Hyperdynamic Forehead Wrinkles (2015) journals.lww.com/dermatologicsurgery/Abstract/2015/02000/Safety_and_Effectiveness_of_Focused_Cold_Therapy.9.aspx
- Use of Cryotherapy in the Treatment of Keloids (1993) doi.org/10.1111/j.1524-4725.1993.tb00386.x
- Whole Body Cryotherapy: A “Cool” Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks (2016) fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm508739.htm
- Whole-Body Cryotherapy for Preventing and Treating Muscle Soreness After Exercise (2015) cochrane.org/CD010789/MUSKINJ_whole-body-cryotherapy-preventing-and-treating-muscle-soreness-after-exercise