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Can Exposing Yourself to Sub-Zero Temperatures Give You Better Skin?

Vogue Arabia, October 2019. Photo: Kat Irlin

Looking for tighter skin, smoothed wrinkles, reduced inflammation, and even fat reduction and stress management? A spell spent in a human-sized freezer may be the answer. Advocates of cryotherapy say that the next-gen of cold exposure therapy is an effective way to soothe body and mind, with both high-tech advancements and off-piste options serving results.

The Ancient Egyptians are on record from 3 500BC as the first to experiment with intense cold for therapeutic purposes, with the Edwin Smith Papyrus (the world’s oldest known medical text) detailing the use of chilling temperatures to treat swelling and inflammation. The sudden burst of cold sends a message to the brain to push a rush of nutrient-rich red blood cells to the affected area, while simultaneously numbing nerves at the site. Cryotherapy can also help minimize inflammation by reducing body temperature and redirecting blood flow and the associated nerve functions. The increased blood flow also delivers a rush of endorphins and an elevated heart rate for an instant mood boost. The practice started to be used by athletes in the 1970s, with the Japanese developing the blueprint for today’s cryotherapy chambers. The treatment has now evolved to a slick wellness addition, championed by A-listers including Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Alicia Keys, Daniel Craig, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Middle East’s chill seekers can get your fix at cryotherapy clinics across the region. At cryo clinics like Resync, which opened in Dubai in late 2020, you strip down to shorts and a sports bra for the treatment (from AED350). Extremities are protected, courtesy of special earmuffs, a mask, gloves, and footwear before entering an acclimatization chamber, chilled to -60C, for a 30 second “warm up.” For the main event, you are guided into the high oxygen main chambers for a full three minutes. The cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen frozen at an incredible -110C to keep the temperature consistently cold. Resync’s founder and CEO, Jenya Baitsurenko, says that one visit can help reduce muscle pain, alongside increasing metabolism and the body’s natural collagen production. She says that while muscle soreness is a driving reason for cryotherapy visits, it’s the anti-aging response the skin has to extreme cold which intrigues the region. Cryotherapy can also offer temporary mental health relief. “If you suffer from anxiety, the ultra-cold temperatures can result in physiological hormonal responses, which include the release of adrenaline and endorphins that can have a positive effect on your mood,” she adds. Resync has also harnessed cold power as a fat eliminating treatment, freezing fat deposits on specific areas on the face or body. “Our Cryo T-Shock treatment (AED900) is unique as it uses alternating heat and cold in varying time and frequencies,” explains Baitsurenko. “You can see results in a few treatments and there is no pain or recovery time during and after the treatment.”

Most people can use cryotherapy, although pregnant women and those with diabetes and other circulatory health issues are advised to skip it. If you’re looking to get back to nature, you may benefit from the mood-boosting benefits of cryotherapy. Cold therapy guru Wim Hof is a Goop-featured adventurer known as “the Iceman,” whose cult Wim Hof Method involves cold exposure via ice baths and snow immersion, with the addition of third eye meditation, and a combination of hyperventilation and breath holding techniques. The Dutchman’s theory is ascribed to by a committed fanbase and soon to be highlighted in a BBC series dedicated to his teachings, with an emphasis on natural cold immersion. Those after a similarly authentic cryo experience can find it at Ultima Courchevel Belvédère, an ultra luxury setting amid the French Alps.

Lorëleï Rodrigo, yoga teacher and wellness expert at Ultima Courchevel Belvédère, says that cold therapy is something that has benefited both her après-ski clients and her personal health. “All year around, I dive into the mountains’ altitude lakes, which range from five to 10 degrees in temperature. I swim in the ocean where I live during the spring and fall, and bathe in the snowy, icy, four-degree river near my house,” she shares. “I was introduced to this practice through extreme yogis Maurice Daubard, who is now 90, and Philippe Djoharikian. They taught me how it can empower your concentration and inner fire activation.” Rodrigo says that being exposed to such extreme cold can be a spiritual experience, in addition to the expected anti-inflammation and fat burning results. “Being vulnerable in nature can bring you humility and build courage and determination,” she believes. For chalet guests, Rodrigo leads cold experiences designed to help regenerate and reinvigorate, from snow yoga and skin being exposed to the icy air to guided breathing in the freezing cold. But, she says, the technique doesn’t always need a cryo-chamber or blanket of fresh powder. “You do not need to be surrounded by nature like this to experiment with cold therapy. Simply remove layers when it is cold outside or take a cold shower.”

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Originally published in the February 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

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