What Exactly Is Cryotherapy? I Tried It

Could freezing your body in subzero liquid nitrogen solve all your health problems? I put it to the test—here's what I discovered.

Portrait of young woman in a whole body cryo sauna. Female getting cryo therapy at the cosmetology clinic.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

People are trying all sorts of crazy things in the name of health these days. From eating activated charcoal to taking shots of apple cider vinegar, we’ve seen it all. Or at least we thought we had until we heard about the latest trend hitting the wellness scene: submerging your body in freezing temperatures.

It’s called cryotherapy and it’s something doctors have been using for years in medical settings but is now becoming popular in the mainstream health world. Essentially, it lowers your body temperature to 30 to 50 degrees F through the use of liquid nitrogen. The colder you get, the more your blood vessels constrict—supposedly ridding them of toxins. Then, when you warm back up, fresh, clean, highly oxygenated blood rushes through your system. The goal? Boost your metabolism and circulation, speed up weight loss, clear your skin, alleviate aches… and so much more. The only issue? The evidence is pretty slim for any of these benefits, and in fact, the FDA isn’t a big fan of the trend. Small studies suggest it might temporarily relieve arthritis pain and help with muscle recovery; however, most of the buzz around cryotherapy is word of mouth.

Intrigued and always willing to try something that could potentially make me healthier, I decided to give it a try. I showed up to the spa early one Saturday morning, anxiously anticipating what was to come, and paid my $50 fee. After an initial chat with the spa owner (who had been doing cryo herself for years), I felt reassured and even excited: She explained that while most people worry about frostbite or hypothermia, you wear protective gear on your extremities and the chill you experience comes from dry air, only penetrating the surface of your skin so even your organs are safe and remain at a normal temperature. Based on my young age (26) and generally good health (no low blood pressure, heart issues, or pregnancy), she decided I was cleared for the full three-minute session, a length of time usually reserved for more experienced cryo customers.

While some people choose to go nude, I went in my bathing suit, along with the cotton gloves and slipper-style socks provided for me. For the next three minutes, I stood inside a tank overflowing with liquid nitrogen gases, slowly rotating 360 degrees. I was only submerged in gas up to my shoulders so I never felt uncomfortable or claustrophobic. Truthfully, it wasn’t until about the halfway point that I really started to feel cold—it even became difficult to talk. But all in all, the three minutes was much more tolerable than expected.

I didn’t have high expectations for how it would impact me—especially since the spa owner explained most people do two to three sessions a week to get the best results. But even after just one session, I was hooked. After thawing out in a plush robe handed to me by the studio, I left feeling like Superwoman—my energy levels and mood have rarely ever been higher. I was ready to take on the world! Not only that, but the muscle aches I often have in my legs due to sitting in an office all day almost disappeared. All of the positive effects lasted about 24 hours after the session.

So what if the science to support cryotherapy is thin? I know I’ll be going back. Just remember that if you want to try it, consult with your doctor first. Next, find out what being healthy will look and feel like in 2020.

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