Cryotherapy — the application of extreme cold to freeze and remove abnormal tissue — has been used for decades to treat skin conditions like warts, skin tags and precancerous spots. More recently, medispas and dermatology offices have been using it cosmetically to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, shrink pores and improve blood flow.
Supposedly, these cryofacial products can eliminate puffiness and redness, minimize pores, stimulate circulation and oxygenate the skin. Some TikTokers have even claimed that certain frozen beauty pops cleared their stubborn acne.
The only problem: True cryotherapy can’t be replicated at home because it requires the use of liquid nitrogen at super-low temperatures.
“Cryotherapy, which is using very, very cold liquid nitrogen between -240 and -320 degrees Fahrenheit, is so effective because it can get so cold,” Dr. Kachiu C. Lee, a board-certified dermatologist based in Pennsylvania, told HuffPost.
“Your freezer at home is not going to be cold enough to achieve those long-term effects that medical-grade or even medispa-grade cryotherapy can do.”
And the use of liquid nitrogen “is not replicable because when it warms up, it turns into gas,” Lee explained.
What can you actually expect from at-home cryofacial products?
Applying these not-as-cold at-home devices to your face means that their purported results — such as smaller pores, improved circulation and reduced inflammation — won’t last very long.
“When your skin is colder, your pores will look smaller, and while your face is cold, you will have a different appearance than when you’re red and flushed,” said Dr. Tanya Kormeili, a Los Angeles-based, board-certified dermatologist. “But it’s not a lasting effect.”
She noted that bone structure actually dictates pore size — and none of these devices will alter your bone structure.
Oxygenating skin also starts from the inside. “You oxygenate the skin through good blood flow,” said Dr. Nanette B. Silverberg, chief of pediatric dermatology at Mount Sinai Health System. “What you really want is reduction of inflammation in your skin and agents that help keep your pores open, that help with the blocking of hormone activity in the skin.”
“These products that are not super cold may give you briefly some reduction from swelling and inflammation focally, but there can be a risk,” she said, citing undesirable results like the loss of pigmentation.
Silverberg also pointed out that “the surface layer of your skin regenerates in seven days, so your facial basically gets undone in about a week, at best.”
Professional cryotherapy can help with acne because of its ability to freeze sebaceous glands and prevent them from producing as much sebum, but “sebaceous glands are at all different depths in your skin,” Lee said.
“With cryotherapy, you can only let it safely penetrate without causing a burn to the top of your epidermis or your skin. I don’t think cryofacials at home are nearly cold enough or can penetrate deep enough.”
What risks are associated with at-home cryofacials?
The dermatologists who spoke to HuffPost agreed that the risks of at-home cryofacials greatly outweigh the short-lived benefits.
“There is plenty of discoloration and scarring that results with cryotherapy, so that’s always concerned me about [using] those products outside of a dermatologist’s office,” Silverberg said, adding that the risk of pigmentation loss increases with age. “An older female can have permanent loss of pigmentation.”
Leaving these cold devices on the skin for too long can even cause burns. “You can actually burn yourself quite badly with cold,” Kormeili said. “As dermatologists, when we say gently ice, I tell them: ‘Take the ice, put it in a bag, put the bag in a towel. You want to feel cool but not cold. Take it off every 20 minutes. Let your skin return to normal temperature. Cool it again.’”
“If you leave it long enough, you can actually get rid of your entire epidermis and get an ulcer. And then that has to heal and you have to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”
Eczema — which causes dry skin, itchy skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections — can also be a concern. “By keeping the skin chronically cold, you can get eczema because the skin likes to be in an optimal pH, an optimal temperature, an optimal amount of moisture,” Kormeili said.
Lee said people with cold sensitivities or connective tissue disorders should be especially wary of at-home cryofacial technology “because the skin can’t warn you when it’s getting too cold and on the brink of fracturing.”
“It’s not like a gradual slope where there’s some warning signs that it’s going to get cold. It’s really like, you go half a second too long and you’ve given yourself a burn,” she said.
What To Try Instead
Silverberg urged anyone trying to improve fine lines and wrinkles, acne, scars, or uneven skin coloring to opt for scientifically proven, effective treatments like chemical peels and laser resurfacing. “They’re very well understood and they give more of a superficial depth of peeling,” she said. “As long as you’re not doing the deepest forms of chemical peels, you don’t have these kinds of pigmentation risks.”
Kormeili recommended vitamin A cream (aka retinol). “We have known for decades and decades that prescription vitamin A could actually help with oil production, shrink pores, [produce] collagen,” she said. “A tube of that cream comes out cheaper than most products you would find at Neiman Marcus, and it lasts a long time because you only need a teeny bit.”
For acne, Kormeili said that prescription medication can help control breakouts. She also noted that different types of acne require different types of treatment, which a dermatologist can help you figure out.
“If you’re getting acne breakouts every month, your hormones are going wacko, putting an ice cube on your face is not going to control your hormones,” Kormeili said. “But if you have clogged pores, what actually helps is getting rid of the bacteria.”
How can these products exist if they aren’t very effective?
Lee clarified that the Food and Drug Administration only allows at-home cryofacial products on the market because they don’t claim to “biologically change the skin.”
“Over-the-counter products can make claims as long as they’re not claiming to actually change the integrity or the structure of the skin, which these are not,” she said. “They’re just talking about things like surface change that are not regulated by the FDA.”
Ultimately, “there’s really no science behind it,” Lee concluded of at-home cryofacials. “The medical-grade cryotherapy and the medispa-grade therapy does have good science behind it, but it’s a huge jump to assume the same theories will apply to the at-home cryotherapy.”