Would you step into a space the size of a linen closet where the temperature reached -220 degrees fahrenheit for 5 minutes? That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, does it? What if I told you there’s promising research that the benefits of this practice – known as whole body cryotherapy – include everything from reducing inflammation to weight loss, and it’s even being used in some cases as treatment for autoimmune disease?1 

Cryotherapy is growing in popularity, especially among athletes because of how it speeds up recovery. However, the benefits of cryotherapy go well beyond workout recovery and I’ve experienced them myself!

I’m about to tell you all about this “cool” new trend, the different types of cryotherapy, their benefits, and how you can get the benefits of cryotherapy even in your own home!

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What is Cryotherapy?

The word cryotherapy literally means “cold therapy.” It’s basically a term that can be used any time extreme cold is used as a form of treatment. Conventional medicine has used cryotherapy for decades to remove abnormal skin tissue. There are two types of cryotherapy conventionally used: cryosurgery and cryolipolysis. 

Cryosurgery is the most commonly used form of cryotherapy in conventional medicine. If you have ever had a wart or skin tag removed, you’re familiar with this type of treatment. Cryosurgery is the use of liquid nitrogen to remove unwanted items from the skin.23 Liquid nitrogen is -320 degrees fahrenheit and freezes the skin almost instantly. 

The other common use of cryotherapy is cryolipolysis, which is the freezing of fat cells to break them down so they can be reabsorbed by the body. The fat layer is gradually cooled to temperatures between 30 and 39 degrees fahrenheit.4 You might know this type of therapy as cryoskin therapy or cool sculpting. I’ll talk more about that later.  

The modern definition of cryotherapy is what is seen today in popular culture as whole body cryotherapy, and it is extremely popular in the wellness industry! I’ll go more in-depth about the benefits later. Let’s first talk about all the different types of cryotherapy.    

Types of Cryotherapy

The modern practices of cryotherapy come from the way doctors have used cold therapy on skin abnormalities and cryolipolysis. As mentioned, the most popular cryotherapy practice is whole-body cryotherapy because of it’s recovery benefits. However, more centralized versions for your skin and face are becoming just as popular due to their benefits to your skin, circulatory system, and lymphatic system. Let’s discuss them!

What is Cryotherapy – The type of Cryotherapy – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®What is Cryotherapy - The type of Cryotherapy - Infographic - Amy Myers MD® https://content.amymyersmd.com/article/what-is-cryotherapy/What is Cryotherapy – The type of Cryotherapy – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®

Cold-Water Immersion

I bet you know what a hot tub is. This is the same thing, but way colder! Cold water immersion (CWI) therapy, also known as ice baths, plunge pools, and cold water therapy, is a recovery process where you sit in a tub of cold water that is 59 degrees fahrenheit. This is typically done right after exercise to speed up the recovery process and has been around since the time of Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine.5

There has been a lot of research done on the benefits of cold water immersion therapy and it has been found to increase blood circulation, contract your lymphatic vessels, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and assist with weight loss.  

Your body responds to extreme cold temperatures by pumping blood through the body to increase its temperature. Additionally, it causes your lymphatic vessels to contract and pumps lymph fluids throughout your body to eliminate waste. These two processes work together because cold water triggers your immune system to release white blood cells, which attack foreign invaders in your lymph fluid.6 

I have tried cold water immersion therapy and loved it! I saw many benefits from it and will try it again. The best part about this type of cryotherapy is that you can do it fairly easily at home by using a cold tub like Plunge, taking an ice bath, a cold shower, or by using ice packs. I have done the full bath immersion therapy at a clinic and also took cold showers at home for 30 days and found that both had a positive impact on my energy levels, sleep and even my autoimmune markers! 

Contrast Bath Therapy

Cold water immersion therapy has recently evolved into a more complex form of recovery treatment. Contrast bath therapy incorporates cold water immersion and hot tub therapy. Contrast bath therapy is where you alternate immersing your body into hot water at a temperature between 98 and 110 degrees fahrenheit followed immediately by cold water immersion (50 to 60 degrees fahrenheit). Most physical therapists administer this therapy by alternating three minutes in cold water and two minutes in hot water for 15 minutes total. 

Research suggests one of the benefits of this type of immersion therapy is that it increases blood flow. Hot water causes your blood vessels to widen and cold water causes them to narrow. This increases blood circulation.7 Furthermore, studies suggest that contrast bath therapy supports the lymphatic system, which helps speed up injury recovery. Unlike your circulatory system, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a central pump. By alternating hot and cold, the lymphatic system moves fluid out of the injured area and creates a healthy inflammatory response.8 This process reduces swelling and kills foreign invaders.9

Cryoskin Therapy

Cryoskin therapy goes by many names. You might know it as cool sculpting or cryoslimming.

Those in medicine know it as cryolipolysis, which I discussed briefly earlier. Research has found that cryoskin therapy promotes blood circulation, however it’s primary use is to burn fat cells. So, how does it do that?  

Cryoskin therapy incorporates the same principles as contrast bath therapy, using hot and cold temperatures to stimulate drainage of the lymphatic system.10  One of the primary functions of your lymphatic system is to absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K from your gut and transport them through your blood. Cryoskin therapy breaks down fat cells so that your lymphatic system can easily remove them.11 

Because of its effects on the lymphatic system, cryoskin therapy has also been used to increase blood circulation. The cool temperatures widen the blood vessels and increase oxygen supply. Another side benefit of cryoskin therapy is that it has been shown to boost collagen production.   

A typical cryolipolysis treatment lasts 30 minutes and focuses on one area of the body at a time. It starts by applying heat at 104 degrees fahrenheit for 2 minutes, immediately followed by applying cold at 18 degrees fahrenheit, and finishing with 2 more minutes of heat. 

Cryofacial Therapy

We all want to slow down father time and keep that youthful look to our skin. Many of the existing beauty products and treatments out there such as botox contain toxins. I recommend avoiding anything with toxins to minimize your body’s toxic burden. A heavy toxic burden puts you at a greater risk of developing an autoimmune disease and other issues. What if there was a way to rejuvenate your skin without all the toxins? I have some exciting news for you! 

Cryofacials, also known as Frotox, is a new trend being used to rejuvenate your skin and help you look younger. While it may seem like an exciting new discovery, this type of therapy has been around for years! Cryofacials use the same principles as other forms of cryotherapy by stimulating blood flow to your face. 

A cryotherapy facial involves pumping liquid nitrogen all over your face. It feels just like you’re putting your face in a really cold freezer. During a cryofacial, the intense cold causes your blood vessels to contract and your pores to tighten, which is a similar, yet more intense version of what happens when you rub ice on your face.

Each session lasts about 10 to 20 minutes.12 One of the reasons cryofacials have grown in popularity is because they are relatively affordable and cost between $30 and $40.  

Whole Body Cryotherapy 

This is the most popular form of cryotherapy. As I mentioned before, whole body cryotherapy is done in a cryogenic chamber. The chamber is a tube-like enclosure that covers most of your body however it has an open top to keep your head at room temperature.

This therapy is usually done in your underwear while wearing gloves and slippers to protect your hands and feet. When you are in a cryogenic chamber, your body is exposed to extreme cold temperatures between -200 and -280 degrees fahrenheit. 

Proponents of whole body cryotherapy say that it helps muscles recover faster after workouts, reduces inflammation, and boosts your metabolism. While research is limited, some suggest whole body cryotherapy can slow the aging process and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. 

I tried whole body cryotherapy for 30 days, however I didn’t see a huge difference with my chronic hip pain. In my opinion, whole body cryotherapy works best for acute injuries. It’s definitely worth trying depending on your concern to see what works best for you.

Benefits of Cryotherapy

There’s still a lot of research being done on the benefits of cryotherapy, however the science we do know behind cold therapy suggests the list of benefits is long. There’s new evidence that suggests cryotherapy can be beneficial to those with autoimmune disease, especially those with Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.13 That’s wonderful news!

I briefly mentioned a few of the benefits of each type of cryotherapy. Let’s go a little deeper into the benefits of cryotherapy, including its benefits for autoimmune disease. 

It Supports Weight Loss

Cryotherapy has proven weight loss benefits, however cryotherapy doesn’t directly cause you to lose weight. Disappointing, I know. Let me explain. Research suggests cryotherapy boosts your metabolism because cold temperatures can raise your metabolic rate as it works to return to a normal temperature.14 

When your body is exposed to extreme cold, the brown adipose tissue (BAT) burns fat to create energy for your body. One study found that daily exposure to cold over a 6-week period reduced body fat by 2%.15

It Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the first signs of autoimmune disease. Several studies have confirmed that cryotherapy can reduce inflammation.16 Exposure to the extreme cold temperatures increases the presence of cytokine proteins IL-6, IL-1Ra, and IL-10. Cytokines, particularly the interleukins (abbreviated as “IL”), control cell signaling in an immune system response and support a healthy inflammatory response.

It Supports Your Immune System 

Do you remember what I said about how cryoskin and contrast bath therapies incorporate hot and cold temperatures to increase blood flow? Well, that is beneficial to your immune system as well. By increasing blood flow and speeding up recovery, cryotherapy supports the detoxification processes. One study found that consistent cold water immersions increased monocytes and lymphocytes, two types of white blood cells that fight foreign invaders and viruses.17 

Another way cryotherapy supports your immune system is by stimulating the brain to release a large dose of endorphins. Endorphins reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which facilitates a healthy immune system response.

Cryotherapy and Autoimmune Disease 

If cryotherapy has positive effects on your immune system and can reduce inflammation, it makes sense that it can be used to treat autoimmune diseases. In fact, whole body cryotherapy was originally developed in 1978 in Japan by Toshima Yamauchi, a Japanese medical doctor who was seeking a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. 

One study confirmed his work and found cryotherapy reduced pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.18 In fact, there are several studies that showed improvements in pain reduction and inflammation among patients with autoimmune disease.

Our body’s react to the cold by sending messages to the brain, which releases chemicals and hormones to stimulate blood flow, lymphatic system drainage, and an immune system response. Our immune system increases production of white blood cells, which reduces inflammation. Increased circulation allows blood to move oxygen to skin and muscles more efficiently, and your brain releases endorphins and adrenaline, which reduces cortisol. 

Is Cryotherapy Right For You

Cryotherapy is generally safe, however it can be expensive. The average cost of one cryotherapy session in the United States is between $40 and $60. While you can get benefits from one cryotherapy session, most people don’t see results until their third or fifth session.

The good news is you can do cryotherapy at home without the cost of expensive cryotherapy clinics or pricey tools. A cryotherapy chamber or device is an excellent investment in your health, however they can cost thousands of dollars. Using good ol’ ice packs, taking an ice bath, or even just a cold bath or shower can offer you similar benefits. 

Cryotherapy has been around for decades, however new, encouraging research becomes available every day. Cryotherapy has proven benefits from improved blood circulation to reducing inflammation to stress relief. I recommend trying cryotherapy and see what works for you. However, try the types of cryotherapy one at a time so you can measure your success and know what’s working!

Cryotherapy FAQs


What is Cryotherapy?

The word cryotherapy literally means “cold therapy.” It’s basically a term that can be used any time extreme cold is used as a form of treatment.


What is cryotherapy used for?

Cryotherapy has been used in conventional medicine for decades to treat skin abnormalities such as warts or skin tags. It was also used to burn fat cells. Whole body cryotherapy was developed in 1978 by a Japanese doctor looking for treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.


What are the benefits of cryotherapy?

Research shows that cryotherapy can support weight loss, reduce inflammation, burn fat cells, and support your immune and lymphatic systems. It’s also been used to treat patients with autoimmune disease.

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Article Sources

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