Freezing your assets: the new cold beauty craze
The coldest natural temperature ever recorded on earth was -89c in the frozen hinterland of Antarctica. I remind myself of this as I prepare to step into a chamber cooled to -121c, clad only in exercise shorts, vest, gloves and a jaunty towelling headband.
“Think of your complexion,” the doctor winks, before he shuts the door on the small Cryo-chamber.
I am to shuffle around here for two minutes, if I can bear it. After four, I would enter into a cheerily euphoric frozen state that would precede my untimely death a couple of minutes or so later.
Arctic isn’t the word for it, and I ponder, momentarily, whether my enduring quest for a smoother complexion is worth it. Surely, this latest beauty fad has to be a lot of hocus-pocus?
As the Daily Mail revealed earlier this month, cryotherapy – the process of freezing the body in short
bursts to encourage physical healing – has been used for several years to help treat sporting injuries. But more recently, the aesthetic benefits are seen as reason enough to numb your bones.
According to its growing number of female fans, sessions of cryotherapy boost the complexion, encourage hair growth, improve skin tone and banish the appearance of cellulite.
Acne, eczema and psoriasis sufferers have reported marked improvements in their skin, while some aficionados claim that a block of five sessions three times a year can help you look ten years younger.
A number of British women are already converts. Jo Wye, a 35-year-old creative consultant from Stamford, Lincolnshire, first heard about the treatment through a colleague, and now – with six sessions under her belt – is something of a veteran.
“I’d gone through a difficult period in my life and felt it had taken its toll on my appearance and energy levels,” says Jo. “I heard cryotherapy could give you a real boost mentally and physically, and I thought: ‘What the Hell,’ although I didn’t expect much.”
She was more than pleasantly surprised. “After my first session I was tingling all over. I felt great – energised and glowing. But it was two weeks later that I really discovered the benefits. My skin had improved, my hair was glossier and the skin around my legs and bottom felt more toned. Now I am aiming to do five sessions three times a year.”
Her glowing appearance didn’t go unnoticed by her friends, among them 40-year-old Paula Bell. She has had only one session so far but is planning more. “Jo was looking amazing, and when she told us why, I thought I’d give it a go,” says Paula. “After just one session, my eyes were brighter and my complexion was glowing. It was almost like someone had taken my head off, given it a good wash and put it back on again.”
Even more unexpected, the psoriasis which has plagued her since she was a girl markedly improved.
“I wouldn’t want to say it was a cure, but it was definitely better,” adds Paula.
Such gilded promises are music to any jaded thirtysomething’s ears, and it is for this reason that I have come to AquaCity, a vast complex of hotels and thermal pools in central Slovakia for a three-day cryotherapy detox package.
It’s a long way to go in order to look nice in my Christmas party dress, but the Eastern Europeans have long had a firm handle on the spa business and, more to the point, it is cheap as chips.
For the price of a couple of facials in some of the swankier metropolitan hotels, you can bag a three-night break here with full access to thermal pools and spa facilities.
Cryotherapy, which can cost upwards of £30 a session in the UK is just £10 a time here. That’s what you fork out for a cappuccino in some of Europe’s snootier resorts – a small price to pay for a rosy glow.
With Poprad airport (from which AquaCity is a mere 15-minute hop in the car) a two-hour flight from London Stansted, it means a few hours after leaving home on a lunchtime flight you can be floating in one of the resort’s mineral-rich pools as your friends at home trudge through the evening commute.
In my case however, such pleasures were to be deferred. On arrival I was whisked off to meet Dr Jan Potocky, the cryotherapy centre’s qualified doctor. The centre has been open for a few months, and as he takes my blood pressure and asks me about my medical history, Dr Potocky says the chamber has received hundreds of female visitors.
“At first they are scared, but when they see the difference it makes to their complexion and well-being they want to come back – then they bring their friends,” he says.
The reason cryotherapy has such a notable effect on women, he adds, is because the positive effect it exerts on the muscles (as is already known by sportsmen) is equally good for the skin and hair.
Exposure to the freezing temperature causes the body’s molecules to shrink. When you emerge, they quickly expand again, vigorously pumping blood back round the body and boosting circulation in the process.
The increased blood flow helps to clear toxins such as lactic acid from the body, which helps both muscle and skin regeneration, while extreme cold has been shown to stimulate the body into burning up fat deposits.
This all sounds tremendously heartening, but at this point, I am contemplating the gloomier possibility of being turned into a gigantic frozen popsicle. Moreover, none of these glittering promises will happen overnight. Although I will feel better after just one session, it will take around four or five to really see the benefits.
I am pleased to hear I will not be doing it alone. Two other first-timers will be joining me.
After receiving our instructions and donning our gear, Dr Potocky takes us through to the unit. It looks like a pleasant pine- clad Scandinavian sauna, although a whiff of Arctic wind in the air hints at the chillier truth.
In our protective clogs we troop obediently into the ‘Ante-chamber’, cooled to a balmy -60c, where we must stay for a minute to ensure all excess surface moisture has been eliminated from the body – otherwise it would freeze solid on the skin in a heartbeat.
Next it is into the main Cryo-chamber, and its welcoming -121c ‘glow’.
It is almost impossible to convey how cold it is. It takes your breath away, which is part of the problem.
Dr Potocky has instructed us to breathe through the nose and out of the mouth, taking only shallow breaths as the dry air risks damaging our wet lungs. But faced with a swirling ice wall of cold it is hard not to gulp.
This in turn can set off an ever decreasing panic cycle of the “Oh, God! I’m breathing too deeply. Must stop. Must stay calm. But which way round? Is it the mouth first . . . Oh, God, HELP ME!” variety.
We shuffle around, smacking our arms, in a space no bigger than a metre square. Given the swirling fog of cold it is hard to see, but when I glance at my arms, they are gathering a light frost.
Outside, we can hear Dr Potocky, who is monitoring the time, shout into a microphone wired into the chamber: “Donta worry. Be happy, eh?”
This seems to go on for an awfully long time, and the last 15 seconds, when the hairs inside my nose seem to be freezing together, are eternal.
We are all desperate to get out, and when Dr Potocky says time’s up, all courtesy is cast aside as we bolt for the door. It is all worth it for the glorious sensation of being at room temperature once more. As the blood rushes back to the surface of the skin, you can almost see your skin greedily soaking in the extra nutrients.
A personalised 20 minutes cardiovascular workout in the newly-built gymnasium, again designed to encourage enhanced blood flow to all the muscles and joints, is equally gratifying. I feel energised.
Moreover, it doesn’t stop there: the eco-friendly AquaCity is marketed as a “stress-busting wellness resort”, and whether or not you buy into all this, there are nine thermal pools to splash around in, including an Olympic-sized one, and two outdoor ones which maintain a steadily steamy 38 degrees despite the chilly air.
The water, derived from natural underground springs, is rich in calcium, sodium and magnesium – all good for the skin and all of which compound the age-defying effects of the cryotherapy.
It is not perfect. Work is still ongoing at AquaCity, and at first glance the hive of building activity lends the complex the air of an industrial park.
Once inside, however, there is more than enough to compensate for any visual shortcomings. Pools aside, there is a fully kitted out spa, and once outside, it takes only 20 minutes by road to reach a network of small ski resorts with cosy mountain lodges in the stunning High Tatras mountains, known as the Alps of the east. It’s not Val D’Isere, but then neither are the prices.
My alpine chill, of course, is coming via the cryotherapy centre. I am determined to see through my four sessions, despite the frozen nose. In fact, I am more nervous during the second as I know exactly what to expect, but am driven by the fact that even after the first session I feel great.
After two sessions, my travel companions tell me I look well (and no one has said that to me since I passed my A-levels and went on a two-week holiday to Majorca by way of celebration, acquiring my first all- over tan in the process).
After four treatments, I can feel an improvement in my energy levels and skin tone. A rash on my face which has plagued me in recent weeks has all but disappeared. The cellulite is there, but this would take years of cryotherapy to get rid of.
All this and still plenty of change left over for my yuletide gin and tonics.
Whether or not the effects on my complexion last, remains to be seen, but the sensation of bagging a beauty bargain certainly will.