Standing for three minutes in a space cooled to minus 130°C may sound a tough sell to spa guests, but it’s a trend that’s becoming more mainstream as people warm to the health benefits of extreme cold.
The reported advantages of cryotherapy are many and varied, meaning it has a broad appeal: improved mood, fewer aches and pains for ageing joints, recovery after exercising and even a better appearance, with people emerging after treatments feeling more alert, upbeat and energised.
Cryotherapy works by forcing the body to send blood to the brain and the core in a process called vasoconstriction. Afterwards, vasodilation takes place, whereby blood that is now enriched with oxygen, nutrients and enzymes flows back into the peripheral tissues.
It’s commonly used in the sporting world as it increases power, performance and endurance, as well as clearing out lactate. It can boost recovery and reduce aches and pains – both from exercise and from chronic illnesses such as arthritis. Endorphins are also released and it’s even claimed to reduce wrinkles.
Its effect on overall wellbeing and beauty are being noted in spa circles. Rainer Bolsinger, sales manager of Zimmer MedizinSysteme – the German-based company behind Icelab cabins – likens cryotherapy to icing an injured knee, but the whole body and mind also benefit. He says: “It affects the nervous system, forcing our brain into a heightened state, which can give stress relief and clear the mind.”
Mecotec, another German-based company, supplies spas such as Lanserhof with the Cryoair chamber. Laurence White, MD of RP-X, its UK distributor, adds: “The body’s natural response to cold air provides total body and mind rejuvenation.
“It also helps the complexion and anti-ageing, as the cold temperatures stimulate the production of collagen, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and decreasing pore size. In addition, when combined with active cosmetic products, cryotherapy can increase the skin’s capacity to rejuvenate itself, regain elasticity, appear smoother and bring forth a youthful glow.”
Meanwhile, Wim Hof – also known as the ‘ice man’ – has created a method which combines exposure to sub-zero water (bathing or showering), breathing and mindset techniques alongside physical exercise. He reports profound effects including heightened focus and determination – he’s used the technique to climb Mount Everest in nothing but short runs and complete marathons in the desert with no water. He says: “The cold trains the vascular system and taps into deeper parts of the brain… A deep sense of control emerges from there.”
Spa Business interviewed Hof at the end of 2017 and in the same issue we asked a range of industry experts how spas can offer cold water therapy (see issue 4, 2017 p22 and p44).
Roots in medicine
The benefits might sound wonderful, but are they sufficient to warrant three minutes of extreme cold? According to Bolsinger, at this temperature, the air no longer contains moisture, so people don’t perceive the cold to be extreme. To protect their extremities, which are starved of blood during the treatment, users enter the chamber wearing protective masks, gloves, nipple protection and footwear. Music is often used to take their mind off the fact that they’re being chilled.
Cold therapy has a long history in medical treatments, first mentioned 400 years BC by Hippocrates as a method of treating pain. In the 19th century, Sebastian Kneipp popularised the Kneipp Method, which uses cold on the extremities – a method still used today in many spas and thermal baths (see SB16/4 p76).
“Whole-body cryostimulation at ultra-low temperatures was first applied by Professor T Yamauchi in Japan to treat rheumatoid arthritis. During the early 1980s several professors in Germany followed his approach and developed the treatment further,” says Bolsinger. “It’s been used in clinics and rehab centres as a method of treating pain, shortening rehabilitation and helping with stress and sleep. Now we’re seeing it move into the world of spas and fitness centres, where it’s used for preventative health, wellbeing, beauty and to optimise training and recovery.” Henri Chenot centres and the Bürgenstock resort are examples of spa operators which are tapping into the trend with Icelab.
UK-based company, CryoAction, says cryotherapy’s use in wellness is increasing and interest is growing across the board, from spas and health clubs to Premier League football clubs. “Cryotherapy is becoming increasingly popular across the health club sector and we’re installing new units all the time, driven by consumer demand, as clubs are seeking to respond to members who want to look and feel amazing,” says CryoAction CEO, Ian Saunders. “The chambers complement existing treatments and facilities and offer a new revenue opportunity.”