Cryotherapy (Cold Exposure): Why It's a Must for a Healthy Body, Skin and Mind

cryotherapy swimming in cold lake

Telling people that you take cold showers, let alone use cryotherapy, usually results in one of two responses: them questioning your sanity, or a genuine interest in the reasoning behind it. The first response is definitely more common, but for those select few belonging to the second group, cold showers can do wonders not only for your skin and body, but also for your mental well-being.

Cold showers are essentially a simplified form of cryotherapy, a form of medical therapy where your body is purposefully subjected to cold temperatures for a short amount of time. Depending on the type of cryotherapy, we’re sometimes talking extremely cold temperatures – a treatment might consist of exposing your body to temperatures below -100 C! To avoid completely turning your body into a human ice cube, though, these types of treatments tend to only last two to four minutes.

A very basic explanation of what happens to your body in cold exposure:

When you get cold, your fingers, toes, ears, and nose all begin to feel numb and your body begins to shiver uncontrollably, and the reason this happens is because your body is taking the blood away from what it considers to be less vital parts of your body and pulling it inwards to protect your much more vital internal organs. This is also why your skin appears much whiter when you’re cold – there is less blood immediately below the surface of your skin.

This physiological response causes your body to pump more oxygen and nutrients into your blood, and then once you’re no longer cold and your body decides your organs no longer need the extra padding, all of the blood, now nutrient-packed and freshly oxygenated, is unleashed back into the rest of your body. The visualization is helpful in understanding why cold exposure is common among athletes recovering from intense physical exercise.

This process can obviously vary depending on the form of cold exposures (full body, specific body parts, etc.), but described above is generally what takes place in whole body cryotherapy (WBC) – the most common (and approachable) form of cold exposure. We’ll dive a little deeper down below.

Why cryotherapy is wonderful for your skin, body and mind:

Skin

cryotherapy skin

Brush aside the fact that you look like ghost when you hop out of a cold shower and allow me to share the wonders cold exposure can do for your skin.

Why cryotherapy is useful in maintaining healthy skin is largely through its triggering of our body’s collagen production. Skincare’s favourite word, collagen is the protein behind everything from skin, to hair, to cartilage. Not only does cold exposure cause an increase in collagen production, but it also causes a decrease in the enzyme collagenase – collagen’s worst enemy.

Cryotherapy can also serve as an incredible fat-burning tool. How it works is actually quite simple. To help maintain your temperature in cold environments, your body ramps up metabolism in a process called thermogenesis. One of the first things to go? Your fat storages.

Cryotherapy, then, can result visibly in a reduction in the appearance of lines and wrinkles, a reduction in fat and the appearance of cellulite, shinier-looking hair, and less inflammation associated with long-lasting autoimmune diseases like psoriasis.

Body

cryotherapy body

Think of what happens when you use an icepack on an injury. Swelling goes down, inflammation is reduced, pain is numbed…. Now take that idea and apply it to your entire body.

Turns out norepinephrine, an anti-inflammatory produced by our body which can help reduce short-term pain, is triggered by cryotherapy. This makes cryotherapy ideal for people recovering from temporary physical injuries, particularly sports-related, and also for people with conditions like chronic back pain and osteoarthritis undergoing physical therapy.

It’s odd to think that making yourself cold can actually help fend of sickness, but turns out it does. If you’ve ever plunged into an ice bath or taken a frigid cold shower, you have inevitably experienced the immediate tensing of your body. As much as it may suck in the moment, you are actually doing your body a favour. The low physical stress that this sudden plunge causes can actually trigger an adaptive response by your body to create more white blood cells, which can help strengthen your immune system. Stronger immune system = better defence against sickness.

Mind

cryotherapy mind

It sounds weird, but on top of the sudden tensing described above, jumping in to a cold shower tends to make me break out laughing. Talking to other people who take cold showers, apparently this is actually quite common, and looking at the research, there may just be a reason.

Cold exposure has been shown to produce an explosion of feel-good endorphins and hormones, including the above-mentioned norepinephrine, which on top of its anti-inflammatory properties also helps to produce new, mood-enhancing neurons in the brain. Cold exposure also produces dopamine, our body’s pleasure chemical, as well as a decrease in cortisol, which in combination with norepinephrine, can help improve your sleep cycles.

So new brain neurons, more feel-good chemicals and hormones in the body, and better sleep… Not a bad trade-off for a few minutes of cold exposure. Say what you will about cold showers, but it’s hard to argue that starting your day with an uncontrollable fit of laughter is a bad thing.

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Whether it’s in the form of ice baths, lake plunges, cold showers or actual paid cryotherapy session, cold exposure poses something beneficial for just about everyone.

Having some trouble getting started? Read this 30-Day Cold Shower Challenge for some great inspiration, and for those pressed for time, try this simplified version of cold exposure to get you in and out in two minutes flat. When you’re done with that, top off your skincare routine with a handful of our Original Coffee Scrub for the ultimate start (or end) to your day.

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