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If the thought of icing your skin is—wait for it—too chilling for you, hear us out. Just like throwing your go-to products in a skincare fridge to reap its cooling benefits, skin icing has become a popular morning and evening ritual for better-looking skin. It's been used in spas and in skin care treatments for several years and for a number of reasons, including cryotherapy (treatments using cold temperatures), to destroy fat cells (CoolSculpting), and to get rid of spider veins (through Cryo 6, a new method of sclerotherapy). And, it's also long been a regular practice in the skin care routine of Korean women—who are, of course, known for their detailed beauty rituals.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to learn about what putting ice directly on skin can do.
What is Skin Icing?
Skin icing is a cryotherapy treatment in which the skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes. It is said to have a variety of skincare benefits, including soothing redness, exfoliation, and blemish control.
What is Skin Icing?
The most basic form of skin icing is when you use an ice cube to reduce under-eye or facial puffiness. It has long been a staple of skincare wisdom (we’ve all used a refrigerated spoon or cucumber slices on our eyes in the past, right?). Far from being an old wives' tale, there’s actually science behind this age-old advice. When actual ice is applied to the skin, it causes blood to rise to the surface (think of that rosy glow you get after a brisk winter walk), which soothes and tightens the skin. Also known as an ice facial, skin icing is a cryotherapy treatment where vaporized nitrogen is used to cool the skin of the face, scalp and neck area.
Ice has long been a secret to clear skin and a healthy-looking glow. Russian Empress Catherine the Great was said to have applied ice cubes to her face, neck, and décolletage every morning to give her skin a radiant appearance. Whilst expensive facials and complicated skincare tools have their place, sometimes the simplest tricks are classics for a reason.
Benefits of Skin Icing
Proponents of skin icing believe it can be used to:
- Reduce inflammation: "Think about when you have an injury or swelling in the body and your doctor instructs you to ice it—it’s the same concept, but now we're using it for aesthetic purposes," explains Marino. "Many people who suffer from inflammatory skin conditions like acne and rosacea can benefit from cold therapy because of its ability to reduce the inflammation the skin, which is a key trigger to both conditions."
- Reduces pore size: Skin icing minimizes the appearance of enlarged pores and may help to unclog pores that appear larger due to debris and excess sebum. Icing tones the face, making your skin (and foundation) look smoother.
- Exfoliates the skin: "A cryofacial can help remove the outer layer of dead skin cells and stimulate new ones underneath to grow in a more even, smooth distribution," notes King.
- Promote blood circulation: King notes that because the cold temperature can constrict blood vessels, it can help with decreasing puffiness, thereby giving skin a healthier appearance.
- Improving absorption of other products: Cooling the skin may help the actives of your skincare products absorb better. This is due to the cold temperature making the capillaries in the skin restrict, creating a “pulling” effect. Fatigued faces can look forward to a firming effect and stimulating feeling from the ice that helps eliminate toxins. It may also help ease the signs of wrinkles.
- Soothes blemishes: Ice can help reduce swelling and the redness of pimples, and can also soothe irritated skin. And because swollen skin makes it difficult for topical creams to reach the bacteria inside the pores, icing may actually help antibacterial agents and topical antibiotics get into the pores since it exfoliates.
How to Prepare for Skin Icing
To prep the skin for an ice facial, King recommends gently cleansing the skin and applying a moisturizer to help protect the skin barrier. It's also best to avoid sun exposure before treating your skin to avoid sunburns and irritation throughout the treatment. Finally, Marino says to always ensure that (in addition to your skin), that the roller is clean before use.
What to Expect During Skin Icing
"Liquid nitrogen (around -200 degrees Celsius) vaporizes (is no longer as cold) and is pumped out of a hose and onto your skin," says King. "The hose is moved quickly over the face and held far enough away that it won't freeze-burn the skin." And, contrary to what you might think, a professional ice facial actually doesn't feel unbearably cold, according to King. "It feels more like a cool stream of air, but it will feel colder as the treatment progresses," she says, noting that the treatment is usually around ten minutes long.
Potential Side Effects
King notes that cryotherapy can cause more harm than good if not done properly. "It's important to have it done by a well-trained professional to avoid possible risks like burns, frostbite and nerve damage," she warns. "It's also safer for paler skin, as it can create discoloration in those with darker skin or a tan." Though it's safe for most skin types, King says to be cautious if you have sensitive skin, or skin that reacts to changes in temperature (for example, some rosacea-prone skin and cold urticaria).
The facial typically costs $50 to $150 depending on where you get it done, but there are at-home kits so you can DIY that range in price. For example, Sio Beauty's Cryodrop ($115) comes with a hefty price tag but is made with medical-grade steel, comes with a lifetime magnetic charge, and instantly lifts saggy skin and sculpts the face. At the other end of the spectrum is Skin Gym's Ice Coolie Ice Therapy Device ($30), which is made out of stainless steel and induces a radiant glow to much-needed skin at a more affordable price.
As your skin heals, it's important to treat it with a little TLC. King says to steer clear of chemical or physical exfoliation and other active ingredients that could potentially be irritating (think: retinoids or benzoyl peroxide), and instead stick to gentle cleansers and warm water. We're fans of Cetaphil's Daily Facial Cleanser ($28)—it's suitable for all skin types (sensitive included) and has an ultra-gentle formula. Finally, as always, lather on an SPF of at least 30 if you'll be outside.
The Final Takeaway
Cold therapy tools are noted for reducing inflammation, redness, and puffiness, stimulating circulation, and helping to sculpt the face. The cold temperature can constrict blood vessels, which can decrease puffiness, but such tools should be used with caution so as not to burn the skin.