Freezing for Beauty: A Review of Hong Kong’s First Cryotherapy Centre
We tried out Polaris’ full body cryotherapy, a trending beauty treatment that requires standing unclothed in a freezing chamber for three minutes
My teeth were chattering uncontrollably. Tiny bits of frost began to appear on my eyebrows, and I couldn’t do as much as lift them up. The only other time I’ve felt so frozen was when I was accidentally locked out of my New York City apartment on my way to take out the trash, wearing just a nightgown in the middle of winter.
Except this time, I wasn’t anywhere near an East Coast blizzard: I was undergoing whole body cryotherapy, a trending treatment that claims to result in firmer skin, strengthened muscles and even a faster metabolism. The procedure requires standing stark naked in a chamber filled with -110°C nitrogen gas for all of three minutes.
Extreme as it may sound, the treatment has been gaining major traction in the press, thanks to celebrity fans including everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Demi Moore. Having watched their experiences plastered all over social media, I was excited when Polaris Wellness — the first and only cryotherapy centre in Hong Kong — invited me for a trial run of its body and facial treatment.
So, can hanging out in an ice chamber really help turn back the clock? Read on to find out more about the time I took myself to the Arctic in the name of beauty.
How It Works
One major benefit of cryotherapy is relieving muscle pain and tension, and the reasoning is akin to why athletes are advised to apply ice packs over their injuries: the cold helps to minimise inflammation and relaxes the tissues, which explains why star athletes such as Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James have used the service.
“If you feel pain in the shoulder or knee, you’ll need as much oxygenated blood flowing to these parts as possible,” explained Patrick Cuthbert, a cryospecialist at Polaris. “The cold you experience will make your blood flush to your core instantly.” Some have noted similarities between the rationale of cryotherapy and the Wim Hof method, an athletic training scheme that promotes cold shower exercises.
While the remedy aspect of cryotherapy can be easily understood, the “fountain of youth” claims about are much more abstract. The shock from being blasted with freezing air allegedly triggers the body into collagen production, and repeated usage of the equipment has been linked to firmer skin and reduced cellulite. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration in America has yet to clear these devices for medical purposes.
Before Going In
After arriving at Polaris’ expansive facility in Causeway Bay, I was asked to change into a bathrobe, wearing nothing underneath save for a pair of tube socks. Ski gloves were also provided to protect my areas with bad circulation from the chill. Patrick, the cryospecialist, then led me to the treatment room so I can have a look at the contraption I’ll be immersing myself in the next few minutes.
I had expected a metallic cylinder — similar to what I remember seeing in old sci-fi films — but the Polaris one looked like a huge, colourful fridge. A gust of white air rose up whenever the door was slightly ajar, accompanied by an intimidating howling sound. After my blood pressure and heartbeat were examined and a brief consultation, it was time to face the cold.
During the Treatment
The three-minute treatment is split into several segments, with the specialist is present at all times to keep the machine in operation — for safety reasons, the machine will shut down after 25 seconds if unattended — and to provide instructions and morale support. With my body now completely unclothed, I was blasted with air even colder than Antarctica.
“Discomfort” doesn't quite begin to describe the experience — my brain was occupied by only one thing: the piercing chill I felt all over my body. By the 45 second mark, I was shaking violently. At the specialist’s request, I turned my body every few seconds to keep my body active. Part of his job, I was sure, was to help take my mind off the cold — by asking for high fives and motivating me to move around.
Despite my best efforts to oblige, I felt like the freezing air had reverted me to my primitive instincts, leaving me barely able to follow instructions. When time was up, I plodded out of the chamber slowly, as if I was a 90-year-old woman with limbs made of lead.
Bouncing Back to Life
Things definitely picked up in the minutes after the treatment when my body temperature restored to normal levels. I was suddenly more awake and refreshed than I was before going in the chamber, and the work-induced tension I previously felt in my shoulders and neck subsided considerably. My body was doing whenever it took to warm me up, so I felt a vigorous rush of blood all over.
My skin did feel instantly firmer, which can only be compared to that sensation when grabbing something that has been sitting in a fridge for a long time: it's icy, smooth and perfect to the touch, and it stayed that way for hours. It seems that the effects will even be stronger after repeated treatments and with even lower temperatures: the coldest air the machine can emit is -130°C, and I was only at -110°C.
The Bonus Cryo Facial
I also got a sneak peek of the centre’s Cryo Facial, in which a high-level fan blew cold air to my face — visually, it didn’t look too far off from applying a vacuum on my skin. According to Patrick, the skin’s temperature is normally 20°C, and the treatment aims to cool it down by three degrees. The cold triggers the hormones in our skin that are responsible for collagen production. Guided by a laser beam, the specialist moves the fan around in four minute sessions focusing on three main areas: the jaw, the under eye and forehead.
Even with the -181°C temperature, the facial felt much tamer than the full body treatment. That’s probably because I was fully clothed again and laying flat on a chair. If you’re getting cold feet about going all in, the facial makes for an excellent preview for what you’ll be getting yourself into.
A single session of full body cryotherapy is HK$900; A single cryofacial therapy session is HK$600.
Polaris Wellness, Shop B, 10/F., Lee Theatre Plaza, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay