By Erika Owen
February 06, 2017
What a Cryotherapy Session Really Feels Like
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cryotherapy has been a controversial spa treatment ever since a salon worker died from asphyxiation in a cryo chamber after closing up the shop alone one night. While the benefits are attractive—increased energy, decreased inflammation, tissue repair, improved skin tone, and the opportunity to burn hundreds of calories in a matter of minutes—the idea of it can be pretty scary.

First things first: what even is cryotherapy? At its most basic description, cryotherapy is when you expose yourself to incredibly cold temperatures (we're talking -220 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few minutes (three was the recommended time for my session). The cylindrical chamber has waves of liquid nitrogen poured into it and over your body. The one I visited did not have your head included in the chamber, but some are designed as rooms where you wear some sort of mouth protection to keep yourself from breathing in the nitrogen.

Knowing that you are going to be stuck in a chamber (well, not stuck—you can get out whenever you want) for full minutes with close to no clothes on is an intimidating experience. But I'm here to tell you that it's 110 percent worth it. It's been said to be a great cure for jet lag, and while I wasn't the least bit jet-lagged for my visit, I can see where the hype is coming from.

Here's what to expect from a cryotherapy session, from what to wear to the next day benefits.

The worst part is the anticipation.

As mentioned before, thinking about what you're about to do is the worst part. I spent days agonizing over the fact that if any part of you is wet when you're in there, you could suffer severe burns. (Note: my cryotherapy angel, as I called her, made a point to make sure I was all dry and handed me a towel to do so right before I went in.) But it is your body's main job to keep you alive and from doing something like this—after all, your body does go into survival mode to keep you warm during the experience (more about that later).

What should you wear to a cryotherapy session?

Everyone has to don underwear for their session. I was provided a room to change in and a robe to wear before and after my session. Women also have the option of wearing a bra, and mittens and socks are provided. Your hands and feet are the furthest from your core, and the first things to become frost-bitten.

You are also asked to take off all metal jewelry—as you can imagine, a frozen earring isn't going to feel great lodged into your ear. That being said, if you do have piercings that cannot be removed, you can cover them with bandages to prevent any issues. I did this and felt no pain or freezing in the area. It's best to reach out to your cryotherapy salon to let them know about the situation beforehand.

What happens to your body in the chamber?

Dr. Joshua Kantor—the doctor behind Chill Space NYC, where I had my session—shared some information on what happens while you're in the chamber: "When your body is exposed to low temperatures like this, the blood rushes to your core, leaving your arms and legs. The entire experience is a reset of your circulatory system."

How cold is it and how does it feel?

It mostly feels like cold waves of air hitting your body at different spots. My legs were the most painful—at its worst, it felt like pin pricks. Your core remains relatively warm (as warm as it can be in a ridiculously cold room of air). I also had the option of leaving my arms in or out of the chamber. I chose to spin in circles while voguing to keep warm. Freezing temperatures make you do weird things.

My cryotherapy assistant shared that she has clients do all kinds of things to keep warm: jog in place, dance, spin in circles. I was in good company. All chambers now have heat screens built into them so you can watch your body cool down in real-time. They also have sensors, so the door will pop open if your head dips into the chamber.

What does it feel like immediately after?

No matter what the room temperature may be, it feels like a sun-soaked beach paradise the second you step out. As I blindly felt around for my robe, I had the most incredible adrenaline rush—and, with it, my legs rushed back into the world of feels, which was somewhat painful.

Prepare to eat everything in sight.

My cryotherapy assistant shared that people can burn anywhere from 400 to 600 calories from three minutes in the chamber. I was shocked by the fact, but hours later when I was eating my weight in sushi, I completely believed her. Turns out throwing your body into survival mode is quite the workout.

The best benefits take some time to set in.

I have the most trouble waking up in the morning. Call it laziness or just an over-ambitious schedule, but I press snooze at least three times on any given day. The day after my session, I popped up, wide awake at 6:30 am. I also went to bed earlier—11 pm as compared to my usual 1 or 2 am—and spent some time reading with a glass of wine before hitting the hay. I don't think the cryotherapy had any impact on my improved pre-bed routine (I usually spend an hour scrolling through Instagram—the plight of a social media editor), but it's worth mentioning.

I kept a strong energy throughout the entire day and into the next. My head was clearer, I was hungry at more "normal" times, and I blasted through my work for the day. Essentially, submitting myself to freezing temperatures made me my best self.

Would I recommend it?

I'm not going to pretend that this is a cheap experience. At Chill Space NYC, a three-minute session will run you $90. Now, that's the equivalent of a massage or facial, but it is just so short.

I will say that I saw more benefits with cryotherapy than I ever have with a massage or facial, no matter what the price. If I had a big work presentation, I would definitely consider doing this the night before.