Freezing skin to look young?

Actor Daniel Craig reportedly went for it to get in shape to play James Bond in the 2012 movie Skyfall. It is also believed to be the secret to Demi Moore's youthful skin.

An aesthetic body treatment that freezes your skin to 0 deg C is now available here. It claims to make skin look younger and helps with sports recovery.

But doctors in Singapore pooh-pooh the treatment, saying there is not enough science behind it. While they say it is probably safe, they warn of possible skin damage if safety precautions are not taken.

The treatment, called whole body cryotherapy, has been available here since last October. It is offered at Absolute Zero run by the Only Group of companies, and two aesthetics centres it owns.

The treatment involves cooling one's skin to 0 deg C for two to three minutes by blasting the skin with icy air (up to -190 deg C) in a "cryochamber".

It is administered by non-medical staff and a single session, which lasts up to three minutes, costs $188.

Mr Adren How, 39, chief executive of the Only Group, says it helps collagen production, weight loss, muscle and joint repairs and improves one's mood.

The aesthetics group, which was set up in 2005, went into whole body cryotherapy because it wanted to bring in a treatment catering to sports recovery as well as aesthetics and wellness.

Body cryotherapy treatment originates from Japan. In 1978, Dr T. Yamauchi, a rheumatologist in Japan, started using short-duration freezing treatments on his rheumatoid arthritis patients for pain management.

At least one spa here, The Porcelain Face Spa, started offering cryotherapy facials last year. The treatment consists of chilling the skin surface to -10 deg C using a cryoprobe, supposedly to restore firmness and radiance to fatigued skin.

But five doctors told Life! there is not enough scientific research to prove freezing the skin has any benefits.

Dr Lynn Chiam, 37, a dermatologist at the Children and Adult Skin Hair Laser Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, says some studies from Italy claim whole body cryotherapy helps one recover from musculoskeletal injuries, but the other benefits are not fully established.

Dr Aaron Pang, 33, director of the Sainte Chapelle Medical And Dental Aesthetic Clinic at Marina Square, feels that applying an ice-pack or immersing part of the body in cold water may offer similar benefit towards sports recovery.

Says Dr Wong Soon Tee, 50, a dermatologist at the Assurance Skin, Laser and Aesthetics clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital: "The treatment is similar to taking a dip in a frozen lake. If the claims are true, then people who do winter swimming regularly should be forever young."

The doctors explain that cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to achieve controlled destruction of the skin.

The National Skin Centre (NSC) has used this procedure to treat unwanted skin growths, sun-damaged skin and early skin cancers for more than 30 years.

Associate Professor Chua Sze Hon, 50, a senior consultant dermatologist at NSC, says: "The treatment is not truly cryotherapy as we know it, but really 'whole body short-duration induced hypothermia'. It has no proven scientific aesthetic benefits. The only definite benefit is a good shiver."

The doctors say freezing the skin for a few minutes is probably safe since air is a poor conductor of heat. But they warn that prolonged exposure to cold air can cause hypothermia, in which the body's temperature drops below normal.

Dr Wong says the treatment is comparable to a "cold sauna". He adds: "The field of aesthetics is regarded as a business. Sometimes, treatments claim to have aesthetic benefits to pique people's interest and improve sales."

The Ministry of Health does not regulates spas or the aesthetic services that they provide. Says its spokesman: "As aesthetic services carry some risks, members of the public patronising such establishments should ensure that they ask relevant questions to the providers.

"This is so they understand the risks and benefits of such treatments well, before undergoing the treatments."

Absolute Zero stands by the treatment. Says Mr How: "Our treatment can reach temperatures lower than that of ice packs and cold water dips. It's more bearable as the skin comes in contact only with cold air. It doesn't need to get wet."

He refers to American cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz who once attested to the treatment's benefits on his talk show The Dr. Oz Show.

Since the treatment was introduced, about 1,000 customers have gone for it here, mostly women aged 20 to 60. About 60 per cent are repeat customers.

Former national footballer Aleksandar Duric, 43, was invited to try the treatment two months ago and now goes for it every week. He says it has halved his recovery time from 48 hours to 24 hours

But others are sceptical. Ms Tina Ow, 40, a senior director in a real estate company, goes for monthly spa treatments but does not think she will be trying this treatment. "It sounds like a marketing strategy. It seems strange and uncomfortable, and I can imagine my skin drying up because of the cold air. It doesn't excite me at all."

This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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