I Froze My Face For Better Skin

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
When there’s a damn-near polar vortex sweeping the country, the last thing you probably want to do is subject yourself to even more time in the cold. But when I was given the chance to get a cryotherapy facial at Barneys with 111Skin, I couldn't say no. In fact, I ran as fast as I could to the Birkin bag-filled store in New York City and burst through its sliding doors.

Even though a freeze facial sounds like it'd be an intense Botox session, the concept of cold-air therapy is actually pretty simple: It uses vaporized liquid nitrogen at subzero temps to stimulate circulation and boost collagen production. My esthetician, Silvia, told me that the chill shocks your skin, which then constricts your blood vessels. But once your body temperature returns to room temperature, the magic happens: Your skin is more receptive to skin-care ingredients, your blood is flowing, and inflammation is squashed. A win-win-win.

The treatment begins like most other facial services: with a (way too short, IMO) head massage, followed by a double-cleansing session. Then, Silvia lifts up the black Cryo Air wand — which looks sort of like a smaller, less aggressive handheld Dyson vacuum — and directs its first windchill toward my face and décolletage, moving in quick, back-and-forth motions. She set the ice machine at level five, which, as it turns out, is around -70 degrees. For the full three minutes of cryo, my skin tingles — a sensation that's cold, weird, and razor-sharp, like I'm getting bitten by a hundred black ants. My entire body has the chills and, all of a sudden, I'm back in 2006, wearing a sleeveless dress at an outdoor New Year's Eve party in my frigid Kansas town. It must be working, I think.

Silvia also tells me that the machine's highest level is nine — that's the setting that pumps out air at -130 Fahrenheit, give or take a few degrees. So, in the name of journalism, I ask her to crank it all the way up (or, in this case, down). The experience lasted a mere 20 seconds, but now I realize why the word "cry" is in the name of the treatment. Every millisecond felt nothing short of absolute hell — if hell was located in an ice cave rather than a burning pit.

Crazier still, if the wind pressure at level five was that of a windy day in winter, nine was an F5 tornado. It was so strong, I felt like I was looking down a massive snowblower. (Imagine a dog with its head out of a moving car window, cheeks flapping in the wind. Yeah…it was like that.)

When the cold part was finished, Silvia wrapped up the service by massaging an icy mix of serums and creams onto my face. My goosebumps were out of control. But immediately after, and for the rest of the night (plus a few hours into the next morning), my skin felt less puffy and more flushed, aprés ski-like.

Would I do it again? Maybe. But I'll save it for a time when I want to retreat during the scorching hot days of summer. In the meantime, I’ll leave the cold air blasting at my face to the bitter New York City wind. Hey, it's got to be better for my skin than the hot air blowing out of a subway grate, right?

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