THE truth ABOUT skin icing |

5 mins

THE truth ABOUT skin icing

As more people on social media take to icing their faces to solve a multitude of skin issues, Ellen Cummings asks the experts whether it really works

Skin icing is a TikTok trend where people either apply ice directly to their skin or submerge their face in icy water for a prolonged period of time. Some TikTok users have claimed that this facial icing has helped to decrease inflammation and puffiness, with a few even claiming it has eliminated their dark circles and reduced wrinkles, oiliness and acne.

Of course, skin icing isn’t a new development, despite its resurgence on social media. Similar beauty techniques have popped up throughout history and in various cultures, including appearances in Ayurvedic practices and reports of 18th century

Russian empress Catherine the Great icing her face, neck and décolletage every morning.

When it comes to ice in skincare, the TikTok community’s claims on its uses and benefits are mixed – so we spoke to some skin experts to get their opinion.

Chilled out

Applying ice to soft tissue injuries like sprains and muscle aches in order to numb pain and decrease inflammation is a well-established technique in healthcare. Dr Catharine Denning, a cosmetic doctor who runs a regular clinic from The Light Centre in Marylebone, explains, “Cold temporarily reduces pain by confusing the message from the pain nerves to the brain. It also reduces blood flow to the area by temporarily causing the surface blood vessels to constrict away from the skin surface to conserve heat, causing a reduction in redness and helping to reduce some swelling. Vasoconstriction also temporarily reduces the release of inflammatory factors from the blood.”

The same principle applies to icing in skincare, and skin icing is a popular home remedy for puffy eyes. “Puffy eyes could have many causes,” says Lesielle UK lead educator Jon-Paul Hoy. “Lack of sleep or eye strain is most common and could be treated with ice as it constricts the swelling and encourages the reduction of oedema.”

Ben Esdaile, consultant dermatologist at personalisation brand Skin + Me, adds, “The process of using ice as part of a facial massage can also potentially help in lymphatic drainage, which reduces puffiness around the eyes.”

Although treating the skin with ice can have benefits, people don’t need to go to the extreme lengths of dunking their face in ice water to achieve these effects. Denning says, “Short-lived exposure to moderate cool, such as a cooling sheet mask or cold compress, can temporarily help alleviate some pain, swelling and redness in the skin. This might be of value in an area of discomfort such as a painful pimple or puffy skin.”

" COLD TEMPOR ARILY causes BLOOD VESSELS to CONSTRICT AWAY from the skin surface to CONSERVE HEAT, causing a REDUCTION IN REDNESS and helping to reduce SOME SWELLING "

On thin ice

Sadly, all these benefits only last as long as the skin’s temperature is cool; as soon as the skin reaches room temperature again, symptoms of inflammation are likely to return. In addition, some of the claims made by TikTok users might be entirely incorrect; Denning says there is no scientific evidence for skin icing leading to a reduction in oil production or increased product penetration. In fact, it might even be doing the opposite.

She explains, “More likely is that the temporary reduction in the size of the pore might even trap oil inside, leading to worsening of clogged pores and acne in the long term. And, if anything, vasoconstriction of vessels and reduction in pore size logically suggests that it may even hinder absorption of skin products rather than aid them.

Introducing a moist environment to the surface of the skin can also encourage overgrowth of bacteria, leading to worsening breakouts rather than reducing them. “Furthermore, ice isn’t sterile and so could potentially introduce infections to the skin, particularly if there is any broken skin or an existing breakout,” adds Denning.

As well as not living up to the hype, the kind of skin icing seen on TikTok can be harmful since ice shouldn’t be directly applied to the skin for prolonged periods because it can cause capillaries to break, which makes redness worse. “Significant exposure can also cause ice burns, which leave wounds and create potential for scarring. Extreme cases can even lead to frostbite,” explains Denning. “We also know that extreme temperatures and changes in temperature in a short space of time can actually impair the barrier function of the skin, leading to increased dryness and sensitivity.”

Furthermore, there are contraindications for the use of extreme cold. Denning cautions against its use in people suffering with dry or broken skin, rosacea, eczema and some forms of acne. Meanwhile, Hoy says, “If the skin is compromised and irritated, a change in extreme temperatures can further the irritation as the skin then goes on high alert. There is a ‘less’ rule for sensitised, irritated or inflamed skin; less product, less friction, less heat. Cooling the skin may be more beneficial than applying ice when it comes to problematic skin.”

Certain medical conditions also contraindicate cold therapy. Esdaile comments, “There are some conditions that are actually triggered by cold; for example, coldinduced urticaria (hives) where the application of ice will actually precipitate the condition. Conditions with impaired blood supply to the skin may also be aggravated by the cold.”

Hoy concludes, “Ice therapies at home could be beneficial to increase blood circulation, skin appearance and health. However, we must consider our skin condition and what we’re trying to achieve, as the improvements may only be superficial.”

Leave it to the pros

As with many other DIY and at-home beauty trends, skin icing has its drawbacks. Fortunately, clients can safely get the depuffing and inflammation-relieving benefits of cold therapy in a clinic or salon with treatments carried out by trained professionals. There are a number of options available, including manual cryofacials which use cold globes, as well as more technology-led treatments that deliver super-chilled oxygen to skin.

Cool therapy can also enhance clients’ treatment experience. Hoy says, “My experience in treating highly stressed clients using cold technologies has been surprising because the application of cold tends to allow the client to relax. The temperature change can be a new sensation and generally quite comforting. Some clients that are quite chatty during a skin treatment tend to quieten down once the cold is applied and allow themselves to relax.”

This article appears in December 2022

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This article appears in...
December 2022
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