An important distinction: Cryotherapy is not cryonics. Though both share a prefix denoting extreme cold, a reliance on liquid nitrogen, and a sci-fi-esque reputation, one is predominantly used on athletes; the other, on dead people.
The latter, cryonics, bubbled up in our cultural consciousness around the same time as the (false) rumor that Walt Disney was doing it. In truth, Disney's corpse was not indefinitely preserved in a deep-freeze chamber until modern medicine could revive and cure the man—though he was, by most accounts, increasingly interested in the morbid science as his condition worsened—but rather cremated upon his death in 1966.
Cryotherapy, meanwhile, arrived on the scene relatively recently, and we've likely not yet witnessed the peak of the fad's popularity. Kyle Jones, for one, is banking on that.
The Houston native co-founded iCRYO here after learning of cryotherapy's potential health benefits as a physical therapist. The practice, which (like cryogenics) employs a deep freeze chamber to blast the body with icy bursts of nitrogen for two to three minutes, was already in-demand in Europe then but had yet to establish a mainstream stateside presence, making Jones something of a pioneer in the U.S. industry.
He swore by the therapy's principle theory—plunging temps trick the body into inducing its fight-or-flight response, sending blood rushing to the core and, later, throughout the rest of the body, improving circulation, reducing inflammation, and even jump-starting metabolism—enough to embark on a potentially risky business endeavor. Early adopters reported experiencing the same benefits Jones did to generate enough buzz—mostly via word-of-mouth, Jones says—to warrant four Houston-area locations in the Heights, Pearland, League City, and Sugar Land. Jones launched a franchise model in 2017, and plans for iCRYOs in Austin, New York, and California are underway.
Cryotherapy proponents, which today range from pro athletes to real housewives, proclaim super-cooling works wonders for pain relief, sports injuries, sleep problems, and mood enhancement. Though science is skeptical—prompting the FDA to remind consumers cryotherapy is not federally cleared to treat any of the bevy of health ailments (fibromyalgia, arthritis, asthma, anxiety, and the list goes on) some med spas claim it does—there are plenty of testimonials to the contrary.
So, never one to flinch at suffering for beauty and in search of some much-needed endorphins, I decided to freeze. I arrived at Jones's Pearland iCRYO on a weekday evening around Christmastime with a throbbing headache and a less-than-stellar attitude thanks to stress and 45 traffic. He walked me through the space, which also offers an infrared sauna, compression therapy, and localized cryo-centric treatments like facials, before it was time for the main event.
I stripped down in the changing room and emerged in iCRYO-provided socks, slippers, gloves, and a robe that would soon come off. An employee in medical scrubs and a pair of reindeer antlers led me to the cryo chamber, which looked like a futuristic, upright coffin attached to an imposing tank the likes of which you might see in a brewery or a 1920s polio ward.
Nonetheless, I stepped gamely inside the chamber of secrets and slipped out of my robe, handing it over my head to the attendant and using my gloved hands to "protect the girls" as instructed. I, the Vermont native, was naked and unafraid—how different would this really be to childhood dares of making snow angels in your underwear?
Turns out, -130 degrees Fahrenheit (frequent freezers will endure Level 3 at a bitter -190 degrees) is, uh, pretty cold. Still, it was certainly tolerable, especially for just three minutes, which passed quickly as I craned my neck out from the nitrogen gas cloud to chat with the attendant who directed me when to turn like some sort of space-age rotisserie chicken.
When I came out, my skin temperature had dipped from 82 degrees to 50—ideal, I was told, as benefits are maximized when your temp drops by at least 30 degrees—and I shivered back in the changing room as feeling returned to my thighs.
I felt...better? There was no magical metamorphosis inside that chamber, but my headache was gone. And, while you can't discount the placebo effect, I did feel a little cheerier, suggesting that rush of endorphins I was promised had actually taken place. Maybe I was just happy to get my clothes on again, but I left iCRYO feeling—forgive me—pretty chilled out.
iCRYO, 11011 Shadow Creek Parkway, Suite 111. First-time sessions are $25; after that, tiered pricing packages begin at $29/month.