The Big Chill

Therapy at -274° F: Taking a plunge in the name of beauty and health

By Kalene McCort
Photographs by Josh Norris

Most of us avoid frigid temperatures. Snowbirds fly south for the winter. Surfers make sure to wear wet suits when catching that choppy chill. Skiers bundle up when hitting the slopes. Stepping into a chamber that dips down to -274 degrees Fahrenheit may seem like something one would do on a dare or perhaps as the result of a lost bet. Yet, more and more folks are taking the icy plunge in the name of beauty and health.

Alia Alston, founder and owner of Icebox Cryotherapy in Atlanta.

Cryotherapy has been sweeping the nation, with an impressive number of celebrities regularly reveling in the big chill. Yolanda Hadid, Mandy Moore, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Derek Hough and Demi Moore are all fans of the polar practice, praising it for its beneficial effects and significant results. So, what’s the draw, and why are so many touting this treatment as addictive and life-changing?

By stepping into a cryosauna chamber, immersed in gasiform nitrogen, you lower your skin surface temperature to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Exposure to the frigid temps rushes oxygen to your muscles, detoxifies blood and ultimately revs up your body into a high-speed healing mode.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the fact that I’m teaching people other ways to fix themselves — naturally and quickly,” said Alia Alston, founder and owner of Icebox Cryotherapy in Atlanta. “When people get out of the routine of popping pills, always being in pain, it opens the door to other modalities of natural recovery. Now that they have Cryotherapy in their routine, they start eating better, exercising, sleeping, etc. I love that in the last five years of owning Icebox, I have been able to help so many people.”

Alston’s journey to opening up a cryotherapy center, offering patients access to the treatment in a spa-like environment, was fueled by her own quest to find lasting relief. A devastating car accident left Alston in debilitating pain with bulged discs in her neck and back. While continuously told by doctors she would need surgery to reduce pain, she wasn’t quick to go under the knife.

“With two young children, surgery wasn’t an option,” said Alston. “I felt almost cheated that this technology that worked to relieve my pinched nerves and pain wasn’t readily available. I’m a fixer, so I fixed the problem and opened up the first cryo retail in the country so that other people had access to this innovative therapy. At the time it was only in training facilities and doctors’ offices.”

Since opening up Icebox Cryotherapy, in beautiful Buckhead, Alston has witnessed transformations in many of her clients. From crossfitters looking to crush their goals to marathoners looking to go the extra mile, the number of individuals seeking out this alternative treatment is vast.

“You have to continue to always search for what works for you,” said Alston. “Usually people that put their health first are open to many types of treatments that might work. Cold therapy has been around forever. It’s a common practice that now has technology behind it to make it work the most efficiently.”

While many athletes hit the cryotherapy chamber to ease sore muscles and reduce inflammation, it is also this practice that can help them drop a few pounds. In just three minutes, up to 800 calories can be burned.

“After freezing regularly, you begin to increase your brown fat levels. This is the fat that you want because it burns white fat,” said Jeremiah Jimerson, owner of Chill Out Charleston, in Charleston, South Carolina. “It is also found to be heart protective. You increase production of glutathione, your body’s biggest anti-cancer antioxidant. Glutathione cannot be taken or absorbed in pill form, and its production decreases as we age.”

Whitney Potts demonstrates the whole body chamber at Icebox Cryotherapy. Clients wear minimal clothing, but wear gloves and boots to reduce the risk of cold-related injuries while receiving the treatment.

As for those who are hesitant to step into the chamber, it really goes back to that old adage, no pain no gain. Enduring a few minutes of feeling like you’re floating on a slick Arctic glacier in your birthday suit is well worth it for the significant healing that occurs post-treatment.

“I can’t say anyone really enjoys the actual act of freezing,” said Jimerson. “What everyone loves is how they feel after. It’s two minutes. Anyone can do something for two minutes. Health isn’t given to you forever. You have to work hard at it. It’s like anything else, working out, diet; it takes a little effort, a little discomfort to climb the mountain. But when you get to the top, the view is amazing.”

From getting a more restful night’s sleep to skin taking on a more youthful, refreshed look due to increased collagen production, the beneficial effects that surface after making cryotherapy part of your health regime are undeniable.

“I was never an athlete as a child or young adult,” said Alston, who in recent years has taken on everything from yoga to weight training. “I now work out every day and feel like I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I have no boundaries now.”

Alston regularly steps into the cryotherapy chamber three times a week, and when she finds herself out of town, without access to the therapy, she submerges herself in ice-cold tubs.

Alia Alston receives CryoFacial therapy, which isolates the cold treatment to targeted areas.

“I’ve worked with Olympians,” said Alston, who plans to make Icebox a national name, with centers across the country. “A-list celebrities and professional athletes turn to Icebox for help in their recovery needs, so that’s pretty awesome, but what makes me get out of bed each morning and go to work is helping the “me” six years ago that was looking for anything to help relieve my pain and make me feel normal again.”

Whether you are looking to improve arthritic joint pain or simply want to keep the health of the spine in great condition, cryotherapy, whose origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt, is certainly worth a try.

“Living with pain is horrible; It changes you,” said Alston. “When I talk to a client that has started using cryo and it’s helping them, that makes me feel like I’ve done something amazing.”

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