You may have heard about cryotherapy if you’re looking for complementary psoriasis treatments. Cryotherapy exposes your skin to extremely cold temperatures as a way to treat skin abnormalities. Whole-body cryotherapy is applied to the entire body, and localized cryotherapy focuses on specific areas of your skin.
MyPsoriasisTeam members often discuss cryotherapy. “Anyone tried cryotherapy?” one member asked. “I’m going to try a session this week because it’s supposed to help with psoriasis.” Another said, “Cryotherapy has been my miracle worker. I have no more flare-ups, and it’s going away.”
If you are thinking about using cryotherapy for psoriasis, you should understand what it is, how it works, and what the research says.
Cryotherapy is a minimally invasive procedure where a clinician applies extreme cold to cells and destroys tissue. The targeted form of this treatment can be performed internally or externally.
With internal cryotherapy, the clinician will make a small incision in the skin and insert a cryoprobe through it. A cryoprobe is a device that contains a freezing agent, such as argon gas or nitrogen, with a wand that controls the flow of the agent. The clinician aims the cryoprobe at organs or tissues, often to treat precancerous or cancerous cells.
With external cryotherapy, the clinician uses a cryoprobe to direct cold temperatures directly to the skin, often to treat skin conditions like warts or precancerous cells.
After cryotherapy, the frozen cells die once the frozen area thaws. If you undergo external cryotherapy, a blister and scab may form on the site, which will fall off within a few weeks. Sometimes, people need multiple cryotherapy sessions before their condition clears up.
A newer form of cryotherapy has emerged in recent years called whole-body cryotherapy, which differs from the targeted cryotherapy procedure described above.
During whole-body cryotherapy, you’ll enter a cryotherapy chamber (also called a cryosauna) wearing little to no clothing, usually for two to four minutes. The cryosauna device then expels vapors created from liquid nitrogen ranging in temperature from -200 degrees Fahrenheit to -300 F to ultra-freeze the body.
Proponents of whole-body cryotherapy say that this type of cold therapy has health benefits for a range of conditions, including arthritis, anxiety, psoriasis, and acne. However, it’s important to use caution when getting whole-body cryotherapy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any whole-body cryotherapy devices for use, and the American Academy of Dermatology Association says whole-body cryotherapy’s results are not only unproven but can also cause harm.
The body’s ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures is limited, and even if your head isn’t in the cryochamber, you may breathe in the cooling agent.
Following are just a few potential risks of whole-body cryotherapy:
The FDA advises anyone considering whole-body cryotherapy to first talk to a doctor about whether it’s a good idea. Due to that distinction, this article focuses on targeted cryotherapy and its use for psoriasis rather than whole-body cryotherapy.
Although research is limited on whether targeted cryotherapy can help treat psoriasis, several small studies have found mixed results. One study of 63 people with psoriasis found that applying liquid nitrogen directly to psoriasis plaques resulted in total plaque resolution in 6 percent of participants, mild to moderate resolution in 30 percent, and no improvement at all in the majority (63.5 percent) of participants. Although the study authors concluded that targeted cryotherapy was safe in people with psoriasis, they noted that its effectiveness was limited.
Another small study of nine people with plaque psoriasis found that five participants achieved complete resolution, three had mild to substantial resolution, and one found no improvement.
Because there aren’t any larger-scale research studies on targeted cryotherapy and psoriasis, it’s a good idea to discuss the potential benefits of cryotherapy with your dermatologist if you’re considering this treatment option.
The point of targeted cryotherapy is to deliberately damage tissue, so anyone who undergoes the treatment will have to wait for the frozen lesions to heal before they can see whether it worked. You’ll likely have swelling, redness, and scabbing on the treatment site for up to two weeks.
Complications may occur during or after the procedure, which may include the following symptoms in the treated area:
Most of the time, these side effects resolve on their own, but let your doctor know if you experience them.
If you undergo targeted cryotherapy, your dermatologist will provide advice on how to treat the affected area after the procedure. This care typically involves:
After your skin heals, apply sunscreen on the affected area to avoid sun damage. If you notice excessive bleeding, pus formation, or other side effects, don’t hesitate to call your clinician.
Before making an appointment for cryotherapy for psoriasis, talk to your dermatologist about the risks and benefits. If you decide to go forward with the procedure, you may need to discontinue certain medications or limit how much you eat or drink on the day of treatment. Your dermatologist will also let you know whether you can drive afterward, so you may need to make arrangements for a ride home.
In addition, you should never abandon your psoriasis treatment plan if you’re pursuing a complementary treatment regimen. It’s important to work the natural or alternative treatment into your existing program to ensure you don’t lose any benefits.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 116,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
Have you tried using cryotherapy as a psoriasis remedy? Were you happy with the results? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.