Temperature’s effects on our body can be extreme—anyone stuck in a snowstorm or stranded in the sun without shade can confirm this. Heat and cold both have their merits, and which temperature-based treatment is right for you depends on what you’re trying to treat. Here, we uncover how these elements can help you biohack your way to better health.
The Benefits of Heat
“We all love that feeling of a warm blanket wrapped around us, and that is because heat encourages relaxation and sleep, improves blood circulation, reduces pain, and eliminates toxins in our bodies,” explains Lana Labreque, spa director at The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel One Dalton Street Boston. Additionally, heat can help “wake up” muscles, promoting more flexibility and movement in tight areas, says Kimberly J. Holmes-Cardona, lead massage therapist at Chillhouse.
“When vessels are dilated, they act like a super highway and will deliver more blood to the area,” says Beverly Hills, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD. Heat causes vasodilation—a widening of the blood vessels—in an effort to cool itself down, resulting in increased circulation that helps clear out toxins and allows the skin to metabolize more effectively, explains Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD.
“Through improved circulation, heat on the body can help ensure vital processes function properly, and that muscles, organs and tissues get adequate nutrients and oxygen,” explain Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps, cofounders and CEOs of HigherDOSE. “Heat triggers the body’s detoxification process through sweating and lymphatic drainage, helping to dispose of toxins through sweat.” These benefits can culminate to produce glowing skin.
Holmes-Cardona says a sauna is “traditionally a wood-paneled space that has a high-heat environment to promote body detoxification via higher perspiration, relaxation and pain relief by increasing heart rate, blood flow and circulation.” The heat generally comes from infrared technology to heat the body’s core temperature. However, Dr. Hausauer notes that pigmentary conditions, particularly melasma, may worsen in a sauna. “Sweating it out in a sauna also has amazing mental health benefits, as it can help return the body to ‘rest and digest,’ aka the parasympathetic nervous system,” explain Berlingeri and Kaps. Returning to this resting state can also improve sleep.
02: Hot Stone Massage
“A hot stone massage involves several heated stones being placed or moved along the body for pain relief, relaxation and/or therapy,” explains Labreque. Founder and CEO of Repêchage, Lydia Sarfati, says the stones are generally 125 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat eases muscle tension, relieves stress, reduces body aches, and aids in better sleep. “Hot stones can also be used in conjunction with body treatments to remove creams or scrubs, helping to further stimulate the skin surface and circulation,” she adds.
03: Hot Springs
Hot springs are earth’s answer to a heated wellness experience. They’re similar to thermal pools found at spas, but created by Mother Nature. Labreque explains that these springs are born from geothermal heat, and the water features a variety of minerals, like calcium and magnesium, that are beneficial to our bodies. The heat of the water helps the nutrients seep more readily into the skin, adds Sarfati. Other benefits include a boost in circulation and oxygen flow.
The Benefits of Cold
“Before there were cortisone creams and lasers to reduce inflammation, there was cold,” says Dr. Shamban, noting that cold is especially beneficial for people with eczema. Dr. Hausauer adds that it’s also great for those with cystic acne, rosacea or other inflammatory skin conditions.
“Cold by causing vasoconstriction will reduce the delivery of inflammatory cytokines to a localized area,” explains Dr. Shamban. Chilly temperatures can also cause constriction in lymphatic vessels, which can help reduce puffiness, as you’re not retaining as much fluid in your tissue. “This is where the old trick of putting cold spoons on the under eyes comes from,” adds Dr. Hausauer.
Sarfati says studies indicate that cold can have a positive effect on the “reduction of inflammation, and stress after injuries.” When it comes to skin care, she explains that icy temps “can help temporarily reduce the appearance of pore size, firm the appearance of the skin and improve elasticity.” Labrecque says cold can also increase circulation, promote lymphatic drainage and help boost metabolism.
Cryotherapy has expanded vastly in popularity throughout the globe, but Yannis Alexandrides, MD, plastic surgeon and founder of 111CRYO/Heat and 111 Harley St, says he was the first to introduce the practice to the UK market. “Whole-body cryotherapy is the use of extremely low temperatures to incite vasoconstriction, which leads to a vast array of physical and mental benefits,” he explains. According to Sarfati, the cryotherapy found in today’s spas involves entering a chamber that emits liquid nitrogen, with temperatures reaching as low as 200 degrees below freezing, where you stay for two to three minutes. For a more localized treatment, Dr. Hausauer gives a nod to cryo facials and Glacial Rx, an in-office treatment that uses cooling technology called cryomodulation to remove age spots and other kinds of excess pigment.
Dr. Alexandrides claims cryotherapy can promote reduced inflammation and pain relief, even in those with arthritis and tendonitis. He believes the practice can assist in weight loss, too, with some people burning up to 800 calories in one session. Additionally, he claims the elevated oxygen uptake can increase energy and boost collagen in the skin.
02: Cold Plunges
Cold plunges are trending right now as celebrities post videos partaking and luxury resorts advertise the experience, but they’ve been around for centuries with roots in a variety of different cultures. “A cold plunge is either when you submerge your body in ice cold water or have it fall over you,” explains Labrecque. “Your body benefits from this because the cold increases circulation, reduces inflammation and helps to boost your metabolism.” Ideally, the temperature of the water is between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but don’t worry, you only have to tolerate it for two to three minutes to reap the benefits.
CoolSculpting is a technology that uses specific temperatures, generally between -3 and -5 degrees Fahrenheit, to eliminate stubborn fat, explains Dr. Hausauer. “At those temperatures, your fat cells, which are more sensitive to the cold than muscle, skin or nerve, start to go through what we call a programmed cell death. Your body processes those cells out naturally and clears them from the body so they’re permanently gone.” While the modality can be effective for the right candidate, Dr. Hausauer notes that there is a risk of the “rare side effect” paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (0.025 percent), so talk with a board-certified doctor about the risks and benefits and decide if this treatment is right for you.