Cover Why are people using ice cubes for beauty?

Can an ice bath for your face really work wonders for your complexion?

Cold weather tends to cause havoc on the skin: the winter months can mean dryness, chapped lips and rashes, and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can flare up. So why are people dunking their heads into ice water and rubbing ice cubes on their skin in the name of beauty?

“Using ice carefully and methodically can help to reduce inflammation, irritation and puffiness in the skin by constricting blood vessels,” celebrity facialist Melanie Grant tells Tatler. “It’s a great way to energise your complexion in the mornings, post-flight or during that time of the month [menstruation] by gently boosting circulation, flushing stagnant fluid and leaving you with a rosy glow.”

Grant is a big advocate of ice plunging—the practice of immersing your face in cold water for a few seconds at a time to stimulate lymphatic circulation and blood flow—as are some of her famous clients, including Victoria Beckham, who, in an interview with Refinery29, publicly swore by Grant’s tip of using ice cubes to depuff her face following a long-haul flight or after a couple of glasses of wine.

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From TikTok videos of beauty enthusiasts making their own at-home treatments using frozen cucumber slices to luxury skincare brands selling cold compress products, ice beauty is on the rise. One of the more popular ice sculpting tools available is a luxury ice facial set by Nicole Caroline, a beautician based in the US who has worked with model Irina Shayk and actress Liza Koshy. Determined to provide an at-home alternative for clients prevented from attending in-person treatments due to Covid-19, Caroline developed the kit, which includes an ice sphere mould, and powdered formulas to be added to water before freezing to infuse it with essence. 

“I honestly was not even paying much attention to the other products out there because I did not have much of an online presence. I was strictly selling to my clients and their friends. The demand began to grow, and people fell in love with my proprietary serum formulas and at-home device, which prompted me to sell it online, and it just kept growing,” she says.

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While cold therapy, or cryotherapy, hasn’t been used for that long in cosmetology, it’s one of the oldest treatments used in physiotherapy, dating back to ancient times, when Hippocrates discovered the beneficial properties of the cold. However, research surrounding ice in cosmetology is still limited at the moment, and “the studies that have been published have not shown long-lasting improvements to the skin or demonstrable impacts on the absorption of cosmetic ingredients”, says Dr Lisa Chan, a Hong Kong-based general practitioner with a focus on aesthetic medicine.

Echoing Chan’s sentiments, Cassandra Bankson, a medical aesthetician and YouTube “skinfluencer”, posted a video on the topic in response to fellow YouTuber James Welsh’s seven-day ice sculpting experiment, which left him with mild rosacea and tiny pustules that lasted a month. In the video, Bankson cautioned viewers from attempting ice skincare at home, warning it can damage the outermost layer of skin if sodium-formulated products are used. Salt reduces the temperature of water, making ice colder, which can result in ice burn.

“Certain skin conditions such as lupus, rosacea and atopic dermatitis may be worsened after injudicious use of ice,” says Chan. “People with sensitive skin may also not react well to changes in temperature. Those with autoimmune conditions, thermoregulatory disorders, dermatoses [skin diseases] and vasculopathies [diseases affecting blood vessels] such as cutaneous lupus, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, livedo reticularis and Raynaud’s phenomenon may react to changes of temperature, and direct application of ice can lead to inflammation, swelling, friction and cold burns.”

Chan also debunked the widespread belief that ice can shrink enlarged pores: “Pores are the opening of hair follicles and sebaceous glands, and ice will not affect either structure. Pore size is largely determined by genetics, as well as exacerbating factors such as ageing, sun damage, dehydration and smoking.”

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