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The buzz around skin icing

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Using ice to tighten the skin is hardly a new concept but it is currently being touted on TikTok as a solution for several skin issues.

As to whether or not skin icing actually works, opinion is divided. Some TikTok users have claimed that facial icing has helped to decrease inflammation and puffiness, with a few even claiming it has eliminated their dark circles and reduced wrinkles, oiliness and acne.

As an article by Ellen Cummings on Professional Beauty UK points out, similar beauty techniques have popped up throughout history and in various cultures, including appearances in Ayurvedic practices and reports of 18th century Russian empress Catherine the Great icing her face, neck and décolletage every morning.

Applying ice to soft tissue injuries like sprains and muscle aches in order to numb pain and decrease inflammation is a well-established technique in healthcare.

In the article, Cummings spoke to a number of experts. Said Dr Catharine Denning, a cosmetic doctor who runs a regular clinic from The Light Centre in Marylebone: “Cold temporarily reduces pain by confusing the message from the pain nerves to the brain.

"It also reduces blood flow to the area by temporarily causing the surface blood vessels to constrict away from the skin surface to conserve heat, causing a reduction in redness and helping to reduce some swelling. Vasoconstriction also temporarily reduces the release of inflammatory factors from the blood.”

The same principle applies to icing in skincare, and skin icing is a popular home remedy for puffy eyes.

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“Puffy eyes could have many causes,” noted Lesielle UK lead educator Jon-Paul Hoy. “Lack of sleep or eye strain is most common and could be treated with ice as it constricts the swelling and encourages the reduction of oedema.”

Ben Esdaile, consultant dermatologist at personalised skincare brand Skin + Me, added, “The process of using ice as part of a facial massage can also potentially help in lymphatic drainage, which reduces puffiness around the eyes.”

Although treating the skin with ice can have benefits, people don’t need to go to the extreme lengths of dunking their face in ice water to achieve these effects.

Denning explained, “Short-lived exposure to moderate cool, such as a cooling sheet mask or cold compress, can temporarily help alleviate some pain, swelling and redness in the skin. This might be of value in an area of discomfort such as a painful pimple or puffy skin.”

Short-lived efficacy

However, it’s important to note that all these benefits only last as long as the skin’s temperature is cool; as soon as the skin reaches room temperature again, symptoms of inflammation are likely to return.

In addition, some of the claims made by TikTok users might be entirely incorrect. Denning pointed out there is no scientific evidence for skin icing leading to a reduction in oil production or increased product penetration. In fact, it might even be doing the opposite.

She commented: “More likely is that the temporary reduction in the size of the pore might even trap oil inside, leading to worsening of clogged pores and acne in the long term.

"And, if anything, vasoconstriction of vessels and reduction in pore size logically suggests that it may even hinder absorption of skin products rather than aid them.”

Is icing bad for the skin?

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Introducing a moist environment to the surface of the skin can also encourage overgrowth of bacteria, leading to worsening breakouts rather than reducing them.

“Furthermore, ice isn’t sterile and so could potentially introduce infections to the skin, particularly if there is any broken skin or an existing breakout,” added Denning.

As well as not living up to the hype, the kind of skin icing seen on TikTok can be harmful since ice shouldn’t be directly applied to the skin for prolonged periods because it can cause capillaries to break, which makes redness worse.

“Significant exposure can also cause ice burns, which leave wounds and create potential for scarring. Extreme cases can even lead to frostbite,” said Denning. “We also know that extreme temperatures and changes in temperature in a short space of time can actually impair the barrier function of the skin, leading to increased dryness and sensitivity.”

Furthermore, there are contraindications for the use of extreme cold. Denning cautions against its use in people suffering with dry or broken skin, rosacea, eczema and some forms of acne.

Certain medical conditions also contraindicate cold therapy. Esdaile commented, “There are some conditions that are actually triggered by cold; for example, cold-induced urticaria (hives) where the application of ice will actually precipitate the condition. Conditions with impaired blood supply to the skin may also be aggravated by the cold.”

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