Scalp cryomassage: Can it treat hair loss?

cryotherapy

What is cryotherapy and scalp cryomassage?

Actually, cryotherapy is a wide term that incorporates several types of procedures involving the use of extreme cold to deal with various skin conditions (warts, seborrheic and solar keratosis, Bowen’s disease etc.) by destroying the target cells as well as to relieve pain and reduce inflammation after an injury.  Cryotherapy usually uses liquid nitrogen but this term can also refer to the use of cold packs or ice applied to various body parts.

Scalp cryomassage is a subtype of cryotherapy,  It is usually performed with the help of a cotton-tipped swab that is dipped into a thermos of  liquid nitrogen and then rolled over the scalp for several minutes without contacting the skin directly. Those who offer such procedure state that it helps control the production of oil by the sebaceous glands on the scalp, improves the blood supply to the hair follicles which stimulates hair growth and makes the new hair grow strong and shiny.  It is claimed that this miraculous effect is achieved due to the influence of the extreme cold exerted on the capillaries which bring blood to the hair follicles. At first, the capillaries constrict and then widen considerably, become filled with blood, and as a result are able to bring much more nutrients to the follicles.

So can scalp cryomassage really help with alopecia?

The explanation that of how liquid nitrogen being applied to the scalp inducing changes in the capillaries seems quiet convincing.  Unfortunately, such ‘super’ massage techniques just do not work for most cases of alopecia. The only thing we can be sure of is that it will drain your pockets. At best, it is useless, and at worst, it can be harmful if performed by an inexperienced person.  Excessive exposure to extremely low temperatures may injure the hair follicles and cause traumatic or even scarring alopecia. There are no clinical studies proving that scalp cryomassage can effectively treat any type of hair loss except perhaps for Alopecia Areata (the least understood type of alopecia).  We’ll get back to that a bit later.

You may ask – “But why doesn’t it work?  It sounds so effective!”   Successful treatment of alopecia mainly depends on the elimination of its cause.

For example:

Telogen Effluvium – when hair follicles prematurely shift from anagen (growing phase) to telogen (resting phase):

  • if it’s caused by some systemic illness, it will cease once the illness is treated;
  • if it’s experienced after the cessation of birth-control pills or pregnancy, then it will resolve in several months even without treatment;
  • it it’s caused by some medication, then an alternative drug should be found.

Androgenetic Alopecia –  the most common type of hair loss diagnosed in men and women.  This is a genetically predisposed hypersensitivity of the hair follicles to a certain androgen – dihydrotestosterone.  Since the culprit of this condition is a hormone, the treatment requires medications which work at the hormonal level.  Some kind of ‘stunning’ procedure  to “wake up dormant hair follicles” and stimulate nutrition will never be a successful treatment.

For the sake of fairness, it is worth mentioning that, according to some studies, cryotherapy can be effective to some extent for:

  • prevention of chemotherapy-induced hair loss. Scalp cooling using special cooling systems and caps may reduce the hair loss caused by chemotherapy.  This works by constricting the capillaries and reducing the blood supply which slows down the metabolism in the hair follicles. This reduces the amount of chemo that gets to the follicles to poison them.  However, scalp cooling isn’t effective for all the patients undergoing chemotherapy; therefore, further research is required to understand the determinants of success; 1
  • Treatment of Alopecia Areata (in order to stimulate new hair growth).  It is not a traditional method of AA therapy; however, some studies show that cryotherapy could be quite effective for patients with mild and isolated form of Alopecia Areata. The mechanisms explaining its efficacy include immunomodulation and vascular changes.2,3

Conclusion
The treatment of hair loss, like that of any other disease, should be carried out under the surveillance of a medical professional.  If you have faced such a delicate problem as hair loss, the best thing you can do is seek medical advice to find the cause of this disorder and work out a treatment regimen together with your doctor. But, if you are looking for other than traditional ways to deal with it, you should always remember that even alternative methods of treatment can have side effects and contraindications. And, scalp massage using liquid nitrogen is not an exception.  Do not even try experimenting with it if you have uncontrolled hypertension, cold allergy, epilepsy, migraines or cerebral atherosclerosis.

 

References:

  1. Presentation, Impact and Prevention of Chemotherapy-induced Hair Loss (Wim PM Breed; Corina JG van den Hurk; Mijke Peerbooms; Expert Rev Dermatol. 2011;6(1):109-125) http://www.academia.edu/726898/Presentation_Impact_and_Prevention_of_Chemotherapy-induced_Hair_Loss
  2. Effect of superficial hypothermic cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen on alopecia areata.
    Lei Y (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Lei%20Y%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=1845292),
    Nie Y (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Nie%20Y%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=1845292), Zhang JM (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Zhang%20JM%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=1845292),
    Liao DY (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Liao%20DY%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=1845292), Li HY (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Li%20HY%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=1845292),
    Man MQ(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Man%20MQ%5BAuthor%5D&cauthor=true&cauthor_uid=1845292), Arch Dermatol (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1845292), 1991 Dec;127(12):1851-2;
  3. Liquid nitrogen cryotherapy vs. Betamethasone lotion in the management of Alopecia areata (Faghihi Gita and Radan Mohammadreza; Journal of Clinical Medicine and Research Vol. 5 (2), pp. 18-22, February 2013)
    http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1379687216_Gita%20and%20Mohammadreza.pdf