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Salon worker praised cryotherapy — then ‘froze to death’ during treatment

A cryotherapy chamber at the Las Vegas salon where Chelsea Ake-Salvacion reportedly “froze to death.”

In a piece published just last week, an employee of a Las Vegas beauty salon proclaimed the benefits of cryotherapy to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. An unorthodox treatment becoming more familiar, some say cryotherapy, which entails exposing the body to sub-zero temperatures, can have great benefits, particularly after a traditional facial and moisturizer treatment.

So explained aesthetician Chelsea Ake-Salvacion. “We like to do the cryofacial afterward because it helps seal everything in,” Ake-Salvacion, 24, told the newspaper in a piece published Thursday.

Then came a bizarre twist. Before her comments were even published, Ake-Salvacion was dead — in her salon’s cryotherapy chamber.

Medical examiners told her family she died in “seconds” on Tuesday after she entered the machine alone, and her family says she “froze to death.” She had reportedly been in the machine for more than 10 hours when her body was found.

[After cryotherapy death, two Las Vegas salons shuttered — and no one set to investigate]

“I do know that she was alone closing the shop up, and then did go into the machine and apparently did not turn off,” Shae-Lynn Bee, Ake-Salvacion’s friend, told KSNV News. “… It’s very frustrating to know because you know there are no cameras in there. Basically, the only person that does know what happened is Chelsea.”

Though autopsy results are pending, one member of Ake-Salvacion’s family objected to any implication she had not operated the machine properly after investigators ruled “operator error” led to the tragedy.

“She knew exactly what she was doing,” uncle Albert Ake said.

Why would a young woman immerse herself in a machine designed to expose mostly unclothed people to temperatures far lower than those on the summit of Mount Everest — even if she didn’t suspect such a treatment might result in her demise? Because, according to many salons and pro athletes, the treatment is good for you.

“The Cryochamber is a multi-person walk-in device which exposes the patient’s entire body to hypercooled room-air,” the Web site of Rejuvenice, where Ake-Salvacion worked and died, read. “Here up to 3 people can undergo treatment simultaneously, which is popular with groups of athletes and couples.”

The benefit: “an internal systemic anti-inflammatory response in the body.” The temperature: about -240 degrees Fahrenheit. The dress code: “Robe (removed during treatment), Socks, Slippers, Gloves, Underwear (bottoms), Sports bra (women, optional), Mask, Earmuffs.”

“All devices are equipped with numerous safety features and doors are never locked, which allows clients to stop treatment instantaneously at any time,” the salon added. On other page, it wrote: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Despite the lack of federal approval, many famous athletes — including LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers — have incorporated cryotherapy into their daily routines. After word of James’s interest in the treatments surfaced, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer checked out a chamber at a salon in California last year.

“It’s actually a fairly simple process that takes less than three minutes,” Mary Schmitt Boyer wrote. “After filling out a health questionnaire and being accepted, we were shown the locker rooms to change. Women wear T-shirts, sports bras and basketball-type shorts, while men wear the shorts and no T-shirts. The center provided each of us with a headband, surgical mask, mittens that feel like oven mitts, tube socks and fleece-lined rubber-soled slippers.”

Predictably, it got cold.

“The warm-up chamber — and I use that term lightly — is set at minus-76,” Boyer wrote. “We spent 30 seconds in there before walking through a glass door with a wooden handle into a little bit bigger chamber where the temperature is minus-166. We spent a LONG two minutes in there.”

The reporter said her body temperature dropped about 30 degrees. “I’m not gonna lie,” Boyer wrote. “It was shocking.”

Some research, however, has cast doubt on the benefits of whole-body cryotherapy (WBC).

“Although WBC produces a large temperature gradient for tissue cooling, the relatively poor thermal conductivity of air prevents significant subcutaneous and core body cooling,” an article in the journal Sports Medicine explained last year. “There is weak evidence from controlled studies that WBC enhances antioxidant capacity and parasympathetic reactivation, and alters inflammatory pathways relevant to sports recovery. A series of small randomized studies found WBC offers improvements in subjective recovery and muscle soreness following metabolic or mechanical overload, but little benefit towards functional recovery.”

Former Cavalier Luke Walton, a cryotherapy advocate, once cautioned the treatment might be good, but doesn’t feel good.

“The first time is the worst,” he reportedly said. “Your mind is telling you, ‘I might die.’ ”

Cryotherapy chambers immerse customers in temperatures as low as 284 degrees below zero. Marketed to boost metabolism and energy, they are not FDA-approved. (Video: Reuters)