Treating Keratosis | The Good And The Bad Side Of Cryotherapy

There exists several treatment modalities for keratosis but the most well-known is cryotherapy, which uses extremely low temperatures and which is also called cryosurgery. With an available doctor’s office, one can easily avail of this procedure ranked as the second-most commonly utilized skin-lesion-removing procedure as researches suggest.

Various unwanted skin lesions such as warts, actinic keratosis or seborrheic keratosis are frozen off from the body through the employment of very low temperatures – the process termed as cryotherapy. But this treatment works best only for flat or slightly-raised lesions.

So how does cryotherapy work? The arteries and veins, generally known as blood vessels, found at the injury site such as the lesions’ site, are compressed by cryotherapy. The site then receives diminished blood flow due to this process, commonly alluded to health professionals as vasoconstriction. Because of lesser blood supply, the cells cannot obtain the nutrients that they normally receive from the blood including oxygen. Eventually, the adverse effect is cell death or necrosis.

There are a few types of cryogens, substances used to obtain very low temperatures, namely, liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide snow and DMEP or dimethyl ether and propane.   But amongst the three, liquid nitrogen is the most commonly applied cryogen by physicians primarily because of its low boiling point, making it a highly dynamic cryogen.

Using any gadget that would restrict the doctor’s direct contact with liquid nitrogen such as a cotton-tipped applicator, a spraygun or a probe, the physician starts the process by directly applying the liquid nitrogen onto the client’s skin. Then, the heat from the skin instantly transfers to the liquid nitrogen making it evaporate quickly, usually within a minute or so. Thawing of the skin lesions then succeeds this short freezing time. Then when the cell’s contents leak out into its surroundings called the interstitial space, rest assured the cryotherapy has started the actual cell injury. To conclude the process, the client’s skin will exhibit signs of inflammation – redness, swelling, pain and warmth – signaling the cells’ decompensation.

There are generally slight adverse effects when the physician performs the treatment according to the guidelines. But like many other procedures, complications can and will arise. To illustrate, prolonged freezing by the liquid nitrogen results to hypopigmentation or modification in the skin color, specifically a lighter hue.

Even though the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act does not consider liquid nitrogen hazardous, it still poses deleterious effects on humans who come in direct contact with it for this will result to rapid freezing of the tissues or even tissue death. There are two types of exposure to liquid nitrogen: inhalation and direct contact. Inhalation effects are not as grave as the direct contact effects of liquid nitrogen unless immense amounts of liquid nitrogen are spilled, therefore causing reduced oxygen levels. Workers involved in its transportation must therefore adhere rigidly to transportation safety protocols.

When transferring liquid nitrogen probably into smaller containers, it can splash into the direction of the eyes causing injury such as cryogenic burn. The skin can also be accidentally exposed to liquid nitrogen.

In conclusion, be it health professionals or the laypeople, they must handle liquid nitrogen safely. Always wear goggles, face shields or masks, gloves, aprons or other encapsulating suits when handling any objects with liquid nitrogen or liquid nitrogen itself. In cases of leaks, any person not wearing any protective gear must leave the area until cleaning is completed. And if liquid nitrogen ever comes in contact with the skin, and not during a cryotherapy, the frozen skin should be soaked in water that is 41-46 degrees Celsius in temperature before immediately consulting a doctor.

Keratosis further readingFurther Reading:

Actinic – Seborrheic

Website Reading:

Actinic Keratosis

Seborrheic Keratosis


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