What goes around, comes around…body wraps are now popular again!
Body wraps have been common in spas or salons for years, utilizing linen sheets, blankets, bandages, plastic, cellophane or rubber wraps. Originally, the wraps were full body, with the goal of trying to induce as much water loss as possible through perspiration, much like a sweat or sauna suit, which comes from the same idea.
The desire for spot-reduction of inches encouraged use of smaller wraps for specific areas of the body, such as the abs, thighs, upper arms, and chin/jaw line. Special creams are commonly promoted to be used with the wraps to enhance the effects. These wraps made the jump to home kits, and are now utilizing multi-level marketing to help spread the word and bring in more revenue.
As with most fad products, they have been tried before. Dr. Jeanne Walter was promoting her flesh reducing, medicated rubber garments back in the early 1900s. She claimed they were worn “Royalty of Europe and the Society of America”. Some more current examples are It Works!, SOBE wraps, Suddenly Slender, and from our modern-day "Royalty", there is the Hollywood Detox Body Wrap.
Getting Thin Skin
There are 2 major ways body wraps may promote thinner skin and losing inches.
- Increase perspiration and water loss from skin.
- Decrease flow of fluid to the skin.
Both of these techniques are temporary, and all fluid loss will be quickly replaced by drinking or eating.
Though controversial as to whether it works or not, body builders and fitness models have used wraps to dehydrate a specific area of the body, such as the abdominals, to get a temporary leaner appearance (i.e. thin skin) for a competition or photo shoot. Similarly, hemorrhoid cream (Preparation-H) has been used to help tighten skin, from wrinkles around the eyes to the abdominals. A particular ingredient, phenylephrine, constricts blood vessels, which will reduce the water flow to the area. The effects are minimal and rarely used.
Getting Tough Skin
Though not a focus of this article, many creams used with body wraps are able to thicken and harden the skin to reduce the appearance of cellulite. A thicker and stronger dermis may help with the “appearance” of cellulite, but is not working to eliminate the fat in the cells. Two reviews1,2 have shown that similar products and creams are not able to reduce cellulite through the decrease in fat. Physical activity and healthy eating are used for fat loss.
Body Wraps and Fat Loss
Some body wraps claim to tone, shrink, reduce, breakdown or remove fat cells.
Take Home Message 1: Body wraps have no effect on fat or fat cells.
Some companies still claim it is the "special" chemicals used with their wraps that remove the fat under the skin (i.e. subcutaneous) by acting on little receptors that sit on the membrane of fat cells. Specifically, the two main receptors are Beta-receptors and Alpha-receptors. If the Beta-receptors are stimulated, fat metabolism increases inside the fat cell. If Alpha-receptors are stimulated, fat metabolism decreases inside the fat cell.
Isoproterenol is traditionally used to stimulate Beta-receptors on the heart, and the hope is that it would also stimulate Beta-receptors on the fat cell. More commonly, methylxanthines, such as aminophylline, yohimbine and caffeine, are traditionally used to inhibit Alpha-receptors.
Take Home Message 2: Research does not support these creamy claims.
No effective impact in girth of the thigh, fat depth or appearance of cellulite on the thigh after 12 weeks of a twice-daily application of a common aminophylline cream or the popular (and expensive) Endermologie wrap treatment.3
Negligible differences in thigh circumference compared to a placebo from both aminophylline cream and isoproterenol injections.4
Take Home Message 3: For fat loss and inches, choose exercise and diet over wraps and creams.
Wraps and creams show no changes in weight or fat loss, and minimal changes in thigh/hip circumference (1-3 cm max) in overweight and obese women.
Caloric restriction of ~400 Calories per day and moderate intensity exercise 3 days per week for 5 months in overwieight and obese postmenopausal women has shown average weight loss of 27 pounds, 18 pounds of fat loss, 9 cm lost in the waist, and 10 cm lost in the hip.5
Any effect seen in skin thickness or “inches” from body wraps is due to water loss.
- The water loss temporary. In little time, especially after consuming a meal or drink, the skin will rehydrate and return to where it was before the wrap treatment.
There is no effect of these wraps or creams on fat cells and deposits, including melting, dissolving or shrinking.
- Physical activity and dietary intake control are the only scientifically-supported and long-term way to lose fat, and improve appearance of cellulite.
1Avram, M.M. (2004). Cellulite: A review of its physiology and treatment. Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy, 6, 181-185.
2Rawlings, A.V. (2006). Cellulite and its treatment. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 28, 175-190.
3Collins, N., Elliot, L.A., Sharpe, C., & Sharpe, D.T. (1999). Cellulite treatment: A myth or reality: A prospective randomized, controlled trial of two therapies, Endermologie and aminophylline cream. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 104(4), 1110-1114.
4Greenway, F.L., Bray, G.A., & Heber, D. (1995). Topical fat reduction. Obesity Research, 3(4), 561S-568S.
5Nickas, B.J., Wang, X, You, T., Lyles, M.F., et al. (2009). Effect of exercise intensity on abdominal fat loss during calorie restriction in overweight and obese postmenopausal women: A randomized, controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89, 1043-1052.