By Mark Faries, PhD

Howdy. I am Dr. Mark Faries and we are here separating lifestyle medicine fact from fiction.

I bet we have all seen articles and commercials for products claiming that body wraps can help us lose fat. But, are they fact or fiction?

Body wraps have been common in spas or salons for years. Their practitioners typically use linen sheets, blankets, bandages, plastic, cellophane or even rubber wraps.

Originally, these wraps were full body. The goal was to induce as much water loss as possible through perspiration. That’s a similar idea as when we sweat or wear a sauna suit.

But, then, the desire for spot-reduction of inches encouraged the use of smaller wraps for specific areas of the body. So we saw applications to abs, thighs, upper arms, and even the chin/jaw line.

Special creams are commonly promoted with wraps to enhance the effects of the wraps, so they claim. These wraps made the jump to home kits for even wider use—and, of course, more revenue for the companies that produce them.

Ok, so how are body wraps supposed work? There are two major ways body wraps might promote thinner skin and loss of inches:

1. Increase perspiration and water loss from skin.

2. Decrease the flow of fluid to the skin.

However, both of these techniques are temporary. And all fluid loss will be quickly replaced by drinking or eating.

Real quick, it’s not the focus of this video, but I do want to point out that 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—the layer of skin below the outermost layer that’s called the epidermis—might help with the “appearance” of cellulite. But understand that it’s not working to eliminate the fat inside the cells.

Two medical reviews have been done and show that similar products and creams are not able to reduce cellulite through the decrease in fat. Physical activity, exercise and healthful eating are by far the best prescription for fat loss, especially the fat that adversely affects our health which is called visceral fat or the fat that is stored inside or around our organs.

Here are three take home messages for you.

First, body wraps have no effect on fat or fat cells.

Some companies still claim these “special” chemicals used with their wraps remove the fat under the skin.

Your second take home message is that research does not support the claims about special creams.

The third take home message is the most important. For individuals that do have excessive fat and need to lose, choose exercise, physical activity and diet over wraps and creams.

In conclusion, any effect seen in skin thickness or inches from body wraps is due to water loss. This water loss is temporary and in a short time, especially after consuming a meal or drinking something, the skin will rehydrate and return to where it was before the wrap treatment.

There is also no effect of these wraps or creams on fat cells or the fat deposits inside the cell. Despite the claims, there is no melting, dissolving or shrinking of fat cells or the fat inside.

Physical activity, exercise and healthy eating are the only scientifically supported, safe and long-term ways to lose and maintain fat loss.

So we can conclude that the claims about body wraps reducing fat are fiction.

Cellulite: A review of its physiology and treatment. Avram, M.M. (2004). Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy. 6, 181-185.

Cellulite and its treatment. Rawlings, A.V. (2006). International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 28, 175-190.

Cellulite treatment: A myth or reality: A prospective randomized, controlled trial of two therapies, Endermologie and aminophylline cream. Collins, N., Elliot, L.A., Sharpe, C., & Sharpe, D.T. (1999). Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 104(4), 1110-1114.

Topical fat reduction. Greenway, F.L., Bray, G.A., & Heber, D. (1995). Obesity Research. 3(4), 561S-568S.

Effect of exercise intensity on abdominal fat loss during calorie restriction in overweight and obese postmenopausal women: A randomized, controlled trial. Nickas, B.J., Wang, X, You, T., Lyles, M.F., et al. (2009). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 89, 1043-1052.

Mark D. Faries, PhD

Mark has a PhD in Behavioral Health and an MS in Exercise Physiology. He is an Associate Professor and State Extension Health Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and has developed lifestyle medicine curriculum and advocacy. He has served on the Board of Directors of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, is founder of Lone Star Lifestyle Medicine for Texas and is founder of FitnessPudding.com.

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