Let’s get right down to the bottom line: do body wraps work for weight loss or are they a scam?
In short: yes and no.
The answer to this question really depends on your own personal expectations. It took you years to pack on those extra kilos of body fat and you certainly can’t circumvent doing the hard yards (i.e., lifestyle changes) by laying down and wrapping yourself in herbs and plastic.
Before you lose hope, let’s dig into this a bit deeper.
Why do people get body wraps?
Body wraps are not a one-trick pony. Nowadays, there are a multitude of reasons people get them:
- Weight loss – this phrasing has no consideration for body composition.
- Fat loss – some people think a body wrap can melt fat away through the skin.
- Cellulite reduction – similar to above, but some people bank on a body wrap reducing the appearance of the dimply stuff in their thighs and hips.
- Detoxing – “detox” is a cutesy marketing term but in reality it is an ambiguous word that really doesn’t amount to much. If you’ve been guzzling down gallons of lead and mercury, then a body wrap is like bringing a garden hose to a bush (forest) fire.
- Slimming – this is another ambiguous doesn’t-mean-much marketing term. The logic is that if you wrap yourself tightly in plastic, perhaps you can “girdle” away the fat.
- Relaxation – some people like body wraps for stress reduction and relaxation. I can’t blame them. We all need that sometimes!
What Is It?
Before I address each of these four points, what exactly IS a body wrap anyway?
In short, today’s wraps entail covering you in a body mask (or parts of your body) comprised of plants and/or herbs such as algae, seaweed, mud, clay, or creams/lotions (i.e., It Works wraps).
You’re wrapped in plastic for approximately 20 minutes, give or take, depending on the specific protocols at your spa.
Then they cover you up to keep you warm or, in some cases, the treatment may take place in a heated room (cautions below).
Types of Wraps
Let’s take a closer look at the types of wraps you’ll find out there in the consumer jungle:
Some promotional sites claim the algae can “hydrate the skin with minerals and enzymes, stimulate circulation, ‘invigorate’ skin tissue and elasticity, ‘detoxify’ the skin” and a long laundry list of other thing.
With a mud wrap, the skin is slathered in mud which can cause sweating. It’s proponents claim that the mud can slim and tone the body, hydrate, cleanse firm, and tighten the skin, relax and soothe muscles, and reduce stress.
Clay wraps are like the mud wrap’s cousin but might have some extra herbs and oils mixed in for extra purported benefits. There are claims that clay wraps can promote “detoxification, improve circulation, ameliorate pain, and reduce weight (ostensibly through sweating).
Cellulite treatment wrap
Cellulite wraps are popular since they go straight to the problem spots like the hips and thighs. Like the other wraps, this one also entails spreading some lotion or herbal mixture on the skin and wrapping it in cloth or plastic for a while. Unfortunately, cellulite is chemically no different than any other fat in the body. So while the ladies love to loathe cellulite, there’s still no substitute for eating less and becoming more physically active.
Herbal wraps are reasonably self explanatory. Wrap yourself in a herbal solution. The purported benefits are the same as above (softer skin, detox, cellulite, etc). See my It Works wraps review for more on this type of wrap.
Seaweed wraps entail much of the same as above, but the organic matter is now seaweed with plastic wrapped around you. As above, this can theoretically “detox” you, help with cellulite, etc.
Compression wraps have been called mummy wraps and may give the impression of a reduction in inches. In this case, you are wrapped tightly in bandages soaked in different types of materials including a mineral solution, herbs, clay, or other type of organic matter.
Weight Loss Wraps?
It’s true. You might “lose weight” from a wrap treatment. However, this is more of a temporary illusion than any lasting effect – Yeah, I know. Sorry to piss on the parade.
By the very nature of being wrapped in plastic and then heated, you will “lose weight” through sweating and dehydration. While you may see small reduction in weight on the scale or inches on the tape measure, the actual composition of your weight loss is not body fat.
The concept of “spot reduction” has long since been debunked. You cannot melt away fat through the skin. Once you leave the spa and consume food and water, you will replace what you lost in sweat weight from the treatment.
Fat Loss Wraps?
If you’re a more discerning consumer, then you won’t be happy with a little dehydration effect. You want the real deal: FAT LOSS! Unfortunately, you’re gonna be waiting a while.
I am unaware of any reliable medical evidence that wrap treatments cause localised fat loss. As mentioned above, spot reduction is a myth, but it has a long history of lightening consumers wallets.
This claim is couched around reducing the appearance of that loathsome substance known as cellulite. First, as I mentioned above, cellulite is just a name (great for marketing!) and chemically it is no different than any other fat on the body (despite what your naturopath told you).
When you get a body wrap, you may indeed see a temporary change in the appearance in your butt and thighs, but this is more to do with localised changes in the fluid compartments rather than any lasting physiological change.
There are countless websites which claim body wraps will “detoxify” your body of “impurities.” However, this terminology is ambiguous and undefined and really doesn’t give you much detail as to which toxins it will treat.
Because the procedure induces sweating, it is possible that a body wrap could help clean out your pores – and that’s fine if that’s what you’re expecting – but I have not seen any scientific evidence that it will “detoxify” your internal physiology (i.e., organs, blood, blood vessels, etc).
What are the health risks and associated dangers of body wraps?
Most healthy people are unlikely to experience any adverse effects from a wrap treatment, but it is still important to accept that any procedure does carry risks, however small they may be.
If you have pre-existing health conditions then you will need to be particularly careful. If you have any heart of vascular problems (i.e., heart attack), then the dehydration effect from excessive sweating could cause your blood volume to drop which could make your blood more viscous. If this happens, then your heart must work harder to pump blood to maintain blood pressure. Best case scenario is that you just feel a bit dizzy and light-headed.
The compressive forces associated with a tight wrap could plausibly cause circulation problems which could also stress your organs. You also run the risk of dehydration which might interfere with your electrolytes and predispose you to cramps or cardiac arrhythmias if you have underlying atrial fibrillation.
By the very nature of the procedure, body wraps increase your internal (core) temperature and may lead to hyperthermia (overheating). Some procedures may take place in a hot sauna or during exercise which makes it particularly difficult for your body to dissipate the heat.
This can be particularly dangerous during prolonged body wrap treatments. Hyperthermia may evoke symptoms such as absence of sweating (i.e., the body is conserving water for vital internal processes), dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and possibly fainting – all associated with stress to your brain and other key organs.
Bottom line: if you have any serious health condition, get medical advice before undergoing a body wrap.
Should I Get a Body Wrap Treatment? The Verdict
Before having a body wrap treatment, arm yourself with the facts and make an educated decision if this is right for you. What are your expectations? If you want something temporary that will make you feel good in the short-term, then go ahead.
If you want lasting fat loss, then you will be disappointed. You didn’t put all that fat on over night and you certainly aren’t going to lose it after a 30 minute wrap.