The Shambulance: Infrared Body Wraps

By Elizabeth Preston | September 20, 2012 3:02 pm
(The Shambulance is an occasional series in which I try to find out the truth about bogus or overhyped health products. Having recovered from my taste of no-calorie noodles, I’m back this week with Shambulance first officers Steven Swoap and Daniel Lynch.)
Sometimes it’s for the best when product claims turn out to be blatant lies. If purveyors of infrared body wraps, for example, were telling the truth, clients would walk out of their spas dripping grease from their skin—and that wouldn’t even be their biggest concern, next to the heart attacks.
All body wraps are not created equal. There are slimming volcanic ash wraps, herbal wraps, mud wraps, and even chocolate wraps. Some are only meant to be relaxing skin treatments. Others involve swaddling clients mummy-style in bandages and plastic wrap, then leaving them for an hour or so to stew in their own sweat.
These kinds of body wraps often promise weight loss or overall slimming. In reality, how much weight you lose will depend on how much water your body sweats out in a frantic effort to cool down. Additional svelte-ness might come from the squishing action of the tight bandages. Both effects will be temporary. 
As another benefit, spas that offer body wraps unfailingly promise “detox.” This isn’t the first time the d-word has come up here. Suffice it to say that unwanted molecules are filtered from our blood and sent out of our bodies by the liver and kidneys—not sucked from us forcefully by mud wraps, juice diets, or ionic foot baths.
But the most amazing promises of all come from the infrared body wrap. Unlike some of the body wrap’s other incarnations, this treatment doesn’t require you to strip down, be slathered in goo, and get bandaged head to toe. Instead, clients lie on a bed with their clothes on while several infrared-generating silicone pads are strapped around them. Then they’re left under a heated blanket for a while.

So far, it sounds like nothing more than a toasty nap. But spas say that you’ll leave an infrared wrap session skinnier and healthier, with better circulation, a faster metabolism, clearer skin, and less cellulite. How?

The pads give off long and short infrared waves that penetrate deep into your fat layers, websites claim, increasing your body temperature, metabolism, and blood circulation. The heat “break[s] down fats into a liquid form, allowing secretion of body water, toxins and fat as you perspire,” according to one Chicago spa.

All that formerly stored fat, once liquefied by the infrared waves, is obviously eager to escape your body through the nearest exit. But don’t worry if the fat gets stuck inside you—you’ll burn it anyway. “You can burn 900 to 1,400 calories or more in just one 50 minute session,” another Chicago site proclaims.

After studying this calorie chart, I’m thinking I’ve been wasting my time by walking to work. What I should really do is buy some of these silicone pads, strap them on, and see if I can get someone to roll me there.
This is “completely insane,” says Williams College physiologist Steven Swoap. “How are they allowed to write this stuff?”
For one thing, “Fats simply don’t come out of sweat glands,” he says. Though if they did, you would definitely have to throw away your spa outfit after soaking it with grease from the inside.
Infrared radiation, Swoap explains, isn’t a magical cellulite-blasting weapon. In fact, people naturally give off long infrared waves as body heat. “Instead of wrapping yourself with this stuff, maybe a good long hug with your significant other would work too,” Swoap says. Or, if you’re looking for shorter infrared waves, “You could take your TV zapper and shoot it at yourself all day long.”

Daniel Lynch, a Williams College biochemist, says that heating parts of your body could certainly increase your water loss. But your fat isn’t budging. “To get rid of the fat, it must be metabolized,” he says, “and that is not going to be enhanced by lying on a bed with silicone wraps on your legs.”

Furthermore, Lynch speculates, if your fat deposits really did get broken down and sent back into your blood—and you were, say, lying on a table instead of using those fat molecules for fuel—”You could actually have dangerous levels of fatty acids circulating in your blood. That’s good for a heart attack!”

If you’re looking for an exercise-free way to burn fat, Swoap suggests hanging out in a cold room rather than under a warm blanket. Being in the cold will raise your metabolism as your body tries to replace the heat you’re losing. If you’re still hankering after the spa experience, you could always wait until winter, wrap up in a scarf, and have someone log-roll you down the sidewalk.

Images: Top, Leah Chavie Skincare Boutique; middle, Formostar Infrared Body Wrap System; calorie chart, Formostar Infrared Body Wrap System.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: magic, medicine, screwups, shambulance, walking
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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07783248390597697437 Mary Beth Foster

    Hi-LAHR-ious! Don't stop now. I must read more debunkings like this. They make my day!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08802392912541974977 Andreas Johansson

    I can't help but think that if someone subjected me to the Formostar Infrared Body Wrap System, I'd worry less about the bogousness of the calorie burn claims than about acute thermal stress. Sounds seriously unpleasant.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01991219617456983242 Elizabeth Preston

    Mary Beth: Thank you!!

    Andreas: In reviews, some people complain about claustrophobia (especially with the mummy-style body wraps). I would pay NOT to be put in one of these things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763976189044067093 Johan L.

    Thanks for this, I was looking for something to reference in my podcast (still in production) about a Groupon offer regarding infrared cellulite removal.

  • Anonymous

    The whole thing seems sketchy to me – not to mention uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. There is no way you can “sweat out” fat.

  • Anonymous

    I was once a skeptic then I caught a Groupon for three sessions and decided to try it. I'm having the treatments done at a spa in the Kansas City area and it's working. Seriously. Just saying.

  • Anonymous

    I got recommended to tried body wraps from a physical therapist because I was injured from a car accident and couldn't work out and was having muscle pain. So I went and tried Formostar Infrared Body Wrap. I did 8 sessions. The first one was ok but after that went down hill. I gained inches even! I have never EVER has a piece of cellulite on my body before this, now my legs and back side are covered in it! After seeing my doctor she said that there was a good chance that is came from mutated fat cells due to the body wrap and to stop immediately. When I took before and after pictured to the tanning salon I bought the body wraps from they told me that it happens and I should start Beauty Angel Red Light Therapy to take away the cellulite. THESE BODY WRAPS ARE A SCAM! DON'T DO THEM!!

  • Anonymous

    I actually found that these wraps worked for me, in a joint effort of healthy diet and regular work out routine, I added these in. They have helped loosen my joints, give added mobility and make me feel overall like a healthier person. While I admit it is no cure all wrap, it has made me feel better. As a massage therapist I have always respected heat therapy for wellness, and it did great for what I wanted.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Anonymous – I am also a Massage Therapist, and am having a represent from Formostar visit my office and give me a demo session. I'm more interested in possibly offering it to my clients who have muscular (fibromyalgia)/skeletal (arthritis) issues, not as a cellulite reducer. I've read numerous reports that far-infra red saunas are an excellent way to detox, since the skin is the largest organ of the body. I have high levels of mercury and lead, and thought this could possibly help.

    Your thoughts? Also anonymous

  • Anonymous

    It is the best service I have brought into my salon. Women absolutely love
    these wraps. We have done over 4,000 in two years. My customers keep coming back. It is a process and will not happen over night. However, it is relaxing and helps with arthritis and muscular issues.

  • Anonymous

    I did the mummy style infrared wrap and it work for me, l weight myself after the 1st session and l lost3 lbs, also as a nurse it help to alleviate my back pain. I'm definitely will continue doing it :-)

  • Anonymous

    This is my experience as well. I used it 2 times a week and was able to tighten up my thighs and stomach. The heat is a bit intense, but if you are chugging water the whole time like I am, it's doable.

  • Anonymous

    This article fails to acknowledge the therapeutic, heat benefits from infrared wraps. I understand that the article was intended to debunk the “fat-melting” and “detox” myths commonly claimed, but if that is the case, the article should have then been titled ” Debunking Infrared Wraps for Weight and Fat Loss”. We have used heat wraps for pain, rehabilitation and general well being, and they are quite effective when used this way. A secondary benefit of stress reduction should also not be scoffed at, given that many persons suffer from very high stress levels, which in turn leads to many negative health conditions. Your position would have been more credible had a balanced view of the potential benefits for this type of treatment also been offered.

  • Anonymous

    I'm currently using the Fit Body Wrap and I love it. I usually go about every other day. I've lost an inch of my waist and an inch off my hips and my skin has never been softer than it is now! Plus it helps with my knee which I recently had surgery on and my back pain. Plus I get to relax and watch T.V while I'm sweating my butt off!

  • Anonymous

    I love these wraps. I work out at fitbody bootcamp & pilates. The wraps help with muscle pain.

  • Anonymous

    I went to my chiropractor years ago and was referred to the Infrared “Sauna” I was given hour long sessions at 120 degrees…. the first benefit I noticed was my skin! With my job as a Nail Technician, the tops of my thighs are rough from the dust silting down through my jeans and rubbing in. This went away immediately. I also had inch loss but could not afford to continue with the wraps because they were quite expensive. These days the “wraps” are also expensive, but I do know them to work….if you can keep with a course of treatments. I just started having them done and am very pleased with my results.

  • Anonymous

    so if you “work out” and burn calories….how does it eliminate??? Come on! Sweating is essential to weight loss. You need to debunk with a plausible explanation of how it DOES occur if not with sweat and heating of the core. I think you may be wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02056840384818757574 Krystle Martin

    When you exercise, you sweat. And yet, you're still burning calories. But not everyone who exercises will lose weight, and not everyone who uses these wraps will lose weight. People have cellulite for different reasons, and different methods may (or may not) help get rid of that cellulite. These wraps have been proven successful for many people, but what works for one may not work for another. They also have shown to have therapeutic benefits for stress relief (anxiety and high stress levels are common, and also can be contributors to gaining weight through the stress hormone cortisol – some people just need to relax in order to lose weight), as well as for muscle tightness.

  • Davis

    There are several ways, treatments and lotions to fight ugly cellulite available on the marketplace today, many are simply ridiculous, some usually are extremely expensive, but others will works. Take a look at this site https://tr.im/jR7Cd

  • http://www.nubodysolutions.com/ Kelly Kaper

    Not going to lie…this had me envisioning someone rolling someone to work. The humor is undeniable! What works for some, doesn’t work for others. Weight is just an ugly topic as it’s just so difficult for one size fits all.

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Inkfish

Like the wily and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into the far corners of science news and brings you back surprises (and the occasional sea creature). The ink is virtual but the research is real.

About Elizabeth Preston

Elizabeth Preston is a science writer whose articles have appeared in publications including Slate, Nautilus, and National Geographic. She's also the former editor of the children's science magazine Muse, where she still writes in the voice of a know-it-all bovine. She lives in Massachusetts. Read more and see her other writing here.

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