Body wraps touted to help with weight loss seem to be everywhere lately: These treatments fill up spa menus and clog Instagram feeds as celebs prep for big events, looking like snug burritos lounging on spa tables or in colorfully lit saunas. But what even are body wraps, and are they actually a legit way to lose weight? The answer: It’s complicated.
To start, spa and wellness locales offer all different types of body wraps, and the (alleged) benefits related to weight loss and/or your overall health may vary depending on the specific treatment. Many spots do body wraps as a full-body treatment, though you can get wraps for specific areas, like the tummy or thighs, at some wellness joints.
One popular type is herbal body wraps, which may start with an exfoliating scrub before a spa therapist puts herbal or botanical oils/creams/moisturizers on your skin and wraps you tightly with warm towels or thermal blankets to help the products absorb into the skin. Some spas claim this type of body wrap can help reduce cellulite, tighten and detoxify the skin, and help you lose inches.
Or, you may come across heat body wraps that involve the application of a topical heat cream, followed by you getting wrapped up in plastic or another non-breathable fabric. The idea behind this one is that you’ll sweat, and in turn, lose weight and cinch your waist (or whatever body part you get wrapped).
Some proponents go even more high-tech with an infrared body wrap, which is kind of like burrito-ing in an infrared sauna. Basically, you’re wrapped up in a heavy blanket and placed under infrared light, which is said to boost circulation, improve metabolism, rid the body of toxins, and make you sweat to lose weight.
As you can see, there are lots of different iterations of this treatment. But let’s get back to the Big Question:
Can any of these body wraps actually help you lose weight?
Like with any wellness fads, if the claims sound too good to be true, they probably are—and it’s really no different with body wraps for weight loss.
Here’s the thing: Body wraps could make you appear thinner and may even cause you to lose a few pounds, but it will all be temporary weight loss from losing
water weight, says Women’s Health advisory board expert Keri Peterson, MD. Chug water afterward, and you’ll soon realize the results are fleeting.
“Body wraps don’t burn fat, but they may cause temporary, localized tightening and dehydration,” Dr. Peterson says. “Any weight lost is water weight and it’s temporary, probably only lasting a day or two.” Wraps that contain herbal products may also plump the skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite, but again, it’s only a temporary effect, she says.
Still, Dr. Peterson says, body wraps are safe to try if you want to, as long as you keep a few things in mind.
Because body wraps are often dehydrating because they cause you to sweat a lot, it’s important to drink plenty of water before, during (if possible), and after your body wrap treatment.
And if products are being applied during your treatment, make sure they don’t contain any herbs or ingredients that you’re allergic or sensitive to, or you could end up with a rash. You’ll also want to steer clear of heated or infrared body wraps if you have any heart conditions, Dr. Peterson cautions.
“Know your limits, and if you feel uncomfortable, light-headed, or dizzy, say something and end the treatment,” she says.
And don’t fall for any at-home wrap products that encourage you to walk around in all day or work out while wearing a wrap (like a “waist trainer”), she says. “You can’t get a full breath with these on,” she notes, and they’re not worth that potential danger of working out with something constricting you or further dehydrating you.
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