Some of the ingredients used in spa treatments -- rosemary, honey, butter, clay, chocolate, eucalyptus -- sound like they belong in a kitchen or garden rather than in a spa. But these ingredients are used in various types of body wraps, a popular spa treatment.
Getting a body wrap can feel good. Some spas promote body wraps as a relaxing, moisturizing treat.
Others, though, tout specific body wraps as a way to detoxify, slim down, or deal with cellulite -- claims that may go too far.
What Is a Body Wrap?
When body wraps were first offered decades ago, linen sheets were used, says Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder, Inc., an industry group based in New York. The wraps were then mostly called herbal wraps. "'Body wraps' is a term that came to mean more than herbal wraps," she says, adding that they became popular in the 1980s and '90s. Eventually, plastic or thermal blankets replaced the linen sheets.
Although the service varies from spa to spa, body wraps are often done in a darkened room with flickering candles, soft music, and a massage table, says Stephanie Carney, a massage therapist at rA Organic Spa in Burbank, CA.
Carney layers her massage table with a thermal blanket on the bottom. On top of that is plastic that is used to wrap the client, then towels. On the very top are sheets to keep the client warm.
"We start out with a scrub," Carney says. At her spa, that could be the mud scrub, pear and green apple scrub, or another option. You're then taken to the shower and rinsed before the wrap products are applied.
Carney smoothes on the wrap products in a thin layer, wrapping body parts as she goes.
When you're entirely wrapped with your arms at your sides, the electric thermal blanket is pulled up. The blanket's heat is typically hot enough to make you sweat throughout the course of your 30-minute downtime.
After that, "we cool down slowly,'' Carney says.
The final step is to rinse and apply lotion. "Your skin is going to feel really smooth," Carney tells her clients. Most clients tell her the treatment is also relaxing.
Body Wrap Options
There are many body wraps, but Ellis says the main types are:
- Moisturizing, which uses a variety of lotions and ingredients
- Detox, which includes ingredients such as seaweed or mud that have more ''pulling'' action, according to Ellis
- Slimming that use smaller strips of material wrapped tightly
- Cellulite, which typically uses herbal remedies
Can a Body Wrap Detox?
The claim sounds good. But doctors say it's unsupported. "There's never been any real scientific evidence that body wraps pull out toxins or purify your body in any way," says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist.
Sandra Fryhofer, MD, past president of the American College of Physicians, agrees. "I don't know of any scientific basis for the detox," she says.
The extent of the ''detox'' claim varies from spa to spa. Carney of rA Organic Spa says the body wraps detox the skin of impurities. ''When your body sweats, you are detoxing your skin," she says, ''not your liver or your kidneys."
Tanzi says that might be true, but it depends on the product. "There are some benefits to, say, a clay body treatment," she says. "Those can pull out some impurities in the skin and the pores."
Tanzi has successfully used a clay-based mask for acne patients. But as for detox claims beyond that, forget it, doctors say.
Can a Body Wrap Slim You?
As for slimming wraps, "any loss of inches is going to be temporary,'' Fryhofer says. ''Wraps cannot take the place of a healthy diet and exercise."
Ellis agrees. "After you take the [slimming] wrap off, there will be an appearance of tightness," she says. "It is definitely temporary." It may only last a day or two.
But if you're trying to look good for a day at the beach on your honeymoon, temporary improvement may be good enough, Ellis says. "I look at those slimming wraps like a spray tan," she says. "It's temporary, but sometimes that's OK."
"They won't give you long-term weight loss," Tanzi says. "They can temporarily make you feel a little thinner, and when you look at the scale the pounds can go down a pound or two. But that's water weight loss. It's a temporary phenomenon."
Can a Body Wrap Banish Cellulite?
Cellulite body wraps won't take away the dimpled skin, Ellis says. "The appearance can be better," she says. But even the best cellulite wrap ''does not suck out fat."
Tanzi agrees, saying the effect may improve someone's appearance for a while by plumping up the skin.
''I've had a few guests think they would lose inches of cellulite," says Isaac Guerrero, assistant spa director at Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Corona, CA. "We have to explain that this is not what we claim. It's for moisturizing the skin. That's mainly what a lot of wraps are for."
Body Wraps: Avoiding Problems
If you have sensitive skin, beware of body wrap ingredients that have a lot of fragrance, Tanzi says. They could irritate your skin. She recommends asking about ingredients before choosing a wrap and says clay is less irritating to the skin than fragrant oils.
Fryhofer says to find out the ingredients of a body wrap beforehand if you are taking any prescription medications. Then, call your doctor to see if there are any problems. She says herbals can be absorbed through the skin and potentially affect some medications.
Also, think about if you're going to be comfortable in the wrap. Carney tells her clients ahead of time that she typically wraps a person mummy-like with arms at the sides.
''Be sure to stay hydrated,'' Fryhofer says. During a typical wrap, you can sweat a lot, so it's important to replenish the water in your body.