Body wrap spas offer the allure of shedding inches off your waistline and are an increasingly popular beauty procedure. But critics say the only thing you're guaranteed to lose is money.
Consumer correspondent Greg Hunter found the mummy-like procedure might not live up to its promises. Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration Web site says body wraps can be dangerous.
One spa that offers the body wraps, Suddenly Slender Body Wraps, boasts that body wrappers can get a trimmer body by getting it wrapped with bandages soaked in minerals. Its ads guarantee that body-wrapped patrons will lose 6 to 20 inches from various body measurements in their first one-hour wrap.
"It's not uncommon to take someone down a dress size or two in two weeks," said Victoria Morton, who founded Suddenly Slender and says she has 1,300 franchises worldwide. But experts say the wraps can cause severe dehydration and circulatory problems.
"It's all pseudoscientific gobbledygook," said Dr. Victor Herbert, a doctor at Mt. Sinai Veterans Research Center who is also on the board of Quackwatch, an organization that debunks false medical claims. He says any weight loss that results from getting a body wrap is temporary, because it is water loss.
Doctor Claims Wraps Dehydrate
"Be 6 to 20 inches slimmer today by dehydrating yourself? Sure," Herbert said. "And you can also kill yourself … because you can throw somebody into what we call hypovolemic shock. That's low blood volume shock by dehydrating you."
But Morton insists the wraps do not just remove water.
"It's the waste! The stuff that builds up in the body and makes us old and makes us tired and quite frankly, makes us sick," she said.
One of Morton's operations came under legal scrutiny several years ago. In 1998, the Texas Attorney General's office said that one of Morton's Texas franchises made false and misleading representations. Morton agreed not to make unsubstantiated medical claims, and paid a $35,000 fine to the state of Texas, without admitting any wrongdoing.
Ann Schmid, a Good Morning America intern, and Cheri Knoy, a tourist from Plano, Texas, volunteered to test the wraps for Good Morning America's investigation.
At her New York City location, Morton demonstrated how a body wrap is supposed to work on Schmid and Knoy.
Schmid and Knoy were wrapped up like mummies, and danced to a Richard Simmons video as part of the exercise portion of the wrap. While wrapped, they were told to tighten their muscles.
'Special Formula' Does the Trick
"Pull your stomach in hard," Morton instructed the body-wrapped patrons. She says the wraps are soaked in a secret mineral solution.
"It is the formula, the Suddenly Slender formula, that makes this work," Morton said.
Both Schmid and Knoy were worried that wrapping their bodies so tightly they could be risking their health. But Morton assures her clients there is no need to worry, and a week after the wrap, both Schmid and Knoy were fine.
Morton claims she has done millions of wraps without any problems and denies there is a health risk.
"This not only does not dehydrate you, it will re-hydrate someone who is dehydrated. It's good for you," Morton said. "This is a safe … non-invasive [procedure] and I've wrapped babies."
Morton's clients must exercise for an hour while tightly wrapped. Bags on the hands and feet fill up with liquid and are emptied repeatedly.
Morton took before and after measurements and claims both and Schmid and Knoy lost at least 6 inches each. She says the initial inches lost during the hourlong body wrap will stay off, provided the body-wrapped patrons participate in a diet and exercise program that she provides.
A Matter of Inches
Morton says Schmid lost almost 3 inches from her waist. But after looking at the videotape, Hunter found a big discrepancy: the before measurement was taken just above Schmid's belly button. The after measurement was taken several inches above.
The next day she went back to Suddenly Slender to have them remeasure, and there was no change in Schmid's waistline.
Also, looking closely at some of the before measurements on videotape, Hunter found that Morton measures with her finger behind the tape, creating slack and a bigger measurement. On the after measurements, Morton's finger is above the tape, and it is pulled tightly, so the measurement is smaller.
Morton refused to comment on the measurements, and the owner of the New York franchise, Liz Adams of New York Body Wraps, accused Hunter of playing games with the measurements.
Meanwhile, the body wrap volunteers questioned the wraps' effectiveness.
"She said I lost 3 extra inches in my waist," Schmid said. "But there's definitely not 3 extra inches in my skirt. It's not falling down. It's still sitting nicely up on my waist."
Knoy believed she may have lost a couple of inches, but wasn't sure.
"I'm wearing a dress. It's hard to tell," she said. Body Wraps says they have plenty of satisfied customers who have lost inches off their waists.
But Dr. Herbert says any weight loss is temporary, and the only thing customers will surely lose is the $125 they paid for the wrap. Those who get body wraps take a risk. The only way to lose inches, he says, is through diet and exercise.