Some of the ingredients used sound like they belong more in a kitchen or a garden rather than a spa -- rosemary, honey, butter, clay, chocolate, and eucalyptus.
But these are used in various types of body wraps -- a service that spa owners say is growing in popularity.
Move over, massages. Or buddy up. The body wraps can be done separately or as part of a package that includes a massage.
Some spas promote body wraps as nothing more than a relaxing, moisturizing way to spend a little time and money. But others tout specific body wraps as a way to detoxify, slim down, or deal with cellulite -- claims that physicians warn are not accurate.
Here's what you need to know before you get wrapped -- and invest the $85 or so typically charged for a body wrap.
What Is a Body Wrap?
If you're thinking that a body wrap is a mummy-like wrap, you've got the idea but not the context.
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"' and became popular in the 1980s and 90s, Ellis says.
Soon, the linen sheets were replaced by plastic and by thermal blankets, Ellis tells WebMD.
Although the service varies from spa to spa, typically you are led to a darkened room with flickering candles, soft music, and a massage table, says Stephanie Carney, a massage therapist at rA Organic Spa in Burbank, Calif., who provides body wraps, with or without a massage.
On a recent day, Carney layered her massage table to prepare it for a body wrap. At the bottom was the thermal blanket. On top of that was plastic that would be used to wrap the client, then towels, and on the very top, 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 other options. You're then taken to the shower and rinsed before the wrap products -- in the same varieties as the scrub -- 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, unless you're claustrophobic -- the electric thermal blanket is pulled up and over you.
There you stay for about 30 minutes, and the blanket heat is typically hot enough to make you sweat.
After that, "we cool down slowly,'' Carney says.
The final step is to rinse again 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
Options for body wraps are plentiful, but Ellis says the choices can be generally classified as:
- Moisturizing: Uses a variety of lotions and ingredients
- Detox wraps: Includes ingredients such as seaweed or mud that have more ''pulling'' action, Ellis says
- Slimming wrap: Uses smaller strips of material that are wrapped tightly.
- Cellulite wrap: Typically uses herbal remedies
What Can a Body Wrap Do -- and Not Do?
What you can expect from a body wrap depends on who you talk to -- a spa operator or a physician.
No one disputes the moisturizing capability of a wrap or the relaxation of lying motionless for nearly an hour.
But there's not consensus on other claims about what body wraps deliver.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," says Sandra Fryhofer, MD, past president of the American College of Physicians. Fryhofer is in private practice in Atlanta and is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.
Here is a quick look at what body wraps will -- and won't -- do for you.
Can a Body Wrap Detox?
The claim sounds good, but lacks scientific evidence, doctors say. "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 (who does not offer body wraps in her practice) and clinical instructor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
But the extent of the ''detox'' claim varies from spa to spa. Carney of rA Organic Spa, for instance, 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."
Depending on the product uses, that might be true, Tanzi tells WebMD. "There are some benefits to, say, a clay body treatment," she says. "Those can pull out some impurities in the skin, in the pores."
Tanzi has used a clay-based mask for acne patients, with success.
But as for detox claims beyond that, forget it, doctors say. "I don't know of any scientific basis for the detox," Fryhofer says.
Can a Body Wrap Slim You?
Susie Ellis agrees. "After you take the [slimming] wrap off, there will be an appearance of tightness," she says. "It is definitely temporary." It may last, she says, for a day or two.
But if you're trying to look good for a day at the beach on your honeymoon, for instance, 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 temporary is 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?
Likewise, the 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 take away cellulite, it does not suck out fat."
Tanzi agrees. "It may make cellulite look better for a day or two," by plumping up the skin, she says.
''I've had a few guests think they would lose inches or cellulite," says Isaac Guerrero, assistant spa director at Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa in Corona, Calif. "We have to explain that this is not what we claim. It's for moisturizing the skin, that's predominantly what a lot of wraps are for."
Body Wrap Caveats
If you have sensitive skin, beware body wrap ingredients that have a lot of fragrance, Tanzi says. They could cause irritation. She encourages people to ask about ingredients before choosing a wrap.
She finds clay less irritating to the skin than fragrant oils.
If you are on any prescription medications, find out the ingredients of the body wrap you are considering, Fryhofer suggests. Then, call your doctor to see if there are any problems.
She says herbals can be absorbed through the skin and could potentially affect some medications.
If you tend to suffer from claustrophobia, a body wrap may not be relaxing to you. Carney informs her clients ahead 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 do a lot of sweating -- so it's important to replenish the water in your body.
Lastly, if you decide to get wrapped, enjoy it. "It feels really good,"Tanzi says. "It soothes frayed nerves."
Just remember: ''It's more for relaxation purposes than medicinal," she says.