Ionithermie is not effective for slimming or cellulite removal -- or, for anything, really.
by Jeff Wagg
October 14, 2014
Also available in Russian
You've had enough of the cold weather, and you're rewarding yourself with a Caribbean cruise. You've got a few days at sea, so why not pamper yourself with a spa treatment? And what's this, some new treatment that will remove inches instantly? Ionithermie? Let's check it out.
If you've been to a spa or on a cruise lately, you've probably seen flyers, banners, TV ads, PA announcements, and perky young staff members touting this "miracle" treatment for slimming, skin toning, and the removal of cellulite. What is it?
I asked that question of a spa "therapist" on a New England cruise in 2010. I received the following answer:
They wrap your body up in herbs and seaweed, and the seaweed acts like little Pac-Men that eat up the toxins in cellulite. That's all cellulite is: toxins.
Ionithermie was developed in France in 1979 by Olivier Fouch, a French biochemist. There is very little information about Fouch, but he is reported to have been working on a treatment for arthritis. During the course of his trials, the claimed effects of Ionithermie are supposed to have been observed.
The process starts with brushing the body with a dry brush, not unlike a hair brush. After a rinsing shower, the patron lays on a pad filled with an algae-infused clay. The area they aim to treat—thighs, abdomen, face—is then covered in the same clay, which has a frosting-like consistency. Electrodes are placed on the conductive clay, and for around an hour, current is applied that makes muscles twitch. As the clay dries, it squeezes a bit.
Here's an explanation of what Ionithermie is supposed to do from Shape Master Canberra, a spa that uses the product:
Just one session of the Ionithermie "Body Melt", world-wide established French instant slimming and anti-cellulite treatment, and - Voilà! – your favorite dress fits perfectly again! Topped up with the amazing pure organic, 100% chemical free facial enriched by healing powers of natural amber and silver (sic) can make your skin look delicious!
Odd grammar aside, I seriously doubt that anything that exists in the physical world is "chemical-free," and I'm not sure what the organic powers of amber and silver could be. I have some idea as to what "delicious" skin should look like. Moving on...
Ionithermie is the only cosmeceutical treatment to detoxify the body at the cellular level. The treatment gives immediate sustainable inch loss of up to eight inches per treatment. Over one million treatments are performed annually worldwide and it is offered on more than 100 cruise liners around the world.
Cosmeceutical is a made up word, but it ostensibly means look better and "be" better. Detoxifying the body at the cellular level seem to pander to the belief that the body is full of "toxins" that need to be removed through some elaborate diet or ceremony. More on that later. As for being on 100 cruise liners, I'd say that number is probably low.
Ionithermie's specialized product range Les Complexes Biotechniques include active ingredients like ivy, seaweed, and amino acids to break down and disperse the wastes of cellulite.
They're claiming "active ingredients," though I think such broad terms as "ivy, seaweed, and amino acids" could probably be further defined, but now were told that the treatment will "break down and disperse the wastes of cellulite." There is a common belief that cellulite is a mixture of fat, water and waste products that are introduced to the body through diet and environmental pollution. The vast majority of doctors disagree with this sentiment, and believe cellulite to be a perfectly natural form of fat storage that happens to be more visible in women than men due to physiological differences. However, let's see if we can learn how the treatment will affect cellulite:
The treatment components are divided as follows:
1. Galvanic/Ionisation depolarises and makes the cellular membrane more permeable so aids penetration of active substances into the deeper layer of the skin; also aids and stimulates the lymphatic system.
The claim here is that through galvanism, a real electrical response of the body, "chemical-free" substances in the clay will be forced into the body where they can get to work on the "toxins" below. This is almost certainly false as the dermis is quite good at keeping substances from entering the body. Any clay that comes in contact with the skin is going to stay on the outside of the skin, regardless of the galvanic response. A galvanic response could possibly tighten the skin a bit, though.
2. Faradic/Stimulation contracts the muscles by creating a pumping effect hence increasing circulation in the blood and lymphatic system; also copies and reinforces natural exercise, thus improving muscle tone and posture.
The electrodes pulse with electricity, and depending on how they're placed, this will cause muscles to contract. It's likely that you'd twitch and even feel sore as though you'd had a workout after a treatment. This claim, though oddly worded, is for the most part true.
3. Heat therapy/Clay masque increases circulation and aids in the penetration of the active ingredients.
This claim seems to be a duplicate of the first claim. Wrapping yourself in hot clay will cause you to sweat a lot, however.
4. Aromatherapy/Clay masque stimulates the circulation, tones the skin, balances the hormones, it's a natural diuretic and has anti-inflammatory benefits.
Suddenly aromatherapy is introduced, though this doesn't seem to be a part of Ionithermie but rather some scents added to the clay mixture. Circulation will be stimulated, and diuresis will occur through that exotic process known as "sweating." If you had a skin inflammation, it's possible that a clay wrap might help reduce the redness, but it could also increase the redness if you had a reaction to any of the "non-chemicals" used in the process. As for balancing hormones, that is a very strong claim for something that can't actually enter the body. The pituitary balances hormones according to what the body senses it needs. If we're being generous, though, we could concede that this could be a relaxing procedure especially when performed in a quiet room with soft music and candles, as it often is. "Balancing hormones" could be a synonym for "relaxing," but perhaps that is over generous.
5. Micronized algae stimulates metabolism, eliminates excess fluid, aids lymphatic drainage, re-mineralizes and slims and detoxifies.
Micronized just means that the algae was ground into a fine powder. It could "stimulate metabolism" if you ate it, but when applied to the skin, it's unlikely to have any result unless temperature is counted. A higher core body temperature will increase metabolism. Re-mineralization seems to suggest that some minerals have been lost. But from where? You're applying minerals to your skin, so if that's what they're referring to, yes, you will have more minerals on your skin than when you started.
Slimming and detoxification are the last, and most oft-cited claims. Detoxification is a new-age myth. If your liver and kidneys are functioning normally, your body is quite good at "detoxifying" itself. The idea that "toxins" build up in a body over time is likely related to reports of heavy metal poisoning or some such, but a healthy person has no need to "detox." Even if they did, this procedure would do nothing to remove anything from your body except sweat.
As for slimming, this part actually works, at least a little bit. And that's the problem: it makes it look like all the claims for the treatment are true. If you wrap any part of your body and then sweat for an hour, that body part will shrink in diameter. You can see this for yourself if you've ever worn and ace bandage or had a rubber band wrapped tightly on your wrist. It's a very temporary effect that will likely last less than a day, though Ionithermie claims that it can last for months.
However, this is only true if you continue having treatments and follow a strict regimen of exercise and diet. If you don't get the results you want, it's implied that it's your fault, since you undoubtedly didn't exercise enough. Or did you have a cookie once? That would explain it. Why not come in for another treatment?
There's also an issue with "inches lost" claim. Most sources indicate that you can lose up to 8 inches in one treatment. But that's not inches around your waist—it's total inches around every treated area, and could include waist plus arms plus legs and even neck. Not only that, one news crew caught the practitioner measuring different places during the before and after phases, and even padding the measurements by placing a finger under the tape. These tactics are not inherent to the Ionithermie process, but they are something to watch out for.
Reviews on Ionithermie are not very flattering. People report being badgered into buying more treatments and more products while they're immobilized on a table. They're nearly always disappointed at the results. At upwards of $150 a treatment, you can see the benefit to the spa for recommending it. There have been a couple of reports of burns from the electrodes, but Ionithermie is likely safe if not frugal.
If you're looking for an intensive spa treatment, smoother skin that smells nice, and a relaxing afternoon in a pleasant environment, you may receive some benefit from Ionithermie. However, know what you're paying for: any slimming will be temporary, any health effect negligible, and any medical advice suspect.
By Jeff Wagg
Cite this article:
Wagg, J. "Ionithermie." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
14 Oct 2014. Web.
23 May 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4436>
References & Further Reading
ABC. "Body Wraps Come With Strings Attached." ABC NEWS. ABC, 26 Jul. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=126814&page=1>
Alam, Murad, Dover, Jeffrey S. Non-Surgical Skin Tightening and Lifting. Philadelphia: Saunders Elseveier, 2008. 121.
Anonymous. "MAUDE Adverse Event Report: IONITHERMIE." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food and Drug Administration, 19 Sep. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://google2.fda.gov/search?q=ionithermie&client=FDAgov&site=FDAgov&lr=&proxystylesheet=FDAgov&output=xml_no_dtd&getfields=*>
Ernst, E., Singh, S. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. New York: Bantam Press, 2008.
Khan, MH, Victor F, Rao B, Sadick NS. "Treatment of cellulite: part I. Pathophysiology." Journal of American Academic Dermatology. 1 Mar. 1962, Vol 3: 361-70.
Rosenbaum M, Prieto V, Hellmer J, Boschmann M, Krueger J, Leibel RL, Ship AG. "An exploratory investigation of the morphology and biochemistry of cellulite." Plastic Reconstructive Surgery. 1 Jun. 1998, Volume (7): 1934-9: Abstract.
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