Thigh Creams: Fact or Fiction?

Jennifer Hamilton

As we approach the twenty-first century, the western world has become increasingly preoccupied with idealizing thin women. As young women are socialized they are exposed to images in the news media which perpetuates the vision that thin women are happy and successful. These are the role models to which women look up to, creating increasing pressure to live up to such an ideal. Desperate to achieve a figure that rivals Elle Mcpherson, women are willing to pay exorbitant costs, and sacrifice, trying almost anything to look like modern society's ideal woman.

As the mediums available to advertisements continue to expand so do the number of products available claiming and guarantying weight loss or firming effects. Women shell out billions of dollars each year hoping that one of these "miracle" products will finally render them thin, after all thin is beautiful, right? However, a woman can be thin and still have cellulite, so does this mean that she is not beautiful? The media has taught women that cellulite is a lifelong battle that must be waged. If Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Rachel Hunter certainly don't have cellulite, why should the average American woman? So we are given a plethora of products to chose from which promise to make us all super models. So what is the problem? It is highly unlikely that none of the super models have cellulite, as it is an affliction which is common to women of all weight ranges. Also, super models have an advantage that the rest of us do not, their photographs may be digitally enhanced to reduce something as unsightly as cellulite. The cosmetic industry has jumped on the opportunity to profit from women who perceive their bodies to be inadequate or at the very least, less than ideal. If these products were not hot sellers than there would not be such a variety available on the market.

As a woman who has fallen prey to societal pressures and purchased two different "miracle" thigh creams, I was wondering do these creams work for others even though I, personally, didn't find much of a difference? After all a picture says a thousand words, and everyone has seen those advertisements with the before and after pictures, why hadn't I achieved such results? I was then given the motivation I needed to find out the answer when I was given an assignment to research the claims of a health product. I began my quest for answers by reading the ingredient label on the back of my Bath and Body Works "Toning Thigh Cream." It was there on the label where I first discovered the active ingredient aminophylline, which I came to realize through my web search is a common ingredient of thigh creams.

What is Aminophylline, I wondered, could it work the magic that these ads promised? It is a bronchodilator that acts as a smooth muscle relaxant when inhaled. It boasts increased coronary blood flow and acting as a mild diuretic through the re absorption of electrolytes as pharmacological effects. (http://www. kcmetro.cc. mo. us/pennvallev/emt/amino. htm) As an inhaler aminophylline gets the heart pumping and the theory behind the cream is that it will jump-start the metabolism, hence burning off fat and water that are thought to be the culprits of the dimpled "orange peel" skin appearance (Meyers, Michelle, "The Truth About Cellulite", Joe Welder's Shape, V. 17, Aug. 1998, pp. 100-103).

As a woman who has both asthma and cellulite I was intrigued that my asthma medication might have a secondary function, strange as it may seem. Since asthma is a medical condition and requires medication, it would seem logical that cellulite must also be a medical condition, if it requires the same medicine for treatment. Michelle Meyers article cleared up my confusion by providing the important insight that cellulite is not considered a medical condition, as it is not found in medical texts. This is a truth I came to realize later on, while searching for data in the Medical library. According to Ms. Meyers, cellulite is a term which was derived from a marketing campaign which realized that in order to sell a solution to a problem, the problem must already be prevalent in the consumer's mind. Currently women across the world curse the day they saw their first ad, and decided to take a peek at their thighs where much to their horror they discovered the appearance of cellulite. Much to the marketers delight, desperate for a solution to this problem women immediately sought out a resource that would aid in cellulite elimination.

So, if cellulite is not a medical condition then what is it? "Cellulite is made up of encapsulated fat cells that will respond to diet and exercise just as any fat cells will." (http://www.ivillage.com/content/0, 1625,3347,00.html) Unfortunately most of us are impatient and looking for a quick fix, without adjusting our nutritional intake or exercise regimen so we fall prey to the advertising that promises such dramatic changes with such little effort. Much to most women's dismay, cellulite is thought to occur because of a genetic predisposition, which is especially prevalent in pear-shaped women, because the thighs contain large amounts of fat cells. As women age the fat cells weaken increasing the appearance of dimples because the more fat in an area or the looser the fibrous material the worse the cellulite. A large reason for consumers to be skeptical about creams that claim to "watch fat cells release their stores of fat" is that the creams applied topically affect only skin surface not the underlying fat according to dermatologist Frederic Brandt, M.D. (Anonymous, "Downsize Your Thighs," Good Housekeeping , V. 224, May '1997 pp. 69-70.).

One such cream that I discovered while surfing the web is called Thigh High.  (http://www.techmall.com/cardina1/005.htm). The manufacturer catches the web browsers attention with "Reduce your thighs 1 1/2 inches in just 3 weeks!" Following the bait, I was then reeled in by the list of "facts" which are presented making promises and money back guarantees. In fact the manufacturer claims that the product is tested and proven, although these results are not listed. The advertisement also claims that the creams have been tested in over 20 studies nationwide, with an average thigh girth loss of 1 '1/2 inches in only three weeks. I, however, was hard pressed to locate just a couple of the alleged research studies at a medical library. All though these claims are made the promotion team neglected to site any specific information from any of the studies, providing no real evidence that their product is truly effective. The only ingredient of the product that is listed is the aminophylline so consumers can not even be sure of what they are buying. Consumers also are not informed of any long term benefits or safety concerns that might exist, thus we can not make a very informed decision.

As cellulite is not considered a medical problem there is little available research on the use of creams to treat this problem. One study I found on the internet was conducted using 2PJo aminophylline cream in twelve patients. Each patient had pre treatment photographs and measurements of the thigh, waist and hips. The patients also had the level of the drug in their blood streams monitored. Four times the participants of the study were evaluated, at one hour, three weeks, six weeks and three months. An ultrasound of the tissue was also performed at both pre and post treatments. The study found that waist and hip measurements did not change, but the thigh deceased about 0.5 cm during the three months, and there was no weight reduction. However, there was a "pleasing visual result" as well as a reduction in the subcutaneous layer which was seen on the ultrasound. The researchers found only minimal traces of aminophylline in the blood stream so they concluded that it was a safe and relatively effective way to reduce the appearance of cellulite. (Artz, J. Sheldon, Dinner, Melvyn I., "Treatment of Cellulite Deformities of The Thighs With Topical Aminophylline Gel, http: //www. pulsus.com /PLASTICS/03_0 4/artz_ed.htm) Delicious! Magazine points out that most thigh creams that are being marketed contain significantly less aminophylline than the cream used in the study. (http://www.deliciousonline.com/D_backs/Jan_95/thigh_creams.bs.html)Also it is important to note that the brand of aminophylline thigh cream which was used to conduct the study was not noted by the authors. If the creams which are on the market do not contain 2% aminophylline than it cannot be determined from those results that the creams which are available offer the same degree of benefits. As aminophylline is a medication used for asthma, I think as consumers we should be concerned that we have not been informed of potential side effects that might occur as the drug is absorbed into the blood stream.

Another study released on the internet by the San Francisco plastic surgeon's convention reported that Dr. Leroy Young of Washington University conducted a study on "fat melting creams" and found that 16 out of 17 women found no improvements in their thighs after the eight week trial. (http://www.themercury.com.au/nie/mathguys/articles/950322al.htm)

However, these results are coming from individuals who are in danger of losing their potential clients to "fat melting creams," so the results may or may not be objective. The type of cream used was not specified so the reader does not know whether or not they can compare this study to the cream which they are interested in using. It could have been an aminophylline cream or an herbal mixture. Thus not many conclusions can be drawn from such a review.

The Federal drug Administration warns that "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true" (US FDA, "Losing Weight Safely," June 1998). Consumers are also advised by the FDA to ask certain questions about the manufacturer: do they explain possible health risks? Do they have proof of success, not just praise by other people?

After searching the web, I proceeded to look for a more substantial research study evaluating the effectiveness of aminophylline creams. As I searched medical data bases I could only find one review paper assessing the thigh creams. Located in the journal The Annals of Pharmacotherapy (1996 March, V.30) was the review which discusses two studies that were conducted on the thigh creams. The paper estimated that between 50 and 60 over the counter thigh creams were on the market with a range in aminophylline concentration from .05% to 2%. Both studies evaluated were randomized double-blind placebo controlled studies. The first study included six women who were more than 20% over their desired weight. These women were put on a restricted calorie liquid diet as well as exercise program while completing the study. The second group contained twelve women who were not given a diet or exercise program. Both studies concluded that there was a statistically significant decrease in thigh girth.

However, there were also several flaws in both these studies. The studies were well designed however not all of the details were disclosed, such as what tool was used to measure thigh girth, and whether the subjects were clothed when the measurements were taken. Nor is the position which the women were in when girth was measured was mentioned. Any inconsistencies in these areas could have drastically altered the results. The researchers also did not disclose their statistical analysis used in either study.

Thus, there is not much conclusive evidence from the medical community supporting the advertisements claims. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion in my search that these creams are not a miracle solution. Without the efforts of a healthy diet and aerobic exercise, these creams will have at best a minimal smoothing result which is short lived without a commitment to daily application. My best advice to myself and other women is to save our money and time spent applying the cream. Instead we should re-focus that energy on developing a positive self-image that defies the unrealistic pressures of society. Even better, we could embark upon a program of a balanced diet and exercise that will have lifelong benefits, it will just take a little more work!

 

 

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