Beauty Bullshit: Fat Girl Slim
Despite the bizarre and somewhat misleading name, Fat Girl Slim “is not a weight-loss product”. Rather, this product claims to “reduce the appearance of cellulite with [an] advanced formula that fits perfectly into your body-bettering routine. QuSome—powerful, encapsulated caffeine molecules—ensures targeted delivery and firm, smooth results.“Caffeine is used in other skincare regimes as well: Caffeine-based products are touted to do everything from lengthen your eyelashes to eliminating dark circles under your eyes.
To evaluate this product, first we need to establish what caffeine is. Caffeine is an alkaloid molecule that produces a stimulant effect when ingested. When you consume caffeine in coffee, soda, or the like, it basically fucks up the job of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine by acting as a competitive inhibitor. This means that caffeine binds to adenosine receptors without activating them. As a result, adenosine just sort of has to hang out at the synapse, unable to bind and thus unable to get shit done. Because adenosine inhibits the central nervous system, and caffeine acts as an adenosine antagonist, inhibiting its action, caffeine increases the activity of the central nervous system.
Next, we need to establish exactly what cellulite is. Cellulite is a condition of subcutaneous fat that causes a dimpling effect under the skin. Under men’s skin, the connective tissue is criss-crossed, ensuring that cellulite (probably) does not bulge out. For women, the tissue is organized into a column shape, allowing for cellulite to appear. Combine that with a tendency towards thinner skin and a higher percentage of body fat, and it’s hardly surprising that women are more likely to show cellulite than men are. As a result, an estimated 90% of women experience cellulite post-adolescence. It’s so ubiquitous among ladyfolk that some doctors have even proposed that cellulite qualifies as a secondary sex characteristic, right up there with breasts, hips, and pubic hair.
Although various treatment methods have been proposed for treating cellulite, a solution to the supposed problem is remarkably elusive (even liposuction is unable to address this issue, as one’s connective tissue and skin thickness aren’t changed by the procedure).
So, why the claim that caffeine will fix your cellulite woes?
The theory behind the claim has to do with another key feature of adenosine action: adenosine increases blood flow through the A2A and A2B receptors on the vascular smooth muscle. As a result, caffeine can sometimes cause blood vessels to constrict.
Unlike many, many topical treatments for various ailments of unsexiness, caffeine is absorbed into the skin at low levels, with a rate of about 2.24+/-1.43 micrograms per centimeter squared per hour. Fat Girl Slim uses a technology called QuSomes to deliver caffeine to your skin. A QuSome is basically a cheapo version of a liposome. Liposomes are are synthetic vesicles comprised of a lipid bilayer, just like your cell membranes. (Since I recently wrote about micelles– don’t confuse them! Micelles are a monolayer.) Liposomes are most empirically supported for cancer treatments, although there is some evidence of their efficacy for topical drug dispersal as well. Although I am not certain whether the concentration of QuSomes in Fat Girl Slim will facilitate a meaningful effect on blood vessel constriction, there is nothing suspicious about this dispersal method prima facie. (It is worth noting, though, that Fat Girl Slim is calling liposomes “molecules”– liposomes are many molecules. That is not what a molecule is.)
The problem is that blood vessel constriction will do fuck all for your cellulite. Indeed, other products also claiming to reduce cellulite, such as Orlane SOS Contouring, claim the exact fucking opposite: Orlane is certain that INCREASING blood flow will get rid of your cottage cheese rear end once and for all. The facts remain that cellulite is caused by connective tissue organization, skin thickness, and fat-possession.
Another proposed hypothesis for caffeine’s supposed cellulite-murdering effects is caffeine’s ability to stimulate lipolysis. Lipolysis is the body’s way of breaking down triglycerides (fat) into smaller hunks, such as diglycerides, monoglycerides, glycerol, and free fatty acids. Caffeine has the potential to start a signaling cascade that ends in lipolysis. Unfortunately, the only thing that’s clear in the scientific literature is that caffeine will cause you to lose a little bit of water. That isn’t a fix.
Finally, people have suggested that caffeine might help with cellulite because of its chemical similarity to aminophylline, another adenosine antagonist that is legitimately used as an asthma medication and illegitimately used as cellulite treatment. No independent research, however, has validated the idea that aminophylline does jack shit for cellulite. Indeed, the idea has been essentially disproven since 1999, when a study by Collis and colleagues found that aminophylline did no better than a placebo at reducing cellulite. The authors concluded, “The best subjective assessment, by the patients themselves, revealed that only 3 of 35 aminophylline-treated legs and 10 of 35 Endermologie-treated legs had their cellulite appearance improved. The authors do not believe that either of these two treatments is effective in improving the appearance of cellulite.” Thus, caffeine’s similarity to another placebo is hardly a point in its favor.
So why do people give Fat Girl Slim decent reviews if its claims are a load of hooey? The Bliss website might help us out on that one: “Bliss suggests using in conjunction with regular exercise, a healthy diet, regular vigorous massage and the rest of the Bliss FatGirl Slim regimen.” I would save your hard earned-money and stick with the healthy diet and exercise. (It may or may not help your cellulite, but it’s a good idea either way!) If you’re still stressing about lumpy thighs, try to remember that you are so far from alone it’s almost laughable. They’re just lovely lady lumps (as Fergie might say).
If you have any beauty claims you want researched in future Beauty Bullshit blogs, feel free to leave them in the comments below.