When reviewing supplements, it is important to keep an open mind where possible but even we are shocked by the items that are sold to people who are hoping to achieve their fitness goals. These individuals have usually not had a formal education in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology or sport science and aren’t equipped to perform the kind of investigation necessary to bust the misinformation that is rife in the marketplace. So when we’re trying to maintain an open mind, but are confronted with a product that claims to produce a six pack or “toned” stomach by applying a gel to the torso, we are initially sceptical. Today, we’ll investigate the claims of the “FatGirl six pack” gel offered by Bliss – a product that sounds too good to be true. Perhaps it is…
The FatGirl six pack is a soothing cream that is applied to the torso and claims to tighten skin and reduce the appearance of loose skin, stretch marks, cellulite or bodyfat. They claim to achieve this through the combination of 6 active ingredients including caffeine, amino acids, creatine, oat kernel extract, manilkara tree extract, menthol and a “special botanical extract”. Inclusion of proprietary, unspecified blends of “botanical extracts” is something that generally warrants some concern and the fact that they’re herbal or botanical does not count towards their efficacy or safety.
The claims made for the active ingredients in the gel are fairly modes. Caffeine is touted as decreasing bloating (primarily because it is a low-level diuretic) and subcutaneous water retention. Amino acids, being the building blocks for proteins and thus tissues, are supposed to provide “targeted toning” whilst creatine supposedly boosts cellular metabolism. The effects of oat kernel extract, manikara tree extract and menthol are left unclear and simply labelled “skin tighteners”.
There are some concerns that we have right off the bat with this product. First of all, it makes positive claims about the effectiveness of a trans-dermal water anti-bloating, anti-fat and pro-collagen gel. This would be novel if it were scientifically accurate: the vast majority of transdermal delivery products struggle because they “must be low-molecular weight, lipophilic and efficacious at low doses” . What this means is that there are very few compounds that can be absorbed effectively through the skin, though there is a section of literature that suggest that caffeine can be taken transdermally , this has only been proven clinically in single-ingredient applications and the chemical structure of FatGirl Six pack does not have any further, independent proof to suggest that it would be able to pass the skin barrier. Additionally, there would be a great difficulty in establishing synergistic effects when we consider that many of the substances may not pass the skin barrier and could well be inert in the product.
The reviews bare out this suspicion: a large variety of reviews suggest that the only real effect is a “tightening” of the skin in the area and no real effects beyond that. Tightening of the skin has no real bearing on the health, fitness or physical appearance of the individual and is only possible through sustained use of the product. This is to say that there is some plausibility in Bliss’ claims about the product and its ability to reduce water retention through transdermal caffeine delivery, but even these minor results will require you to constantly use the product and the results are not lasting.
The company itself seems to be aware of the inherent limitations in the product from the fact that they didn’t market it as a “fat loss” product, strictly speaking. Bliss are careful to avoid any reference to fat loss because it simply is not how the product works: there are some compounds that can be used, topically, to adjust patterns of fat loss (such as Yohimbine HCL) but this is not one of them. Diurretic use is a common approach in the fitness industry but does not deal with the problem of excess bodyfat: whilst it may alter appearance through the reduction in size of bodyfat and an appearance of being “tight”, dehydration through diurretic use is an unsustainable method of improving physical appearance and has more dangers than benefits for the average person. For those of us who do not compete in bodybuilding and simply want an improved physique, the negative health effects of intentional dehydration (especially through diurretic use) are only mild, but the benefits are even smaller.
The effectiveness of the product is even further called into doubt by the selection of evidence for their claims and the reviews by those who have used the product. The “toning gel” has claims that 73% of women saw an improvement in skin firmness, 79% felt the product was working and 76% felt that the packaging enhanced application. The problem with these statistics, however, is that they are part of a consumer participation study which has no scientific structure and is open to a whole host of biases. These 3 metrics are awful from a research perspective as they do not address or substantiate any specific effect (beyond subjective perception), can easily be skewed (for example, people tend to disproportionately approve of things they have bought, even when they are ineffective) and have uncertain categories for “yes” answers. For example, people will “feel the product is working” because the gel has been designed to produce a soothing or cooling sensation.
This is borne out by the reviews that we studied from customers. The vast majority either address non-fat issues (such as the effect of the product on stretch marks or similar skin issues) or report that the product has done nothing to the appearance of stomach fat but has a pleasant soothing sensation. If this is the effect of the product then we would recommend looking elsewhere: body lotions and butters have a similar effect without the erroneous, unsubstantiated claims.
Bliss points out that this product should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and regular exercise. As ever, our concern is why anyone would need to use this product if they were consuming a healthy diet and exercising in such a way as to reduce their bodyfat. Through these methods alone, we are able to lose substantial amounts of weight as bodyfat without relying on “magical pill” products that claim to shape the core. Visible “abs”, associated with a toned core, are only achievable through a sufficiently low bodyfat percentage and an individual who is on a healthy diet and exercise regimen is likely to achieve this without the aid of supplement or topical fat-shrinking products.
Water retention itself has a variety of causes but the main factors influencing this phenomenon are sodium and water intake. The more sodium we consume, the more likely we are to bloat and retain excess water in the subcutaneous fat . Sodium molecules are bound to water in the body in order to remain stable, at a ratio around 1:4. When we have excessive sodium intake, our body has to retain water in order to stabilise salts – this is how we hold onto water and increase the size and appearance of our fat tissue. Increasing our intake of water will also reduce the amount of water we retain because dehydration signals for water retention: when the body detects low water intake, it retains water in the adipose tissue for future use in case we continue to have low water intake.
From this, it is clear to see that the body has its own mechanisms for regulating the amount of water that we retain. Naturally, we don’t want to retain water in our fat if it makes us appear soft, squishy and undefined. However, approaching this problem with topical treatments rather than dietary interventions is short-sighted. When we approach body composition and appearance, it is important to remember that it is a long-term health problem and should be approached with an eye to long-term solutions. Whilst solutions such as those sold by Bliss in the form of the FatGirl six pack can offer some short-term improvements in the way that we perceive our bodies, they do not address the underlying causes of these problems: using a transdermal diurretic for your belly fat is the equivalent of using a band-aid for someone with gangrene.
The final concern that we have is the balance of effect to cost. When we look at the way that Bliss markets its own product as an afterthought for anyone with sufficient nutrition and musculature, it does not seem clear how they rationalise the $30 price tag. When we consider that this product also requires constant use or results will disappear, this appears to be an extravagant cost to most people who could quite easily redirect this money to occasional consultations with a dietitian or a variety of other more useful services.
The Bliss FatGirl six pack is utterly innocuous. The worst thing we can say about it is that it does nothing and is a waste of your money but the best thing we can say about it is that it feels nice and might help if you’re fluffy and retaining water, but not much. Overall, this product annoys us more than it worries us: selling topical treatments as a way to address dietary and lifestyle problems.
 Prausnitz and Langer (2009): ‘Transdermal drug delivery’. Nature Biotechnology, 26(11), pp.1261-1268
 Nicoli, Colombo and Santi (2005): ‘Release and permeation of caffeine from bioadhesive transdermal films’. American association of pharmaceutical scientists, 7(1), pp.218-223
 Hall et al (1986): ‘Mechanisms of sodium balance in hypertension: role of pressure natriuresis’. Journal of hypertension, 4(4), pp.57-65
Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children.
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