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Critics doubt claims of ‘cosmetic fabrics’

  • New York Times News Service
  • Published Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, at 11:50 p.m.

Jill Paul, 65, of Westminster, Colo., used to pour “a gallon” of moisturizer on her legs every day, she said. But then a friend told her about Proskins SLIM, a line of nylon and Lycra clothing that claims to fight cellulite, improve circulation and promote lymphatic drainage.

No one was more surprised than she was.

“I’m a skeptic,” said Paul, who works for a software company. But she insisted that her legs felt much softer after wearing leggings from the line.

“Whatever’s in the fiber is making them that much more moist,” she said.

Called derma- or cosmeto-textiles by some (and hokum by others), products such as Proskins SLIM are designed from specially engineered fabrics laden with properties said to be “therapeutic,” such as caffeine, retinol, aloe vera and copper, and supposedly released into the skin when worn.

Wacoal’s iPant anti-cellulite collection, for example, boasts what the company calls “nylon microfibers with embedded microcapsules” containing caffeine (aimed at fat destruction), vitamin E (targeting the effects of aging) and ceramides (to restore and maintain the skin’s firmness), and can last for 100 washes. CASS Wear Repair, a line of leggings, tanks and tees, is said to contain 66 percent raw copper oxide and to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

“The ‘cosmetic fabric’ is like a skin enhancement cream in a fabric form,” said Susan Ledyard, the president of CASS.

In theory, these clothes could save precious time in the morning once devoted to slathering on body lotion.

As Adam Kakembo, vice president of product and marketing at Wrangler Europe, Middle East and Africa, said, “No one gets excited about waking up, having a shower, moisturizing and waiting for it to dry before you put your jeans on.” That’s why Wrangler this month is introducing Denim Spa Therapy for Legs, a line of three jeans infused with either aloe vera or olive extract.

But many in the medical community are amused, if not outraged, by such promises.

“It’s pure marketing,” said Bruce Katz, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “If you put a person in some type of tight wrap around their body and don’t let them out for a week, they’ll probably lose weight. But the products themselves have no effect on the skin or cellulite.”

Vincent DeLeo, chairman of the dermatology department at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Center, had a similar opinion.

“This is one of the most ridiculous claims I’ve ever heard,” DeLeo said. “What’s going to happen when you wash them? If it can stand 100 washings, then nothing’s going to come out and onto your skin.”

And though fabrics that can block ultraviolet rays and wick moisture away do exist, the derma-textile companies “are talking about something coming out of small capsules, like aloe vera, and being absorbed into your skin,” DeLeo said. “It has to be absorbed to work. There’s nothing in clothing that can do that.”

Undaunted, Proskins plans to introduce a line of anti-aging gloves, eye masks, scarves and sleepwear in the United States this spring.

“We’re not here saying you’re going to look 30 years younger by using the product, but it will plump the skin and reduce lines,” said Neil French, the company’s chief executive. “All you have to do with this is put it on. It’s the easiest of treatments you could have.”

But Alex Davis, 28, a bridal designer and blogger in Seattle, doesn’t believe in such quick fixes. In July, Wacoal invited her to test-drive the iPant. So she did, sleeping in a pair every night for 28 days, as the company suggests.

Davis said she lost both weight and inches, but she had just changed to a vegan diet, “so it was probably my diet,” she said. “You’ve got to work out and eat right to lose weight.”

And even customers who are fond of the treatment togs admit that they don’t solve everything.

Paul, the Colorado woman who said her legs felt softer after using Proskins SLIM, also said that since using the product her legs swell less when she flies, which she does every other week for work. But she still needs lotion to moisturize her legs — just not as much.

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