Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Cellulite is the popular name given to body fat that occurs primarily on the buttocks and thighs and disrupts the smoothness of the surface of the skin giving it a dimpled appearance. The ASA accepts that it exists but does not accept that cellulite is a distinct type of body fat.
Rule 13.9 stipulates that marketers should not claim that weight can be lost from specific parts of body. Like all fat, the only way that cellulite can be removed non surgically is by reducing energy intake to below that of energy expenditure. Many advertisers have argued that their products (particularly, creams and electrical “stimulation” devices) can reduce cellulite or reduce the appearance of cellulite. Neither the ASA nor CAP has yet been satisfied that such products have a proven effect on cellulite (The Boots Company plc, 14 September 2005). Some advertisers have argued that their creams refine the appearance of skin and so would refine the appearance of skin covering “cellulite”. The ASA and CAP’s position is that consumers are likely to expect a “cellulite” product or treatment to “treat” cellulite, rather than merely covering it.
In 2011 the ASA Upheld a complaint that a therapeutic couch could break down cellulite, as well as decompose fat, produce the same effect as running 20-30km, burn up to 1000 calories and improve the cardiovascular system. The ASA considered that the ad contained breakthrough claims that required a body of robust scientific evidence, such as clinical trials conducted on people, in order to substantiate them, which the advertiser was unable to show (Nuga Best UK & Ireland, 30 March 2011).
More recently, the ASA considered claims for a body cream which stated that the product would “reduce the appearance of cellulite fast” and implied that the consumer could achieve a body like Mila Kunis through its use. Because the advertiser had been unable to prove the claim, the ASA instructed them not to repeat it (Rodial Ltd, 16 January 2013)
Creams and electrical stimulation devices are not the only products on sale to supposedly "cure" cellulite. Other claimed treatments include light therapy in conjunction with acupressure and isotonic exercise (Scanda Sol Professional Ltd, 17 January 2001), serums, shower gels and peeling massage (Dr Irena Eris, 6 April 2005), exercising under low atmospheric pressure (for example, in a vacuum) (Hypoxi UK Ltd, 17 March 2004) and other, undisclosed "cellulite removal plans" (XCell International Ltd, 24 September 2003).
In September 2001, however, the ASA acknowledged that the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had accepted the claim “temporary reduction in the appearance of cellulite” for a massage machine called LPG Endermologie (The Harley Medical Group, 19 September 2001) and a similar massage device called “Silhouette” sold by Luxar Corporation (a subsidiary of ESC Medical). The ASA concluded, however, that the efficacy of Endermologie to either treat or remove cellulite (as opposed to the appearance of cellulite) was unproven and, unless they have convincing evidence, marketers of that product should state that informed opinion on the efficacy of Endermologie is split (Rule 3.13).
Marketers promoting Mesotherapy injections should steer clear from making claims that the product could “eliminate cellulite” or help reduce its appearance (A.Y. Eternal Youth, 10 September 2008). See our guidance on Mesotherapy
Moreover, neither CAP nor the ASA has seen evidence which proves that a garment could “break down cellulite” (Biomedical Laboratories, 1 December 2010). See Weight control: Garments
The ASA upheld a complaint for i-Lipo, a non-invasive procedure because it had not seen suitable evidence which showed that the treatment could reduce fat and improve the appearance of cellulite, both of which were considered to be breakthrough claims (The Contour Clinic, 21 August 2013). The ASA also upheld a complaint about an ad which stated “Treating fat and cellulite just got easy with Proshock”. In this case, the ASA consulted an expert and understood that the study held by the advertiser was uncontrolled, non-blinded and that the testing methodology was unclear, and therefore considered that it had not seen sufficient evidence to support the breakthrough claims in the ad. Moreover, while the before and after photos in the ad were found to feature genuine test subjects who had undergone the treatment under the test conditions applied in the study, the ASA considered that the pictures were unlikely to accurately represent what consumers could achieve from the treatment, given that sufficient evidence was not held in the first instance (Lamphall Ltd, 11 December 2013). See Weight control: Medical Procedures and Weight control: testimonials.
References to the "treatment", "improvement" or "removal" of cellulite or the appearance of cellulite (irrespective of how it might be described, for example “dimpled skin” or “orange peel effect”) are likely to be unacceptable for pills or topically applied creams. Marketers might be able to refer to “cellulite”, “dimply skin” or “orange peel skin” in marketing communications if they have conducted rigorous human trials that prove such deposits can be successfully treated by their product, device or regimen (see CAP Help Note on Substantiation for Health, Beauty and Slimming Claims). Such trials would have to show that the claimed effect of the product is distinct from the effect of massage.
Marketers should bear in mind that products that break down or remove subcutaneous fat might be regarded as medicinal by nature and might therefore need a Marketing Authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).