Women Say A Popular New Device To “Get Rid Of Cellulite” Left Them Injured


Business

A device called the FasciaBlaster promising to “get rid of
cellulite” designed by a self-identified scientist has gone
viral on Facebook. But women are complaining about the severe
bruising it causes.

Posted on July 26, 2017, 04:57 GMT

A twist on an old cellulite-busting product based on flimsy
science has found new life through Facebook ads targeting
women. The FasciaBlaster, a plastic stick with four
octopus-like massage claws, is a viral hit. It’s received
attention from the likes of the Today show and
Extra, and gained more than 290,000 followers on
Facebook. Its inventor, Ashley Black, says it can “get rid of
cellulite” and break up fat cells.

However, doctors told BuzzFeed News that those claims are not
backed up by any credible research, and one doctor claimed it
appears to be based on “loose science.” Meanwhile a group of former customers are claiming
that the device caused them serious harm, including severe
bruising. When they complained to the FasciaBlaster Facebook
group, the women were blocked from
posting or reviewing the tool, they told BuzzFeed News.

“I was desperate,” said Julia Lefebvre, a 49-year-old former
FasciaBlaster user who told BuzzFeed News she stopped using
the tool and still has bruises six months later. “Women are
so self-conscious of their bodies it’s almost instant
gratification you get when you drag that claw across your
skin and you get bruises. It’s almost like feedback, but in
our heads it’s like why would women — extremely intelligent
women — buy into this? I don’t know how I bought into it.”

A company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company
has not thus far received any “verified cases of serious
injury, nor have we ever had a personal injury suit or
claim.” But BuzzFeed News reviewed 62 complaints submitted to
the Food and Drug Administration which reported severe bruising, inflammation,
and changes in menstruation. Ashley Black sent BuzzFeed News
copies of Facebook messages she received from one customer
who mentioned an “illness” and another from a customer who
had posted “concerns and allegations” online. Six other
complaints sent to the company were forwarded to BuzzFeed
News by the users who made them. In addition the company’s
one-star reviews on Facebook include reports of severe
bruising, weight gain, sagging skin, increased cellulite,
nausea, and menstruation changes.

“We take the safety and welfare of our users very seriously,”
the company said in a statement. “Our practice is to have an
independent third party physician investigate, but none of
our users have provided any medical documentation of serious
injury.”

The company said this “small fringe group” of social media
“haters” represents only .017% of Black’s total audience. It
suspects that at least 500 of the “hater profiles” are fake.

Between May and June, the company said it sent “2,000 emails
and approximately 2,000 messages to anyone who posted a
concern or complaint about the FasciaBlaster anywhere online,
including in the hate groups.” It got few responses, but
after investigating their claims, the company said the users
were making “baseless and unsubstantiated attacks on our
company.”

BuzzFeed News received emails from satisfied users who said
the tool helped them gain back their range of motion and
relieve lower back pain, and who said they were touched by
encouraging discussions in the Facebook group.

Black has developed an entire pseudoscience around a real
type of tissue, fascia, which connects muscle to skin and
contributes to the appearance of cellulite. Facebook posts
and ads for the FasciaBlaster claim that people can “get rid
of cellulite,” “carve out” muscle, and “erase … pesky fat
pockets” by following Black’s instructional videos — of which there are
170 on YouTube.

The $89 FasciaBlaster wand is meant to be used up to four
times a week, intentionally bruising the skin in order to
supposedly break up cellulite. To “FasciaBlast,” women are
instructed to heat up in a sauna, slather themselves in oil,
and then rigorously massage their bodies with the blaster to
“break up” fascia. Bruising is a sign of restoring “unhealthy fascia,” Black
claims.

She tells customers to press the claws into
their skin — which she said can hurt because it means “you’re
breaking up the fascia.” As layers of fascia get broken down,
she instructs users to press even harder into their skin, up
to a “pain level of seven,” to smooth out deeper layers of
fascia. (A seven is considered low-level severe pain in the
Universal Pain Assessment Tool.)

On her website, Black wrote that one technique calls for
people “to rake through and loosen tight fascial adhesions
that cause those unsightly dimples.” These adhesions, she
said, are signs of “unhealthy fascia” that collect into small
knots that can be released by rigorously massaging the body.
After raking, “the places that hurt the worst [and] are most
sensitive are generally where you have severe fascia
distortions – This is totally normal,” she wrote on Facebook.

Through another more painful technique, Black claims users can break up fat cells with
the wand so they are excreted with urine.

“Contract the muscle as hard as you can and then you go
ballistic on the area,” Black instructs users in a video posted to YouTube in June 2015.
Users should expect bruising when breaking up fat, she says.

The promise, ultimately, is that by enduring the pain you’ll
have less visible cellulite.

Ashley Black isn’t a doctor, licensed physical therapist, or
scientist — nor does she hold a college degree. Prior to
starting her FasciaBlaster business, she spent more than a
decade as a health and wellness trainer and entrepreneur. She
designed a tool to relieve her own pain from hip-replacement
surgery. By 2012, she was distributing the device, originally
called the Lumpbuster, to her bodywork clients for
use in between sessions.

Everything changed when a client’s girlfriend texted that the
tool got rid of her cellulite, Black says in a YouTube marketing video. “It literally
was one of those moments in time where you go like, whoa, how
have I studied this my entire career and didn’t make the
connection?”

Black has since promoted herself as a “pioneer” in fasciology
— a term she coined — in her book The Cellulite Myth: It’s
Not Fat, It’s Fascia
, which includes Wikipedia entries
and WebMD articles among the dozen references cited in the
bibliography. During an interview with BuzzFeed News, she
declined to cite the names of specific instructors she
learned from and institutes or training certifications she
had earned, out of concern those institutions would be
targeted by “trolling.”

“The Cellulite Myth: It’s Not Fat, It’s Fascia” by Ashley
Black

A photo of the bibliography page in The Cellulite
Myth: It’s Not Fat, It’s Fascia
.

She added that asking for credentials in fasciology is “like
asking Thomas Edison where his electrical engineering degree
is. There is no basis or background.”

A spokesperson for Black said Black “has spent thousands of
hours reading books on Anatomy & Physiology, Biochemistry
of fascia, including paying to have papers translated from
Mandarin and other languages, as traditional western medicine
dedicates very little time to the study of Fascia.”

The company began investing heavily in social media marketing
in March 2015, according to Black. Most of the 20 women
BuzzFeed News spoke to for this story said they learned about
the tool through Facebook ads or Black’s private Facebook
group of more than 290,000 women. Several said they were
drawn to the tool because of the ads and the positive
discussion in the tool’s main Facebook group.

“Ladies, you can use the FasciaBlaster® to ERASE
cellulite!!!!! Check AWESOME results!” reads one Facebook
post.

Meanwhile, in YouTube videos posted as long ago as 2015,
Black claims that the tool not only gets rid of cellulite,
but also alleviates symptoms of scoliosis, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s disease.

The company’s spokesperson said it has “hundreds of thousands
of satisfied customers,” but declined to disclose sales
information to BuzzFeed News.

Yet multiple women BuzzFeed News spoke to also reported that
when they tried to report their injuries in the Facebook
group, a major forum for marketing the device and building a
following, they were blocked for violating a ban on posting
about “negative, rude, catty, or inappropriate remarks.”

Black said she doesn’t allow “drama in my group” from people
who ask “foul” questions such as “does this cause
miscarriages” because “we keep it positive.”

“For me this is a support group for people who are trying to
restore your fascia,” she said. “You wouldn’t let an
alcoholic with a bottle of champagne walk in to an AA meeting
and say ‘Don’t listen to this — drink some wine.’ I don’t let
people come in my group and say things that are false and
starting trouble.”

The company said it has a “three strike policy” when it comes
to violating the rules, and that all members are warned
before they are blocked. It told BuzzFeed News that it has
blocked people from the main group 788 times.

Doctors told BuzzFeed News that it’s true that cellulite is
caused by fat squeezing through fascia, but challenged many
of Black’s claims that the FasciaBlaster can “get rid” of
cellulite and pop fat cells, and that bruising is a
result of breaking up a “fascial
adhesion.” One doctor told BuzzFeed News these claims are
based on “loose science.”

It is possible to squeeze fat into small particles, Robin
Travers, a doctor with Skincare Physicians based in Chestnut
Hill, Massachusetts, told BuzzFeed News. But it’s “only from
very intense trauma, to the point where it would be
dangerous.”

Clinical studies have shown that massage may be a short-term
treatment to smooth out cellulite, but there is little
evidence that it has any permanent impact. A 1999 clinical
study in the Journal of Plastic and
Reconstructive Surgery showed there was no statistical
difference between the control group and the group that was
treated with massage to reduce cellulite. Of 35 people who
had their legs treated by massage, 10 said they thought their
cellulite appearance improved.

Another clinical study from 2009 published in the
International Journal of Dermatology showed massages were “mildly effective” in
reducing cellulite, while other studies have shown that the results
aren’t permanent.

While Black emphasizes bruising, describing it as a sign that the
treatment is working, Kathleen Cook Suozzi, an assistant
professor in the dermatology department at Yale School of
Medicine, told BuzzFeed News, “Bruises are pathologic, or an
indication of tissue injury, and shouldn’t be the goal of a
treatment.” Although trauma can destroy fat cells, it’s not
something you can control “with this kind of crude device.”

John Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive
surgery at Stanford Health Care, told BuzzFeed News that a
bruise is essentially a collection of blood beneath the skin.

“A bruise does not equal fascia being broken up,” he said.
And although Black claims the FasciaBlaster doesn’t bruise
healthy tissue when properly used, “any skin can get bruised.
It doesn’t matter if it’s healthy or not.”

There also isn’t any scientific evidence for Black’s claims
that cellulite can be massaged out of the body, Mathew Avram,
a doctor with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dermatology
Laser and Cosmetic Center, told BuzzFeed News.

“It’s hard to say something definitely works or doesn’t work
without having a clinical study that goes under scrutiny of
scientists that are not involved with the product,” he said.
As for perceived improvement, he said any reduced appearance
of cellulite from using the FasciaBlaster may be a result of
temporary swelling that conceals the cellulite.

Although there haven’t been any published clinical studies on
the device, the company has performed its own 90-day study. The results, posted on the company’s
website, show the subjects’ before-and-after pictures, and claim the device
decreased fat thickness and the appearance of cellulite. The
study was led by Jacob Wilson, CEO of the Applied Science and
Performance Institute, who also gives nutrition and training advice under the
name “The Muscle PhD.”

Black declined to share the raw data from the study with
BuzzFeed News because “no one at BuzzFeed is trained to look
at the raw data.”

Wilson told BuzzFeed News in a statement that “while the
reason fascia blasting works has yet to be fully understood,
it is likely that the fascia blasting frees fat cells from
fascia.” The results, he said, are consistent with three
clinical studies that show massage does have an effect on
cellulite appearance, although one of the studies he cites found the
effect “is not permanent.”

While the company said the 90-day study “did not identify any
adverse effects,” Michelle Lanum, a 36-year-old PhD student
in psychology at Keiser University and a subject in the
study, told BuzzFeed News that FasciaBlaster ignored her
complaints about the side effects she experienced from using
the tool while she was participating in the study.

Despite symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and vomiting —
which the company told her were unrelated to using the tool —
Lanum was sold on the product and wanted to partner with
FasciaBlaster on her dissertation. During the 12th week of
the study, however, she took a break from blasting due to
discomfort, although she reported, “I enjoyed and appreciated
my experience.” After speaking with other users about their
symptoms, Lanum stopped blasting and eventually abandoned it
as a research subject.

“I lost 18 pounds and they were excited,” she said. “But it
was because I hadn’t eaten and that’s not a good way to lose
weight.”

Despite skepticism from the medical community, Black defended
the science behind her tool to BuzzFeed News, as well as her
role as a scientist.

“To me a scientist is anyone who is willing to step out and
willing to be proven wrong and conduct research,” she said,
pointing to hiring Wilson to lead a 90-day study on the
FasciaBlaster, which returned positive results. “Does that
make me a scientist? Yes.”

BuzzFeed News spoke to 16 people who reported being injured
after treating themselves. Three of them told BuzzFeed News
they went to the emergency room for injuries they think may
have been a result of using the tool.

BuzzFeed News reviewed 62 reports of injuries and product
malfunctions related to the device that were submitted to the
FDA since October 2016. The reports include bruising, digestive issues, and sudden weight gain. (Black’s attorney said 77
FDA reports were filed in the last three months, and
attributes them to a campaign against FasciaBlaster.)

The FDA declined to comment to BuzzFeed News about the
product.

Black dismissed women who claim they’ve been injured by the
FasciaBlaster as “a Facebook group of rambling idiots.” She
said anyone who is experiencing injuries from the tool is not
following her instructions.

“I could say that glass vase causes bruises but only if I hit
myself over the head with it. If someone has excessive
bruising, they are improperly using it,” she said.

Among her fans is Cindy Hemphill, a 44-year-old woman in
Oklahoma, who told BuzzFeed News that she has been using the
FasciaBlaster since February. She said the bruising can be
painful, but her cellulite appears less distinctive.

“To me it’s just a little bruise and a little sore for a day,
but it’s totally worth it,” she said.

Black believes her success in treating people like Hemphill
is a testament to her “inquisitive and explorative mind.” She
believes in herself as a leader on the cutting edge of fascia
research, which should attract praise not complaints.

“The reason we did the research was not because we had to or
needed to, but because we wanted to,” she said. “I would like
to be awarded for how out of my way I have gone to produce
the best possible product.”

Leticia Miranda is a consumer affairs reporter for BuzzFeed
News and is based in New York.

Contact Leticia Miranda at leticia.miranda@buzzfeed.com.


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