Despite my better judgment I have found myself drawn to magnetic therapy (bad pun intended). Magazines such as Allure and New Beauty have been hailing magnetic therapy as an anti-aging treatment and then something called the Venus Freeze was on The Doctors show touted as the answer to tummy flab and cellulite. So what are therapeutic magnets and are they viable treatments or money-wasting quackery?

Magnet therapy is the application of electromagnetic devices or static magnets to the body. The purported health benefits include pain relief, cancer and diabetes cure, cellulite and wrinkle erasure. The magnets might be in straps for wrists, ankles, knees, or the back, shoe insoles, mattresses, or blankets – my personal favorite is the magnetic bra. There are magnetic creams; supplements; patches and magnified water. It is said to be a $5 billion business.

The basic theory behind magnetic therapy is that the force of the positively charged particles in the magnets is able to influence the molecules in the body – without touching them. They are supposed to enlarge blood vessel diameter, increasing circulation and the flow of oxygen in the blood stream – thus, relieving pain or allowing the body to break down cellulite.

Hungarian beauty company ilike makes a face mask that involves use of a magnet (I’ve tried it, but at the time didn't have the faintest idea what the magnet was for). Since then, I found that the ilike says that “magnetic therapy is really about normalizing cellular activities and opening the way for proper nutrients to get to the cells.” Apparently, magnetic therapy targets cell metabolism, inflammation and detoxification.

The only problem is that magnetic therapy is notorious for the lack of evidence to back any of these claims up. There was one trial conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine that concluded that the placement of small magnets reduced pain in people who had recovered from polio.

But, mostly, research that exists is unconvincing or botched. And there are plenty of studies that fail to demonstrate any positive effects. For example, to test the claim of improved blood flow, one study compared magnets and otherwise identical nonmagnetic disks on the arms of volunteers. The researchers measured blood flow and found no difference between the real and fake magnets. And there are at least three well-designed pain-relief studies proved negative (source).

Venus Freeze promises to firm sagging jawlines, reshape arms and thighs, as well as eliminate love handles and cellulite. Actually, Venus Freeze uses radio frequency as well as “pulsed magnetic fields.” If it works at all, I’d put money on it being due to radio frequency. I once tried radio frequency for cellulite and was quite impressed by the results (although they are only maintained if accompanied by exercise and diet). Magnets, on the other hand, I’ll dismiss as a likely waste of time and money.