Slimming treatments are a social component of this age of immediate gratification. Imagine forgoing the circuit-training, aerobic classes and Weight Watcher sessions for the much more pleasant experience of lying on a padded massage table in a darkened room, your extra fat kneaded away by machines and strong hands, your muscles artificially exercised by electric currents. Business is reportedly booming for beauty therapists and salons peddling slimming treatments and cosmetic houses which have created anti-cellulite products. Clarins and Christian Dior have given women best-selling gels and creams designed to tone sagging skin, and specialist companies like Elancyl and Lierac have recently done the same. Take Elancyl's new Extreme Contouring Formula, launched just in time for the bikini season. Indeed, it would seem that even when economic cutbacks are called for, some women still need to deal with the curse of cellulite. 'I'm not sure why, but our G5 [slimming treatment] has become more and more popular in the past six months,' said Ferriel Brooks, managing director of hair and beauty salon Head to Toe. G5, practised by a number of local salons, involves use of a machine which features rotating heads used to pummel problem areas on the body. It works as a deep massager to break down fat globules. An hour-long treatment costs $450, and a course of 10 is advised before results can be seen. Staff at high-end fitness and beauty clubs, Philip Wain and Body by Deborah, agree that the various wraps and slimming treatments they offer are as popular, if not more so, as the Stairmaster. Other salons offer seaweed body wraps and lymphatic drainage treatments, designed to detoxify and wring excess water from the body, thus cutting down on inches in a matter of hours; while sometimes effective, the results can be short-term: drink a diet soda at a party and the tummy inevitably expands again. Beauty specialist Frederique Deleage offers something called the CACI treatment at her Wyndham Street salon. CACI (Computer-Aided Cosmetology Instrument) uses 'micro-current therapy' to fight cellulite, fluid retention and fatty areas. 'We are doing a lot of slimming treatments these days, partly because before the summer women want to try anything that will reshape and detoxify their bodies. Generally people are much more into a total health-and-beauty approach,' said Ms Deleage. 'But we always tell them that while results can be excellent, they will not be consistent unless these treatments are accompanied by a certain lifestyle.' Another hi-tech procedure, Ionithermie, has won a steady following locally and overseas because the effects are longer-lasting. And at $988 for a 90-minute treatment, they should be - especially given that a course of five is required for the best results. 'I know what works and what doesn't,' said Storme Thompson, a former fitness trainer who works for the British-based Ionithermie company. Ms Thompson was in Hong Kong last week to train practitioners of Ionithermie and administer the treatment to clients of upscale beauty salon, the Beautiful Skin Centre. Not surprisingly, given the surge of interest in slimming procedures, she was fully booked out for five days. So, given the quiet hype that surrounds this particular process, we decided to try it. The lead-up is typical slimming session fodder: clients have to answer a whole range of questions - Ionithermie does carry some contra-indications - and if all is deemed well, the process begins. The client is measured, and then has to slip on a pair of paper undies, clamber on to a table . . . and prepare to be slimmed. Ms Thompson first massages various creams and gels into the lower part of the body (a machine has been devised to cater to the upper regions but is not yet available in Hong Kong). Then she covers the entire region from waist to knee with a fine layer of gauze. On top she slathers a thermal clay and algae compound, recently modified to include essential oils like cypress and pine. All appear relaxing enough, until she wheels out a machine that looks like it was swiped from the set of ER. 'This will feel a little prickly,' she said. 'But bear with it.' The warning was understated. Small pads placed on the body mask sent galvanic currents surging through the skin, supposedly to do battle against fatty deposits. More pads convey faradic electrical currents which stimulate the muscles. It is hard not to gasp in pain as the body gets accustomed to the electrical invasion. The first five minutes is not fun - the initial sensation is one of sharp, hot tingling and muscles being weirdly, uncontrollably pulled. But Ms Thompson's words proved true: eventually, a slow, warm, rhythmic pulse made the experience oddly relaxing. After 30 minutes or so of this, the clay mask comes off and measurements are taken. Ms Thompson said she has seen up to 20 centimetres come off all over the lower body after one treatment; women who do not exercise tend to notice greater effects because their muscles are not used to being worked. More visibly, the marbled, uneven tone on hips, thighs and buttocks that are, sadly, part of being a woman appears sleeker and smoother afterwards. 'But it's not a quick fix,' pointed out Ms Thompson, who hands out diet and exercise sheets to her clients, adding that Ionithermie can be an incentive for those about to start a health-and-fitness regime. Head to Toe's Ms Brooks stresses that slimming procedures are 'only an aid, not a cure-all'. 'Done by itself, this will not work. G5 is excellent for lessening the orange-peel effect of the skin, but then the point is not to put any more fat into your body. It's also important to exercise, drink lots of water and try to increase circulation.' Nigar Qureshi, director of Beaute par Zai (a salon which, 22 years ago, was among the first to introduce G5 to Hong Kong) uses more bravado. 'We are referred to as the guru of slimming treatments. We have never not seen results.' Her treatment rooms - in Stanley Street, Central and the Regent Hotel - are busier than ever. 'Slimming treatments also help to detoxify the body. After a while, you get hooked on it.' While fundamentally the same as any other G5 session, the version proffered at Beaute par Zai involves deep hand massage along with a machine-based application. Ms Qureshi said kneading problem areas of the body manually 'breaks down the fat once we have brought it up with the machine'. So convinced is Ms Qureshi of the efficacy of this treatment she offers a money-back guarantee. 'I have had clients for several years, who now come once a week just to maintain their weight. Even if there was a typhoon, they would never cancel.'