Can Preparation H Make Your Belly Look Leaner?

We've all been there. Standing in front of the mirror in a bathing suit that you swear looked better last year, wishing you hadn't been the Girl Scout's No. 1 cookie customer. With your friends waiting in a car stuffed with beach chairs and towels, there is no quick fix for that slightly flabby postwinter look—or is there?

For years, bodybuilders have sworn by an unusual method for looking leaner fast: they apply over-the-counter hemorrhoid ointments like Preparation H to their stomach or anywhere else that doesn't look as defined as they'd like.

Does it work? Yes. Although the ointment does not dissolve fat or take off pounds, when applied it does make your body appear more toned, says New York City dermatologist Dr. Craig Austin. Here's how: Preparation H's active ingredient is phenylephrine, a natural vasoconstrictor, which means it constricts blood vessels. By constricting blood vessels, excess water is removed from under the skin. This in turn creates the illusion of a tighter, more fit body.

And how long will this quick-fix miracle last? "It won't last for very long—depending on how much you put on—a few hours is the most amount of time it will give that appearance," Austin says. You can always use more to maintain the look, but not too often. "If you overapply, you can cause the area to be dry, since you're constricting the blood vessels. If this is done on a more chronic basis, the skin can eventually become scaly, resembling eczema," says Austin. For a lean look that lasts, you'll have to actually exercise.