Dove Soap's new "Campaign for Real Beauty" is planting rounder-than-usual models on billboards and in print ads to promote a new line of products. A single line of text appears: "New Dove Firming. As tested on real curves." This, along with the models' size, suggests the products somehow restrain jiggly flesh.

The body wash label says it "moisturizes to improve skin's elasticity in days." The lotion label says "testing proves . . . after 2 weeks, skin is noticeably firmer," while the cream promises that in two weeks "the appearance of cellulite is visibly reduced." The language avoids making explicit health claims, which would require FDA approval.

The products contain spa staples such as seaweed extract and collagen, plus a Dove concoction called "24-hour Nutri-Serum," which contains glycerin, lipids, vitamins A, E and B5, grapeseed, green tea extract, magnesium and zinc. Sounds yummy -- but can it work?

Firm Facts? Laurie Coyle of Dove's research and development department said via e-mail that the products "have immediate benefits that are maintained over time with continued use. . . . [I]ncreased hydration leads to improvements in the natural biological processes in the underlying tissue."

But Stephen Mandy, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Miami, said that he has no idea whether the products firm skin, though some ingredients have the potential. Elastin peptides "can fool the skin into thinking it needs to make more collagen," which could make skin look smoother, Mandy said. Seaweed extract might relax small muscles around the eyes, but would have little effect on larger muscles. Vitamin A, he said, "is one of the few substances that has been shown to increase collagen and elastic tissue," but it's found in many skin products.

As for the firming-fat question: Mandy says he knows of only two substances that have been shown in scientific literature to reduce cellulite: caffeine (applied topically) and aminophylline. Neither is listed among the firming line's ingredients, though the green tea extract may contain some caffeine, Mandy says. The amount is likely too small to make a difference, he adds, but, again, "there's no way to know."

The Bottom Line The Dove products "may have some benefit," Mandy said, "but you have to be very realistic about your expectations."

-- Jennifer Huget

Products may be able to firm skin -- but can they control the flesh of big women, as the ads imply?