Most people have cellulite, and practically everyone wants to be rid of it. Some people would give an arm and a leg or a few months of their lives to be rid of cellulite for good.
- Despite the angst it creates for women, especially in summer when shorts and swimsuits are essential, cellulite is a natural part of the human condition rather than a medical problem.
- Anyone can get cellulite. Women are more likely to develop cellulite with age and changes in weight, both gain and loss, but some men also develop cellulite.
- Cellulite appears in stages. One way to find out whether you have cellulite is the pinch test. When you pinch the skin on your outer thigh, buttocks or abdomen between your index finger and thumb, if you have cellulite, signs of dimpling will appear.
What is cellulite?
Cellulite is the dimpling, uneven effect visible on the skin caused by fat deposits just below the surface of the skin. Some people liken the appearance of cellulite to cottage cheese or orange peel. Cellulite can occur in any body area that can develop fat deposits, including the thighs, buttocks, hips, lower abdomen, upper arms and breasts. In very mild cases, the dimpling is only visible when the skin is pinched.
The superficial layers of skin are connected to each other with fibrous cords of connective tissue that can only stretch to a limited extent. When fatty tissue is deposited in the spaces between these layers, the skin tends to bulge out in areas with little connective tissue, and stay taut where the connecting fibres hold it in place. This is what causes the uneven dimpling or peaks and valleys effect of cellulite.
Despite the angst it creates for women, especially in summer when shorts and swimsuits are essential, cellulite is a natural part of the human condition rather than a medical problem. No one wants to learn that “cellulite is the new normal” although that’s pretty close to the truth.
Who is likely to have cellulite?
Anyone can have cellulite. Women are more likely to develop cellulite with age and changes in weight, both gain and loss, but some men also develop cellulite. The Mayo Clinic website states that 8 out of 10 women at any age have some degree of cellulite. The way fat is distributed in the female body—typically in the thighs, buttocks and hips—is a factor in women being more prone to the condition than men. Cellulite is found more commonly in Caucasian women than in those of Asian descent.
As the skin loses its natural elasticity with age and sun damage, cellulite can become worse.
Although weight gain can make cellulite more visible, it can develop in lean people as well. Cellulite tends to run in families, which means there is a genetic element in play.
An inactive lifestyle, stress and use of hormonal contraceptives can also increase the appearance of cellulite.
On the other hand, even if all of these factors except your genes are eliminated, there’s no guarantee you’ll never develop cellulite. This is why ‘cures’ are so heavily in demand.
The stages of cellulite
Cellulite appears in stages. One way to find out whether you have cellulite is the pinch test. When you pinch the skin on your outer thigh, buttocks or abdomen between your index finger and thumb, if you have cellulite, signs of dimpling will appear.
The other, called the Nurnberger-Muller scale, classifies cellulite development based on a four-stage process, where stage 0 is considered “normal” and stage 3 the most advanced.
You can this scale to determine the stage of cellulite on your buttocks and thighs:
- 0: The skin appears smooth, and there is no dimpling while you are standing or lying down. You can count your blessings. For now.
- 1: The skin looks dimpled when pinched or when you are sitting on a hard surface.
- 2: Cellulite is visible when you are standing; when you lie down your skin looks smooth.
- 3: Cellulite can be seen while standing and lying down.
Knowing the stage of your cellulite helps because; rather than ignore the cellulite—which will eventually increase—you can make lifestyle changes to prevent it from getting worse.
Can cellulite be prevented?
Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic “There is no way to prevent cellulite.”
The most effective way to hold it at bay is avoiding excess weight gain and strengthening your muscles. A regular exercise routine will also help keep your skin toned. Here’s what can help:
- Changing your diet Including lots of fruits, vegetables and fibre in your diet and keeping well hydrated will help you improve your skin.
- Toning exercises can improve skin tone and help make cellulite less visible.
- Weight loss Changing your diet along with regular exercise can help reduce fat on your legs, thighs, abdomen and buttocks, which can significantly improve the appearance of dimpling.
- Maintaining a stable weight Erratically losing and gaining weight can make your cellulite look worse. Once you have arrived at a weight that makes you happy and healthy, remaining at that weight over time can help prevent the formation of additional cellulite.
- Quit smoking Giving up smoking will improve your skin texture, which in turn helps with the appearance of cellulite.
- Manage stress Stress is a known factor in developing cellulite, so managing your stress levels and keeping them low should have a positive effect.
While all these strategies will improve your health and can reduce the risk of cellulite, they cannot guarantee that you will never get it.
Different types of cellulite treatments
There are a variety of cellulite treatments or reduction methods on the market. Some work better than others. These include lasers, ultrasound and other technologies; liposuction; topical treatments (like creams) and massage techniques.
Laser and radiofrequency treatment systems
Many therapies use lasers and other energy sources as a therapy for cellulite. The Mayo Clinic website has this to say on the matter:
“Perhaps the most promising medical therapy is lasers and radiofrequency systems. One system uses combined negative tissue massage, radiofrequency and infrared light to treat cellulite. Another system delivers combined tissue massage with diode laser energy. A third system uses radiofrequency at deep and superficial levels simultaneously to treat cellulite. All three systems offer improvements to cellulite after a series of treatments. Results may last up to six months.”
If you look at the various cellulite treatments available, you will see that solutions are offered under many brand names. Often the treatments are combined with suction, massage and even topical treatments.
Here are some of the popular brands:
- AWT or Accoustic Wave Therapy – The safety of the AWT methodology in reducing fat layers of skin and temporarily improving cellulite appearance has been scientifically demonstrated.
- Cellulaze –A minimally invasive laser procedure designed to attack the structure of cellulite beneath the skin. Cynosure, which markets Cellulaze, promises “long-lasting results after only one short treatment”.
During a Cellulaze treatment a small cannula is inserted under the skin, and pulsed laser energy is delivered through the cannula. A small study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal in March 2011 determined that “a single treatment with the pulsed laser improved the appearance of cellulite, an improvement that persisted through at least one year of follow-up with minimal adverse effects”.
Laser beams have multiple effects on cellulite. They release the fibrous bands pulling down the skin, reduce the lumpy pockets of fat that tend to protrude through the connective tissue bands and stimulate collagen production, which in turn increases the thickness and quality of the skin.
The surgeon marks the areas of cellulite that must be treated and uses local anaesthesia or a numbing solution to reduce any pain. A tiny cannula is inserted under the skin to deliver the laser beam. Liquefied fat is gently pressed out of the skin through the cannula incisions. Usually there will be some level of bruising and discomfort. In some cases the surgeon may ask you to wear a compression garment after the procedure for better results. Expect the procedure to take one to one and half hours.
Cynosure says that your results will continue to improve for three to twelve months.
Although the role of liposuction is to remove excess fat and give a better shape to your body, it cannot completely remove cellulite from the skin. In fact, according to MedLinePlus website, a service from the US National Library of Medicine, sometimes liposuction can make cellulite look worse.
The exception may be the newer laser-assisted liposuction techniques that can destroy fat cells while tightening the skin.
There are many varieties of anti-cellulite creams and ointments available over the counter, and it is difficult to find proof of efficacy for most of them. A large number of offerings include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and herbal extracts which claim to offer a cure for cellulite. Few are backed by any scientific proof that they can improve cellulite at all.
Here are some products that have some level of scientific evidence behind them:
- Retinol cream has been shown to improve cellulite after six months when applied daily. The recommended concentration is 0.3 percent.
- Dietary modifications combined with a topical slimming cream containing caffeine and nelumbo nucifera extracts showed positive results when tested by L’Oreal on 50 non-obese women between 18 and 45 years of age. While some level of slimming was achieved even without the cream, it improved skin tone and produced some results.
There may be other topical treatments that improve cellulite, but none of them have been proven to produce stunning results. If they had, you’d probably have heard about them already.
A study on ingredients and the safety of cellulite creams published in the European Journal of Dermatology in 2000 found that, in spite of the large number of substances used in cellulite creams, their safety seems acceptable for most users. The study found, however, that nearly one fourth of the substances used have been shown to cause allergic symptoms in some people.
Massage treatments and other alternatives
A variety of cellulite treatments are based on massage therapies. The theory is that massage can improve blood flow and stimulate the lymphatic system to improve drainage, speeding up the flushing of toxins and removing excess fluid in cellulite-prone parts of the body.
Some cellulite treatments use more than one method, combining massage, electro/mechanical means and even topical applications in one therapy. One such method is Endermologie.
- Endermologie or Lipomassage uses a hand-held device to knead the skin between its rollers using adjustable suction pressure. The treatments, typically provided as a series of bi-weekly sessions, encourage lymphatic drainage and the release of fatty deposits. Endermologie therapy may provide a slight improvement in skin condition; but the results are usually temporary.There is some evidence that manual and mechanical lymph drainage and massage stimulation can be effective in treating cellulite. A study of 33 healthy women who received a total of 15 twice-weekly LPG treatment sessions and who had cellulite grades, 1-3 based on the Nurnberger-Muller scale concluded, “LPG endermologie is a well-tolerated and effective method for reducing the diameter of body circumference. However, it is [only] mildly effective in reducing the cellulite grade and so, improving its orange-peel appearance.” The study was published in the International Journal of Dermatology in 2009. A randomised controlled trial on 35 women conducted at the Department of Plastic Surgery of the Bradford Royal Infirmary in England found that only 10 of 35 Endermologie-treated legs saw an improvement in cellulite appearance.
- Hypoxi therapy for cellulite combines vacuum technology with exercise. It works by trying to increase blood flow to affected areas like the thighs, buttocks and hips with the belief it will burn fat and flush out toxins. During treatment, the lower half of the body is sealed in an airtight capsule and the feet are secured to a pedalling machine. Pedalling for 30 to 40 minutes under varied air pressure is believed to accelerate the body’s fat metabolism and boost blood circulation. A typical therapy recommendation is twelve sessions. Reduction in fat deposits rather than fluid retention is supposed to produce results with this system.
- Mesotherapy treatment involves injecting a solution containing a combination of aminophylline, enzymes, hormones, herbal extracts, minerals and vitamins under the skin. There is evidence that some of the ingredients used in mesotherapy solutions can help reduce fat and the appearance of cellulite.
Mesotherapy treatments can cause several unwanted effects in some people, including rashes, infection and uneven bumpy skin contours.
There are many solutions available for those who are unable to embrace their cellulite as a natural part of themselves. Take precautions and do your research before going with any particular method for improving the appearance of cellulite. And if you opt for treatments that require the services of a trained professional, make sure you choose a qualified medical professional.
 Güleç AT.Treatment of cellulite with LPG endermologie.Int J Dermatol. 2009 Mar;48(3):265-70.