Cellulite: What Is It? How Can You Treat It?

Spring is here. You can finally stop salting your icy sidewalk and start focusing on summer issues, like cellulite.

What is cellulite?

It’s the dimpling and nodularity that occurs in women on the thighs, pelvis and abdomen. Cellulite is the result of fat pouching out of holes in the connective tissue on the skin. It occurs in 98% of girls and women post puberty. That’s right. Essentially all females have cellulite. It is a normal characteristic of sexually mature women.

Here’s what cellulite is not:

  • Cellulite is not fat. It is the appearance of the superficial fat held loosely beneath the skin. The fat is held more tightly in men which is why we do not develop cellulite.
  • Obesity doesn’t cause cellulite. Look around and you will see that skinny women have cellulite (in real life anyway).
  • Cellulite is not an accumulation of toxins or fluids; it is normal fat.

How Can You Get Rid of Cellulite?

The best treatments for cellulite have at most shown mild improvements in the appearance. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, the improvements are not maintained over time. This is because it is hard to change the loose connective fibers under the skin, which are the primary cause.

  • Weight loss can improve cellulite, but not always. Losing weight can make the skin sag, and weight loss has been shown to actually worsen the appearance of cellulite in some women.
  • Endermologie is a kneading system (like my grandmother would knead the pizza dough). Although there is some evidence it can reduce thigh circumference, how long the effects last is questionable.
  • Liposuction removes fat through suction. It is not a good treatment for cellulite because the fat is too superficial. Liposuction combined with a laser to treat cellulite sounds interesting, but has not been shown to work better than ordinary liposuction.
  • Subcision, which targets the connective tissue bands by snipping them, is a great idea, but in practice has not been shown to be very effective. There is some concern that snipping the connective fibers might actually make the fat looser, worsening the problem.
  • Mesotherapy is the injection of medications under the skin to dissolve the fat. Although it has worked for some, the results are unpredictable and can cause adverse side effects such as bruising or pain.
  • Radiofrequency treatments like TriActive or VelaSmooth generate heat under the skin damaging the fat and connective tissue, hopefully smoothing the cellulite. Improvements have been reported, but no long term efficacy has been demonstrated.
  • Herbal creams have been studied and had no effect on cellulite. It is unlikely that any topical treatment can penetrate far enough down and be potent enough to have any effect.
  • Diet has no effect on cellulite.
  • It is possible that regular exercise can improve the circulation of cellulite areas, improving the appearance, but no studies have shown that it has a significant impact. Work out because it is good for you, but stop looking at your behind in the gym mirror.
  • There are some upcoming technologies that are promising. I’ll post about them later.

What Should You Do About Cellulite?

Because it is a normal occurence in women, it’s reasonable to simply tell yourself: “Hey, this is normal!” and stop killing yourself trying to eliminate it. Many women have been pleased with any of the above treatments, but they’re all expensive and likely all temporary. If it is worth spending $500 to have a 50% improvement in your cellulite, then make an appointment with your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss your options.

Keep in mind that your friends or partner might not notice that your cellulite is 50% better (what does 50% better cellulite look like anyway?). If you’re worried that you might be featured in a magazine, don’t fret. You will receive the only known cure for cellulite: Photoshop.

Do you have cellulite? Have you tried to eliminate it? How successful was it?

Photo: Tassoman