Is there any comfort in the fact that anyone can get cellulite? Thin people get cellulite, rich people get cellulite, beautiful people get cellulite. About 85% of women over the age of 18 have some degree of cellulite on their upper legs, buttocks, and abdomens. It can affect you regardless of ethnicity, age, race, weight, and lifestyle choices because cellulite is mostly a genetic disorder. This lumpy appearance on our thighs, some call it the cottage cheese look, is caused by fat cells bulging upwards – a function of the structure of how the fat and skin fit together. Our epidermis, the top layer of our skin, has fibrous anchors that go down to the fat layer of our skin, and it is these connections that cause the dimpling appearance of cellulite. While losing weight may help improve the appearance of cellulite on some people there are many other factors involved in the formation of cellulite that make it a huge challenge to treat. Of course that doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t willing to try – by 2012 it is estimated that Americans will spend more than $215 on anti-cellulite treatments.
Myths About Cellulite
Drinking water helps: If water could change skin structure and reduce fat I assure you no one would have cellulite, or would be overweight for that matter. Drinking water probably is beneficial (although there is really no research showing how much is healthy versus unhealthy) but there is no research showing water consumption will impact fat anywhere on your body, let alone the dimples on your thighs.
Arguments for high water intake are generally based on the assumption that because our bodies consist mostly of wa-ter (50-70% of body weight, about forty-two liters) and our blood, muscles, brain, and bones are made up mainly of wa-ter (85%, 80%, 75%, and 25%, respectively), we therefore need at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. But assumptions aren’t science and this one is a non-sequitur; it is similar to arguing that since our cars run on gasoline, they always need a full tank to run efficiently. (Source: American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology, November 2002, pages 993-1004)
Water retention causes cellulite: It’s ironic that low water intake is considered a possible cause of cellulite, and the polar opposite—retaining too much water—is thought to be a factor as well. There is lots of speculation of how water retention can affect cellulite but there is no actual research supporting this notion. Further, fat cells actually contain only about 10% water, so claiming to eliminate excess water won’t make a difference and any measurable result would be transient at best. It is true that water retention can make you look bloated and feel like you’ve gained weight, but water itself doesn’t impact fat or the appearance of cellulite. (Source: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, November 2003, pages 817-821)Eating a specialized diet can help: A healthy diet that encourages weight loss may help your entire body look better. How-ever, because weight in and of itself is not a cause of cellulite, dieting won’t change the skin structure of your thighs, which causes the dimpled contours to show. For some people cellulite is made worse by the accumulation of extra fat. In those cases, weight reduction may decrease the total area and depth of cellulite. (Source: Clinical Dermatology, July-August 2004, pages 303-309)
Exercise can help: Exercise helps almost every system in the human body, but it won’t necessarily impact the appearance of cellulite. Exercise doesn’t improve skin structure and it can’t affect localized areas of fat. In other words, you can’t spot reduce fat accumulation in a specific area. (Source: British Journal of Plastic Surgery, April 2004, pages 222-227)
Detoxifying the body reduces the appearance of cellulite: Detoxifying the body for consumers has taken on the meaning of purging it of pollutants or any other problem substances in the environment or in the foods we eat. In terms of the way this concept has been mass marketed, there is little research showing credible efficacy as to whether or not detoxification of the body is even possible. However, “detoxifying” the body as it is used in the scientific community describes the process of reducing cellular damage primarily by antioxidants or enzymes that prevent certain abnormal or undesirable cell func-tions from taking place. There is no doubt this is helpful for the body. Whether or not this reduces cellulite is completely unknown because skin structure and fat accumulation are not caused by toxins in the environment. Furthermore, there are no studies showing toxins of any kind prevent fat from being broken down. (Sources: Journal of Endotoxin Research, April 2005, pages 69-84 and Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, May 2003, pages 258-264)
Cellulite treatment options fall into two main categories: topical products and machines. I’ll also mention mesotherapy which are injections.
In my opinion, topical creams that claim to treat cellulite are pretty much a big waste of your money. I’m certainly not alone in my opinion. Ellen Marmur, MD in her book Simple Skin Beauty, page 213 writes:
As with most topicals, any visible results wash off or fade away fast. Again, if any one of these really worked, it would be the hottest product on the market. … My advice: save your money, let the cellulite battle go, and buy yourself a beautiful pair of shoes. That will have a much better payoff.
Furthermore, Paula Begoun states:
As far as skin-care products for the body are concerned, the litany of options is mesmerizing. Yet there is almost no uniformity between formulas. It would appear, if the claims are to be believed, a wide variety of unrelated plant extracts can deflate or break down fat and/or restructure skin. Looking at the research, however, most articles suggest there is little hope that anything rubbed on the skin can change fat deposits or radically improve the appearance of cellulite.
The hope that botanicals have the answer is odd because not one study points to what concentration of an ingredient needs to be in a formulation, what physiochemical characteristics particular to each active ingredient need to be present, or whether or not these ingredients retain any standardized properties between batches. (Sources: Dermatologic Surgery, July 2005, pages 866-872 and The European Journal of Dermatology, December 2000, pages 596–603)
So as tempting as it is to think that you can solve your cellulite problem with a cream – skip it. At best these creams and lotions very temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite. But there is one thing to keep in mind – a fake tan will make your cellulite less noticeable. So thinking to invest in a good self-tanner is actually a viable option in order to disguise your cellulite temporarily. (For a very thorough breakdown of both ingredients and products that claim to treat cellulite see Paula Begoun’s article)
What about in office treatments?
First let me talk about mesotherapy which I would advise against. During a mesotherapy treatment caffeine, enzymes, anti-inflammatories, alphahydroxy acids, vitamins, or the drugs phosphatydalcholine and deoxycholate are injected into the areas of cellulite and fatty deposits. It is said that these injections help to break up fat cells (fat cells burst and die) and reduce cellulite. Complications can include ulcers, scarring, deformities, skin infections, and tissue damage. Mesotherapy is widely practiced in Europe, but highly controversial in the United States. Currently the FDA has started cracking down on medical spas that offer this treatment, but it has taken the FDA time to look into the practice since it falls outside of FDA regulations. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery along with the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation is conducting a FDA approved study on the safety and efficacy of mesotherapy. There is a hope that in the future there will be both a FDA approved formula for injection and a standardization of procedures, safety, and protocols. As I already stated, I would stay away from mesotherapy. Once the FDA reaches its conclusions about this procedure it might be time to reconsider, but overall I think it will never be a good option for treating cellulite.
Perhaps you have heard of Endermologie or VelaSmooth for treating cellulite. Endermologie uses rollers and suction to massage areas with cellulite, and while the device is FDA approved for cellulite treatment that does not prove that it actually works as claims. At best these treatments are expensive and offer a temporary improvement in the appearance of cellulite. So try Endermologie at your own risk, a risk mostly to your bank account. Velasmooth combines infrared light, radio-frequency, and mechanical suction in an attempt to reduce the appearance of cellulite by heating the fat and liquefying it or reducing its size. As with Endermologie a series of treatments is needed in order to see results with Velasmooth, and once again, treatments do not come cheap. Results, as always, are mixed. Personally I would save my money when it comes to both of these treatments. While there are few risks to your health with these treatments, they also don’t really work. The only place you will see a real difference is in your bank account. Save your money!
There are even more procedures out there that claim to address cellulite including cellulite subscissions that uses a needle to sever the anchors under the skin so that the skin looks smoother. While this might make theoretical sense, it works successfully on acne scars, safety studies are few and far between and the surgery is expensive.
I’ll reiterate what Dr. Marmur wrote:
Save your money, let the cellulite battle go, and buy yourself a beautiful pair of shoes. That will have a much better payoff.
And if you really, really want to try something to reduce the appearance of your cellulite before wearing a bathing suit or short skirt I’ll mention it again – use a self-tanner to temporarily disguise the appearance of cellulite. Above all – don’t believe the hype or anything for that matter when it comes to cellulite treatments.
Sources and Further Reading
Simple Skin Beauty by Ellen Marmur, MD – pages 212-213
Caution Cellulite: What Works & What Doesn’t - Paula Begoun
Mesotherapy information: New Beauty Magazine, Summer/Fall 2010 – pages 66 and 145
Iron-Clad Cellulite Solutions – DaySpa Magazine (article not available online) has some good and some outdated information about cellulite treatments. The article in good for the list of ingredients and products that supposedly fight cellulite.