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Cellulite: The Naked Truth On A Bumpy Subject

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on April 22, 2021.

Women Get Cellulite Much More Frequently Than Men

How unfair is that!

Cellulite is caused by fat cells squeezing through bands of collagen, the connective tissue that attaches your muscles to your skin. Collagen in women is vertical, which makes it easier for fat cells to push through and pucker up. This is in contrast to men who have crisscrossed layers of collagen which keep their fat in place, and who rarely (if ever) get cellulite.

Hormones, such as estrogen, and genetics also play a role. Being overweight increases your body fat stores which increases cellulite. Unfortunately, even if you lose weight your cellulite won't completely disappear although it may look better.

It is possible to improve the way cellulite looks with treatments that improve circulation or draw out moisture that can become lodged between bands of collagen. Keeping to a healthy weight and exercises that target your butt muscles help as well!

How Effective Is Rubbing Caffeine Or Other Substances On Your Skin?

Research suggests scrubbing caffeine-containing products on your skin stimulates blood vessel dilation and improves circulation, plumping up the skin and making cellulite less obvious. However, trials only show a temporary, modest, 17% to 26% reduction in cellulite appearance that usually disappears within a week.

Caffeine applied to your skin is usually harmless, although some women may be sensitive to it and develop a skin reaction. Although commercially available creams can be costly, left-over coffee grounds are a cheap alternative.

The bottom line: topical caffeine-containing products may slightly improve the way cellulite looks, but not overwhelmingly. And buying expensive caffeine-containing creams may waste your money.

Be aware that drinking caffeine has the opposite effect, as it may cause dehydration and exacerbate the way your cellulite looks.

Retinol is probably better known for its effects against acne, but a twice-daily application of 0.3 percent retinol cream has also been shown to improve the appearance of cellulite after six months.

Cryolipolysis: Fat Freezing Excess Fat

Cryolipolysis (CoolSculpting) involves the non-invasive cooling of body fat to break down fat cells.

A visible decrease in fat bulges usually takes two to four months to be seen. The procedure best suits people who are relatively fit but who have stubborn areas of love handles that don't budge with diet or exercise.

Anesthesia and pain medication are not needed. But it doesn't come cheap! With the average cost between $2,000 and $4,000 per session depending on the area of body being treated, it is not cheap, although it is generally effective for most people, with an average 20% fat reduction seen.

Mesotherapy Is Not A Proven Treatment

Mesotherapy is the practice of injecting a mixture of various extracts and vitamins under the skin using ultra-fine needles. This practice originated in Europe, and was traditionally used for pain relief, but some clinics, particularly in the United States, promote it for fat and cellulite treatment. It is also known as intradermotherapy and has never been approved by the FDA for cellulite treatment.

One particular ingredient, phosphatidylcholine, is typically included in a mesotherapy mixture for its "fat-dissolving" properties. Little research has been done investigating the safety of phosphatidylcholine for this purpose, although small reports indicate some effect against fat cells. In 2010, the FDA warned against injections that claim to dissolve fat, such as those containing phosphatidylcholine. The FDA is concerned that these ingredients have never been properly evaluated for their effectiveness, and that side effects such as permanent scarring, skin deformation, and lumps under the skin at the site of the injections have been reported.

Liposuction Is Not The Magic Cure

If you are looking for a magic cure for cellulite, then liposuction isn't it. While liposuction may be effective for removing the odd "love handle" or two around the hips, it can have unpredictable results and may cause irregularities that are hard to correct.

Laser-assisted liposuction is a less invasive form of liposuction that uses a laser to destroy fat cells rather than sucking them out. Some clinics report more favorable results with regards to improving the appearance of cellulite with this treatment compared with standard liposuction; however, this is controversial and the benefits of laser-assisted liposuction over other types of liposuction are unproven.

CLA: Does It Really Reduce Cellulite?

Conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) are a type of supplement derived from animal fat that were originally marketed as anti-obesity agents. Now, numerous sources state they are effective at reducing cellulite as well. But are they?

The truth is very little good quality research has been done. While some animal studies showed a weight loss effect, CLAs appeared ineffective in human studies. Side effects such as insulin resistance, body-wide inflammation, and a decrease in good (HDL) cholesterol were also reported. CLA mobilizes fat contained in fat-storing cells, increasing the risk of it ending up in the heart or liver.

Radiofrequency, Infrared Light, Laser, and Other Treatments

There are many other types of cellulite treatment and all are reportedly successful to differing degrees at improving the appearance of cellulite....for the short-term only. Unless you have unlimited money to spend on maintenance treatment, within a few months your butt will have reverted to the way it was before treatment.

Velashape III is a non-invasive therapy that uses both infrared light and mechanical massage to increase lymphatic drainage and reduce the size of fat cells and fat chambers. Results start to appear after four treatments but repeated therapy at least every three months is required to see a real difference.

Cellulaze uses lasers to break down the structure of cellulite beneath your skin. It can help increase skin thickness, release the bands that create dimples, stimulate collagen production, and flatten out fat. The treatment can cost around $4000, and the results are supposed to last for about a year or two.

BTL Unison uses a combination of thermal and mechanical energy to break up fibrous bands of collagen, improve circulation, and boost skin elasticity and collagen production. It can leave skin visibly more elastic and smoother with reduced dimples and there is no downtime or pain. Four treatments at around $1000 each are needed over two-weeks to see the best results.

Other common treatments include Theramage and Vaser, but these typically take around 6 months to see results.

Dry-brushing involves using a stiff-bristled brush against the skin to stimulate the lymphatic system while exfoliating the skin. Although free, it is unlikely to result in any benefit and more likely to cause skin irritation and increase the risk of infections. Plus, it needs to be done every day.

Long-term lifestyle changes, and regular, targeted exercises are still the best way to combat cellulite long-term.

Cellfina: Targeting The Structural Cause Of Cellulite

In 2015, the FDA approved Cellfina, a minimally invasive procedure that treats the primary structural cause of cellulite with results lasting for up to three years.

The Cellfina treatment takes less than an hour for a qualified physician to administer. Initially, lidocaine (an anesthetic) is used to anesthetise each individual dimple. Then the area of tissue is sucked up and a tiny, sharp-edged needle automatically slides under the skin to sever the band of connective tissue responsible for the lumpy look of cellulite.

After-effects may include a couple of days of initial tenderness and up to two weeks of bruising and swelling. Rarely, lumpy bruises that may last up to a month can occur. Most people report better improvement in the appearance of their buttocks compared to their thighs.

It's All About That Bass

Specific butt and thigh exercises are the best way to naturally boost circulation and tone muscles in cellulite-prone areas.

Single-leg hip raises, squats, lunges, and step-ups are the best targeted exercises you can do for your butt. And best of all, you can do them at home, without any extra equipment, although faster results may be seen if hand weights are used as well.

Cellulite is exacerbated by poor circulation, which is why massage may help as a treatment. But the massage needs to be vigorous (deeper massage stimulates better blood circulation), and the resulting improvement only temporary.

Two to three days improvement in your cellulite is probably the best you can hope for, although the more regularly you are massaged, the longer-lasting the results will be.

Diet and Good Lifestyle Choices Are Key

Your body is a reflection of the food you eat and how much you exercise. Alcohol, processed foods, and sugar-containing foods are the perfect fuel for dimply thighs. Smoking reduces circulation and also contributes to that puckered look.

Water and green tea are great for keeping your body hydrated and improving circulation. Add a squeeze of lemon to boost your metabolism and eat at least five servings of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables every day.

Finished: Cellulite: The Naked Truth On A Bumpy Subject

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Sources

  • Velasco MV, Tano CT, Machado-Santelli GM, et al. Effects of caffeine and siloxanetriol alginate caffeine, as anticellulite agents, on fatty tissue: histological evaluation. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Mar;7(1):23-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2008.00357.x.
  • Mayo Clinic. Cellulite. 2021 http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulite/basics/alternative-medicine/con-20029901
  • McBean JC, Katz BE. Laser Lipolysis: An Update. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2011;4(7):25-34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140909
  • Your Cellulite Questions, Answered. Fitness Magazine. 2020 http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/lose-weight/burn-fat/cellulite-causes/
  • Cellulite. DermNet New Zealand http://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/cellulite/
  • How Cellfina┬« Works to Improve the Appearance of Cellulite. Cellfina. https://www.cellfina.com/how-cellfina-works
  • Gold G, Aberman M. The Best Cellulite Treatments That Actually Work. Womens Health Magazine April 19, 2021 https://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/a19984521/best-cellulite-treatments/

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.