Stop wasting your time on methods that don’t work. (Photo: Mariano Pozo/Getty Images)
Ah, cellulite. Almost every woman has dimpled skin somewhere on her body, and it’s probably safe to say almost every woman bemoans it.
“Cellulite is a very common problem,” says dermatologist Karyn Grossman, founder of Grossman Dermatology in Los Angeles and New York City. “And a lot of women feel bad about themselves because of cellulite.”
The blame for the lumps and bumps falls squarely on the bands of connective tissue that surround pockets of fat deep within your skin. As these fibrous bands pull down, like stitches on a down comforter, and the fat cells accumulate, this creates bulging fat pockets that show up on the skin’s surface. Having less than thick, firm skin also makes these bulges more noticeable.
Now that you know what causes cellulite, let’s clear up some misinformation about what makes this common problem worse and what actually works when it comes to minimizing dimples on your thighs and rear. We rounded up some common beliefs about cellulite and asked the experts what’s true and what’s not:
Cellulite rears its ugly head when you reach adulthood.
Verdict: Myth. Well, here’s something we didn’t know: “You develop cellulite when you hit puberty,” says Grossman. “Children have tight, smooth skin. Teens still often have that tight, smooth skin, but they may have those dimples. As you get older and lose elasticity in your skin, it gets worse.”
Only overweight people have cellulite.
Verdict: Myth. It’s true that the more fat you have under your skin, the greater the bulging pockets that create cellulite’s lumps and bumps. “But even very thin women can have cellulite,” says Grossman. There’s also a genetic component to it. “If you have family members who have cellulite, it means you’re probably going to be more prone to developing it,” she notes.
Weight loss helps improve cellulite.
Verdict: Fact. With cellulite, “a lot of it is not something you have under your control,” says Grossman. “What you do have under control is your fat. If your BMI is on the high side, losing body fat will improve your cellulite.”
Research backs that up: A small study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that overweight people with high BMIs and severe cellulite who lost weight and lowered their percentage of thigh fat showed the greatest improvement in terms of the appearance of cellulite. However, in thinner people who had significantly lower BMIs who lost a small amount of weight and saw no change in their percentage of thigh fat, the cellulite actually became more noticeable. Cellulite also looked worse for people whose skin became significantly looser after losing weight. As Grossman points out, “Many thin women can’t and shouldn’t lose weight [to improve cellulite].”
Yo-yo dieting makes cellulite worse.
Verdict: Fact. As the previously mentioned weight-loss study shows, skin elasticity plays an important role in minimizing the appearance of cellulite. “Up-and-down dieting stretches the skin and makes it less able to bounce back,” explains Grossman, which makes bumpy areas look more pronounced. So if you’re trying to shed excess pounds to gain smoother skin, find a weight-loss plan you can live with long-term rather than yo-yo dieting.
A tan minimizes the appearance of cellulite.
Verdict: Myth. Sure, having a tan can make the hills and valleys on your skin appear smoother, but ultimately, the damage from sun exposure affects the structural integrity of the skin, exacerbating cellulite in the long run. “What that tan is doing to your skin is breaking down the collagen and elastin fibers — and that skin is already lacking thickness and resilience,” explains Grossman. “So ultimately, all you’re going to do is make cellulite look worse by tanning, whether from the sun or a tanning bed. Get a tan from a bottle instead.”
Firming creams are a gimmick.
Verdict: Myth. Body firming creams can help, according to Grossman. “Is it going to take someone with pretty significant cellulite and make it go away totally? No, but even when I do more aggressive procedures for cellulite, creams are part of the treatment and maintenance for it,” she says. Firming creams work by helping to thicken the dermis, which lessens the appearance of cellulite, explains Grossman. But once you stop using the cream, the improvement disappears along with it. And as with any product, Grossman points out that firming body lotions work better for some people and not on others.
Liposuction improves the appearance of cellulite.
Verdict: Myth. Traditional liposuction, which targets the deep layer of fat under your skin, does not improve cellulite. “It will change your contour, but it won’t affect your dimpling,” says Grossman. In fact, some people find that liposuction makes cellulite even more noticeable.
There are effective treatments that improve cellulite.
Verdict: Fact. Radiofrequency procedures such as Thermage, which has been used for years, and VelaSmooth, as well as laser treatments, can all help to smooth the skin. In general, they work by delivering sustained heat to the skin, causing it to shrink and tighten, and triggering collagen production, which results in a smoother surface. “They work best on smaller, less deep indents,” says Grossman, who notes that the treatments require six or more sessions spaced one or two weeks apart.
As far as invasive treatments, there’s subcision, which involves injecting a local anesthetic to numb the area being treated and then inserting a needle into the dermis to cut the bands of connective tissue. “That’s really best for somebody who is thin and for one or two isolated spots,” says Grossman.
But the most promising and only FDA-approved treatment is Cellulaze, which often works in a single session. In the procedure, a dermatologist or plastic surgeon carefully marks up the area being treated, which is then numbed (or the patient is sedated). A laser cuts the connective bands, melts some of the fat where there’s telltale bulging, and heats the skin to cause tightening.
Even when treatments work, you may not be happy with the results.
Verdict: Fact. While procedures can smooth out undulating skin, nothing gets rid of cellulite completely. “Sometimes it’s hard for patients to accept that cellulite can be 70 percent better, but not 100 percent better,” notes Grossman. “You have to ask yourself, are you going to be happy if you spend $5,000 and 70 percent of the cellulite is gone?”
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