Which Cellulite Treatments Actually Work?
As much as we love swapping tips and tricks to solve our biggest beauty dilemmas, there are some questions we may not feel comfortable asking our friends about, let alone Google without going incognito. Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. In this series, we’re tackling those embarrassing beauty queries by turning to experts in the field to get you the answers you need — minus any awkward feelings.
Point blank: Cellulite can make us feel self-conscious. No matter the season, our shape, or size, when those indentations are in sight, the prospect of showing some skin or stepping out in a style that hugs our curves is often a no-go. While there are a number of products and treatments that promise to smooth out the look of dimply skin, not all have a long-lasting effect. Keep reading to find out what causes cellulite in the first place and which skin solutions really work.
How Does Cellulite Create Dimply Skin?
Contrary to popular belief, cellulite isn’t simply the fat that lies under the surface of our skin. “The appearance of cellulite is created when thick, fibrous septae, extending from the deep connective tissue layer to [the] muscle, pull down on [fat cells], trapping fat into discrete pockets,” explains Mara Weinstein Velez, a New York-based general and cosmetic dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. These pockets of fat — most often on the buttocks, thighs, and hips — translate into the dimples we see on the skin’s surface. (PhotoAlto/Jana Hernette/Getty Images)
While almost everyone has cellulite, experts say it’s typically more prominent in women because of the direction in which the fibrous bands run along the body. “In women, the fat cells and connective tissue in this layer are arranged vertically,” NYC-based dermatologist Hadley King says. “If [those] fat cells protrude into the layer of skin, this gives the appearance of cellulite. In men, the tissue has a criss-cross structure, which may explain why men are less likely to have cellulite than women.”
Of course, whether you have cellulite or not traces back to your genetics (thanks, Mom and Dad) and how hormones influence our bodies. As King points out, estrogen, insulin, noradrenaline, thyroid hormones, and prolactin all play a part in the formation of cellulite. Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Jason Emer notes that hormone changes, such as those caused by pregnancy, irregular periods, or birth control, not to mention age, can influence how tight the skin is, making cellulite more or less visible.
And it isn’t just overweight people who have cellulite. Cottage-cheese skin doesn’t discriminate by shape or size. Cameron Rokhsar, a New York-based dermatologist, says that anyone can have some of the divots associated with cellulite, it’s just not as noticeable on smaller bodies. “Cellulite does get exaggerated in patients who are overweight because they have more fat cells that get puckered,” he explains.
Creams, Serums, AND Scrubs
While many cellulite products claim to smooth dimpled skin, they often come with a few caveats. “[These skincare products] can reduce the appearance of cellulite temporarily, but they cannot permanently remove [it],” says board-certified dermatologist Lauren Ploch. The trick is to find ingredients that will help prolong the positive, dimple diminishing results. Velez, who is a member of the Women’s Dermatologic Society, identifies two key ingredients to help create the look of smoother skin: caffeine and vitamin A derivatives, AKA retinoids and retinol. “Caffeine is thought to cause temporary tightening of the skin and constriction of blood vessels which therefore does not allow enough space between the connective tissue for the fat deposits to push through,” she explains. And, just like caffeine can be dehydrating when consumed, when it’s applied to the skin it can dehydrate fat cells, thereby reducing the size of the dimpling. Velez notes that when using caffeine-based cellulite reducers, like Sol De Janeiro’s Brazilian Bum Bum Cream (above, $20), Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate Gentle Exfoliating Treatment ($65), and The Seaweed Bath Co. Firming Detox Cream ($7), it can take a few weeks for the formulas to start taking effect. And then there’s vitamin A, which aims to increase collagen production to prevent fat from pushing through that connective tissue. The only downside is that these retinoid products, like Clarins’ Body Fit Anti-Cellulite Contouring Expert ($70), Paula’s Choice Resist Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment ($27), and Nivea Skin Firming & Toning Gel-Cream ($13), might need up to six months of continuous use to see significant results.
“If you massage a [cellulite] moisturizer into your skin, it’ll improve your cellulite for an hour or two or three,” says Rokhsar. He argues that it’s the rubbing, not the ingredients, that does a lot of the work by stimulating blood flow and lymphatic draining. “We know that massage, on a temporary basis, improves the appearance of cellulite,” he says, explaining that the movement helps redistribute lymphatic fluids, effectively promoting a smoother skin surface.
Fasciablaster and other Cellulite Rollers
Massage with spiked rollers has become another option to help minimize the look of cellulite. These rigid tools, meant to be maneuvered along areas of concern, are designed to drain lymphatic fluids thought to be collecting in dimples. “This manipulation also intentionally damages fat cells which then heal in an improved distribution and make the skin appear smoother,” says Velez. She explains that if you use a rolling device (like the Gaiam Restore Deep Tissue Massage Roller ($20) or the theraWell Cellulite Massager ($5)) for five to 20 minutes a day, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months to see compelling changes on your legs, thighs, and bum.
However, it is possible to over-roll your skin. While you might think you’re getting deeper into the fat by pressing down harder or rolling around in the same spot for longer than the recommended amount of time, you could actually cause bruising and end up in a lot of pain. “There is minimal risk for using rollers for the most part, but if you are using the roller over an area where you were previously injured, the tool may worsen the injury,” Velez adds. In fact, a recent lawsuit against FasciaBlaster alleges that the brand didn’t disclose the negative side effects associated with overusing the tool, which also include more extreme issues like digestive issues, hormonal instability, and even strokes. So if you’re going to get your roll on, just remember to be gentle.
If you’re looking for longer-lasting solutions, you might want to book an appointment with your dermatologist or licensed esthetician. Acoustic wave therapy, which can take multiple sessions to see results, uses compressed air to create vibrations below the skin’s surface to break down connective tissue and restructure collagen. Another option is radiofrequency therapy, like Thermage, Venus Legacy, or Exilis Ultra 360. “[These] radiofrequency treatments heat the skin and massage it to tighten [the surface] and break apart tissue banding underneath, so for a short time period, the skin looks better,” Emer explains. “But it will always go back, so it’s something that you would need to do all the time.” (Photo via andresr/ Getty)
There are a few procedures that can provide more permanent results, but they’re more invasive. Cellulaze, a popular laser skin treatment, involves inserting a small laser probe under the skin to blast away the fibrous septae and kick collagen production into high gear as it heals. Carboxytherapy works similarly but uses carbon dioxide gas, rather than lasers, to achieve the same effect. There are a couple drawbacks with the gaseous procedure, as it hasn’t been approved by the FDA and can cause pain and bruising in some instances. Regardless, each of these treatments requires multiple sessions to see a difference, but once spotted, those changes can last for six months to a year.
Last but not least there’s Cellfina, a form of subcision that involves a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon inserting a needle under the skin to snap those fibrous septae. Best of all, it only requires one treatment to target deep dimples for results that last anywhere from two to three years. And, in instances where the plumping isn’t happening as quickly as desired, some dermatologists will even inject Bellafill or Sculptra into the cellulite to help pinpoint collagen synthesis in those areas.
Have you tried to address your cellulite? Tell us @BritandCo!
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Illustrations by Rebecca Fong
Originally published on October 17