What is Cellulite?
Cellulite is that dimpled skin some people have on their hips, thighs, and buttocks. Cellulite is much more common in women than in men because of differences in the way fat, muscle, and connective tissue are distributed in men and women’s skin.
What Causes Cellulite?
Cellulite occurs in people of all races living all around the globe. The lumpiness of cellulite is caused by fat deposits that push and distort the connective tissues beneath skin, leading to the characteristic changes in appearance of the skin. Some possible causes include:
- Hormonal factors – hormones likely play an important role in cellulite development. Many believe estrogen, insulin, noradrenaline, thyroid hormones, and prolactin are part of the cellulite production process.
- Genetics – certain genes are required for cellulite development. Genes may predispose an individual to particular characteristics associated with cellulite, such as gender, race, slow metabolism, distribution of fat just underneath the skin, and circulatory insufficiency.
- Diet – people who eat too much fat, carbohydrates, or salt and too little fiber are likely to have greater amounts of cellulite.
- Lifestyle factors – cellulite may be more prevalent in smokers, those who do not exercise, and those who sit or stand in one position for long periods of time.
- Clothing – underwear with tight elastic across the buttocks (limiting blood flow) may contribute to the formation of cellulite.
I Want to Get Rid of It!
Let’s face it – most women do not like cellulite and want smoother skin. Although female hormones may play a role in contributing to this pattern of fat distribution, cellulite is unfortunately not treatable by hormone therapy.
Many costly treatments are promoted but do they really work?? Specific research from Medicinenet.com shows the following does and does not work.
- Methylxanthines: Methylxanthines are a group of chemicals that include aminophylline, caffeine, and theophyilline. These chemicals are present in many cellulite creams and are promoted as treatments for cellulite because of their known ability to break down fat stores. However, skin creams cannot deliver the required concentration of these chemicals for the length of time required for significant fat breakdown. While studies have shown a small reduction in thigh measurements with some of these preparations, they do not promote significant loss of cellulite.
- Dietary supplements: Several of these products have been marketed and contain a variety of ingredients such as ginkgo biloba, sweet clover, grape-seed bioflavinoids, bladder wrack extract, oil of evening primrose, fish oil, and soy lecithin. These preparations claim to have positive effects on the body such as boosting metabolism, improving circulation, protecting against cell damage, and breaking down fats. Such claims are difficult to evaluate as is the case with similar assertions made on behalf of many supplements and alternative therapies. Concepts such as “metabolism,” “circulation,” or “cell damage” cannot be easily measured on an objective basis to determine whether or not any improvement has been achieved.
Unfortunately, there are no valid clinical studies to support the use of these dietary supplements for the treatment of cellulite. Studies that have been conducted have not demonstrated any value of these supplements.
- Massage treatments: Several machines have been introduced that massage the areas affected by cellulite. These machines use rolling cylinders to gather areas of skin and massage them inside a chamber. One example of massage treatments is Endermologie, which was developed in France and has been used for cellulite treatment since the mid-1990s. This technique uses an electrically powered device that suctions, pulls, and squeezes affected areas. Treatments are expensive and typically last for 30-45 minutes, and 10-12 treatments are typically required before results are noticeable. Endermologie has been approved by the U.S. FDA for temporary reduction in the appearance of cellulite. While a temporary decrease in the appearance of cellulite may occur, the technique appears to redistribute fat rather than permanently alter its configuration under the skin. Regular maintenance treatments are required after the initial effect has been achieved or the appearance of cellulite will return.
- Laser or light therapy: The FDA has approved two light-therapy devices that combine suction or massage with light therapy for the temporary reduction of the appearance of cellulite. TriActive is a treatment that combines a low-level laser treatment with suction and manipulation of the skin, while VelaSmooth is a treatment combining laser and massage therapy. Like Endermologie, both treatments require multiple treatment sessions and maintenance treatments to keep up the improved appearance. Laser/massage treatments are even more costly than massage treatments; the complete program generally costs thousands of dollars.
- Mesotherapy: Mesotherapy is a controversial treatment for cellulite that involves injecting drugs or other substances directly into affected tissue. Often, FDA-approved medications are used off-label (meaning that they have been approved for other conditions but not for treatment of this particular condition) in the injections. Herbs and vitamins are often used as well in the injection cocktails. Multiple injections over multiple (typically 10 or more) sessions are administered. Although this procedure is offered by some physicians, most experts feel that this treatment is unproven and risky. A 2005 report in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy stated that: “Patients considering mesotherapy for cellulite must be aware that the substances currently being injected to treat this cosmetically disturbing, but medically benign, condition have not been thoroughly evaluated for safety or efficacy.”
- Collagenase: Collagenase is a naturally-occurring enzyme in the body that breaks down collagen, a component of connective tissue (the tissues that bind our cells together). A small study of 10 women with cellulite conducted in 2006 suggested that injections with this enzyme may be beneficial in improving the appearance of cellulite. The long-term effects of these injections are still unknown, and studies have not yet been carried out to determine the extent and duration of the improvements, if any. The treatment is considered experimental and is not yet routinely available, but research is underway to determine if collagenase injections may become an option for the treatment of cellulite.
- Cellulite diets: Special “cellulite diets” have been proposed that claim to be effective in treating cellulite. Arguments for these diets claim that the combination of foods in the diet can reduce inflammation and improve circulation in affected areas and diminish cellulite. However, no studies published in the medical literature have supported these claims. Experts note that eating a healthy, low-fat diet with fruits, vegetables, and fiber can decrease fluid retention and improve the overall health and appearance of skin, but specific diets designed to target cellulite are unnecessary.
- Wraps: Many salons offer herbal or other types of body wraps as treatments for cellulite. Like cellulite diets, their effects have not been proven or reported in controlled studies in the medical literature. While wraps may decrease fluid retention and improve the overall appearance of skin, these effects are temporary. It is also not possible to “detoxify” the body by the use of herbal or other wraps.
Liposuction is a cosmetic surgical procedure that removes fat thru a cannula inserted under the skin. Excellent results can result from this procedure but it is costly, not covered by insurance, and does require anesthesia and recovery time after the procedure. Not everyone is a candidate and you should work with a Board-certified plastic surgeon who specializes in the technique. For more information go to: http://www.aboardcertifiedplasticsurgeonresource.com/