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Cellulite: What It Is, What Causes It,
How to Get Rid of It

What Is Cellulite?
Where Does It Come From?
How to Get Rid of It?

What Is Cellulite?

Cellulite is an unflattering expression that was coined in European salons and spas of the 1970's to describe deposits of dimpled fat found on the thighs and buttocks of 90% of women, and some men. Widespread panic over this natural type of body fat was given birth by the 1973 publication of Cellulite: Those Lumps, Bumps and Bulges You Couldn't Lose Before by Nicole Ronsard, owner of a New York City beauty salon that specialized in skin and body care. Ms. Ronsard alleged that cellulite was a special type of “fat gone wrong,” a combination of fat, water, and “toxic wastes” that the body had failed to eliminate.

Pseudo anti-cellulite products immediately began to hit the stores, and the market for “cellulite cures” in the last thirty-three years has grown nearly exponentially. Some of the pseudo-treatments include: “loofah” spunges; cactus fibers; special wash cloths; horsehair mitts; creams and gels (to “dissolve” cellulite); supplements containing vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs; bath liquids; massagers; body wraps; rubberized pants; brushes; rollers; and the list is endless. Everyone seems to have a “cure” for something that is perfectly natural. Some operators claim to be able to remove 5 to 15 inches in a one-hour treatment. A series of “treatments” can cost the consumer hundreds of dollars, and repeat treatments can add up into thousands of dollars.


The quest to get rid of cellulite has, in the past six years, become a billion dollar business. Most cellulite “cures” have been, to put it kindly, inadequate, and strongly put, have often been proven to be deliberately fraudulent. New research confirms that cellulite is not the result of toxic build-up or inflammation (as is touted by some marketers). Instead, it is the product of anatomy, heredity, and hormones.

Where Does It Come From?

Several factors influence whether a person has cellulite and how much they have. Your genetics, your gender, the amount of your body fat, your age, and the thickness of your skin all play a role in how much cellulite you have and how visible it is. If your mother and grandmother had it, chances are good that you do too. If you eat healthfully, and you exercise responsibly, you may be able to reduce the visibility of cellulite, but if you have it, nothing can make it totally disappear.

How to Get Rid of It?

There are some doctors who try to treat cellulite with liposuction. However there are also doctors who warn that in addition to the expense, liposuction may have only limited results. Liposuction is designed to remove deep fat, whereas cellulite is a shallow fat, which is directly under the skin. What results there are will be only temporary.

The solution is to alter what you were born with, at least temporarily. There have been recent scientific advances. A drug delivery system is being put to a cosmetic purpose; wrinkle-reducing, skin-tightening lights and lasers are being turned from the face to the lower body; deep dimples are being filled; and, in Europe, an injectable fat melter is being studied. Some of these treatments are approved by the FDA, as Class I devices — meaning that they present minimal harm. But others are being used off-label — that is, not for the purpose for which they were approved, and the patient must remain informed and use wisdom. The following are some of the legitimate treatments available:

Laser Toning: For cellulite that has more ripples than dimples, Beverly Hills dermatologist, Harold Lancer, M.D., relies on the “Galaxy,” a device commonly used for facial wrinkles. It directs radio frequency and laser light energy beneath the skin's surface, causing a wound response that lays down new collagen and tightens the skin. Dr. Lancer states, “I've treated 100 patients with the Galaxy, and the results are good.” He is one of the few doctors using the laser for cellulite.

Cold-Laser Massage: The Tri-Active laser was approved by the FDA in January 2004, and it is permitted to claim that it “temporarily reduces the appearance of cellulite.” It combines suction massage to increase lymphatic drainage, which filters fluid from the cells. Low intensity diodes heat to stimulate collagen production and tighten the skin, while a cooling head counters the burning sensation. According to Dr. Mitchell Goldman, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, “it is so painless, you fall asleep while it's being done.” However, pain is a relative thing. One patient said that the pain level for her ranged “from that of a pleasant, light massage to an uncomfortable, deep-tissue rubdown.”

Mechanical Massage: Edermologie's Cellu M6 Keymodule is a handheld device that sucks up about an inch of skin, between rollers, and squeezes it to increase blood and lymphatic flow, stretching out the dimple-causing cords. One patient describes the process as hurting “a little, depending on how high the dial is cranked up,” something like a mini-mammogram for the thighs. The temporary swelling that results helps disguise cellulite, reports V. Leroy Young, M.D., chairman of the nonsurgical procedures committee of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). “There's a good animal study showing Endermologie produces a little collagen in deep dermis,” he says. One wonders what poor animal had to stand still for that. The Cellu M6 has been cleared by the FDA for “temporary improvement in local blood circulation and . . . in the appearance of cellulite.”

Fat-Melting Injections: Here is where science takes a scary twist. In Europe and South America smooth thighs are a national obsession. Fat-melting injections have been used on everything from cellulite to bags under the eyes. The drug “phosphatidylcholine,” an extract of lecithin from soybeans, was first used to dissolve artery-blocking plaque. However, when it is injected repeatedly just under the skin (a process called mesotherapy) it is said to melt fat away. Sounds miraculous, but animal studies indicate it may cause serious side effects, such as bleeding and ulcers. The results are so alarming, that this drug is now banned in Brazil. In Europe, however, the drug is still being studied. In the USA phosphatidylcholine is relegated, according to Dr. Lancer, as a “backroom” treatment and “not proven to be safe or effective.”

So there you have it. Safety verses vanity. Is the expense into the hundreds, even thousands of dollars, worth the risk of serious harm? Is the promise of a “temporary” cure, which will bleed one's bank account, as the patient goes back again and again, worth the pain and disappointment? Only you the patient can answer that question for yourself.

Article by Jaye Lewis.

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