Thigh Anxiety: Cellulite: Ninety Percent of Women Have It, Hate It and Treat It
Aah, summer. Breezy skirts, comfy shorts and, yes, the time of year when we publicly peel off our layers of clothing and are forced to come to terms with our cellulite.
Cellulite is the bane of virtually every female, no matter her age or weight. It makes women’s thighs look like orange peels and turns their hips into dimpled disasters. It’s basically lumpy fat that presses up against connective tissue, creating a dimpling effect. An estimated 90 percent of women — more than 45 million — will have cellulite at some time in their lives, according to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
We all know that exercising and eating less will go a long way toward getting rid of the stuff, but is there anything that requires less, well, work?
Enter the spa and beauty business and a wide range of anti-cellulite treatments. American women spend about $500 million a year on these treatments — scrubbing, massaging, lasering and slapping on lotion. All these treatments may help ease women’s anxiety, but do any of them work?
Here, a dozen burning questions and answers about cellulite and how to treat it.
Do I blame toxins or my mother for my cellulite?
For decades, toxic buildup has been blamed, but the culprit is mostly genetics and hormones. Sorry.
If I’m thin, why do I still have it?
"Some of the thinnest people in world have the pebbly thighs," says Dr. Emily McLaughlin, a Fort Worth plastic surgeon. "The problem with cellulite is there is nothing good historically to treat it because the fat is very close to the surface. If we could fix cellulite, it would be a home run."
What about lotions like Bliss’ Fat Girl Slim or its Cellulite Fighting Serum? What’s in them and does that help?
No controlled studies have been done to show the effectiveness of the ingredients in these creams, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Aminophylline, a prescription asthma medication used in some thigh creams, has raised the FDA’s concerns. Women with asthma should avoid this product, the FDA says. If you use the products on a daily basis, you may see some smoothing of the skin, but results are subtle and short-lived.
I’ve also seen shoes that specifically promise to help fight cellulite. What about those? Any hope there?
It’s called the Masai Barefoot Technology or MBT shoe, and the sole is designed to improve posture and stride. The makers say it increases muscle strength and circulation, which then reduces cellulite. The shoe, which looks like a chunky (ugly) athletic shoe, costs about $250. Jennifer Campbell, an exercise physiologist at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, started wearing the shoes to relieve low back pain during her pregnancy. "I wear them every day and I haven’t noticed a huge change in cellulite," she said. If the shoes lead you to work out, which in turn leads to more lean tissue and less body fat, then maybe you might reduce cellulite. But simple day-to-day wear alone is not going to do it.
OK, so let’s talk about spa treatments. I heard that pop singer Britney Spears had a laser toning treatment to get her legs and thighs stage-ready. What is laser, and does it work?
The new laser treatments show promise but they’re still too new to know if the results are long-lasting, says Dr. Angela Moore, an Arlington dermatologist. So far what’s available can improve the appearance of cellulite but cannot make it go away permanently, she says. Laser toning, which zaps fat with light energy, is among the hottest treatments.
The new Tri-Active system combines a low-energy laser with a cooling system to reduce inflammation and a suctioning massage to break up toxins, said Jeff Robinson, owner of the Perfect Touch Spa in Fort Worth. The laser is important because studies have shown that with massage alone, only 13 percent of people saw results, he said. But when combined with the laser, 87 percent of people did, he said.
"People that undergo the treatment and also pay attention to their diet and exercise get optimal results," Robinson said.
Any other local spa treatments?
One of the newest devices is the Accent system, which uses radiofrequency energy to heat underlying tissue at different depths. This causes the skin to contract and tighten.
It improves the integrity of the skin, therefore it looks better, says McLaughlin, who is also the medical director for European Skincare Institute, which offers the service. (She has not tried it herself.) The skin is heated up to the "ouch" level, said Alexander von Illyes, chief executive for the European Skincare Institute. The procedure is medically supervised and noninvasive. It’s also expensive — $3,000 for six treatments.
Maureen Weaver of Trophy Club began using Accent last November and gives the system high marks.
"The first time, I didn’t see anything, but by the second time I did see results," she said. "After several sessions I could fit into my skinnier pants."
While cellulite tends to sneak back after most treatments, that is not the case with Accent, von Illyes says. The treatment, which the FDA recently approved in the U.S., has 10 years’ worth of data from other parts of the world showing that cellulite hasn’t returned, he says.
Any other radio frequency treatments?
The VelaSmooth uses radio frequency waves to break up fat and infrared heat to improve circulation. The makers of the device say it eliminates the appearance of cellulite, improves blood flow and softens fat. The FDA cleared the device in 2005 for the temporary reduction in the appearance of cellulite. Clinical Skin Care Center in Grapevine offers the treatment.
I’ve heard of another treatment called Endermologie? What’s that?
Endermologie, which has been around more than a decade, massages the skin with rollers at the same time a hand-held device suctions it. The device has been tested in thousands of cases, which fans say points to its effectiveness, however temporary. Devotees of this non-invasive deep-tissue treatment say it smoothes and tightens the skin and makes clothes fit looser. It’s also as relaxing as any massage.
"I have not had one person who didn’t have results," said Jaleane Reddell, who began offering Endermologie two years ago at the Pamper House in Arlington. "People find it so therapeutic to come in for 35 minutes and just zone off." Doctors say it can improve the appearance of cellulite but results are temporary. Maintenance is required. The cost is around $100 a treatment or 10 sessions for about $850.
And what about a procedure in which vitamins are injected into the skin?
Perhaps the most controversial cellulite treatment is mesotherapy, which involves injecting vitamins, herbs and other extracts into the skin. Although it has been widely used in France since the 1950s, some doctors have urged caution, saying there is no substantiated clinical evidence that it is safe and effective. The ingredients used are FDA-approved, although mesotherapy itself is not.
The formula that is injected is said to reduce fat in the cellulite, improve circulation and break down damaged connective tissue. The fat is then dissolved and flushed from the body. The treatment should be performed by a physician, and results can be seen after a month of weekly visits. The cost for 10 treatments is about $2,000.
Many doctors have abandoned this treatment for obvious reasons: It requires sticking more than 300 needles in your thigh or belly. Dr. Naila Malik, who has practices in Fort Worth and Argyle, said she favors no-needles mesotherapy, followed with muscle-toning.
She also performs Lipodissolve, a nonsurgical procedure for localized fat reduction. A mixture of soy is injected to break down fat, which in turn is excreted through the kidneys. The procedure is suitable for nonobese patients with localized fat deposits. It does not result in weight loss.
But as is often the case in coping with fat and cellulite, it’s not an easy fix.
"It will not work unless you have a decent lifestyle," Malik said. "You have to eliminate toxins, drink water and exercise.
What about liposuction? Would that do it?
Liposuction cannot promise a permanently cellulite-free behind, but it can be used for shaping and contouring. Good candidates for body contouring through liposuction should be within 30 percent of their ideal body weight, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Liposuction itself does not cure cellulite," says Dr. Rod Rohrich, chairman of plastic surgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Is there any scientifically proven long-term treatment?
No. Just start working out, and put down that cheeseburger.
So I’ll just lose weight and that will be the end of it?
Um, no, not necessarily. Exercise and diet can improve the appearance of cellulite, but for a few, weight loss can worsen the condition, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Testing out the treatments
Somebody had to be brave and let readers know how these anti-cellulite treatments actually feel. I decided to check out a mud wrap, the new Triactive laser system and the decade-old system called Endermologie. Here’s the skinny:
What it is: Device mechanically frees trapped fat in the layer under the surface of the skin, increases circulation and removes superficial water retention. Also relieves muscle soreness and relaxes spasms.
Where I went: Pamper House, Arlington
How it works: Before treatment, you put on a body stocking that covers everything from toes to neck. The treatment combines a suction with rollers that knead the skin and move over areas where cellulite is most common. Massages and loosens tightly packed fat from the skin.
What it feels like: It feels like a vacuum cleaner hose is sucking your skin at the same time rollers are kneading it. It can be uncomfortable in spots, but the equipment is quickly adjusted to avoid any pain. For the most part it is very relaxing once you get used to the kneading. But the next day, my legs ached.
What the salon says: Results can be seen after six treatments, but 14-18 are usually required for optimal results. Monthly maintenance needed.
Cost: Around $100 for a 35-minute session; packages are cheaper per session.
Worth it?: Fans say it takes several weeks to see significant results. Before-and-after pictures show a noticeable improvement in skin tone and appearance. But a single treatment like I had is not going to change your life or your skin. I enjoyed the deep massage and my skin did feel better. But as with most one-time treatments, the effect was short-lived.
Triactive Laser System
What it is: This device uses a low-energy laser to increase circulation. A cooling spray reduces inflammation and a suction massage promotes lymphatic drainage. Approved by the FDA in 2004, Triactive claims it "temporarily reduces the appearance of cellulite".
Where I went: Perfect Touch Therapeutic Massage in Fort Worth
How it works: You lie down on a table while a technician moves the device over the hips, thighs and other areas where cellulite is. The device uses low-intensity heat to tighten skin. It also cools the skin to counteract any burning sensation.
What if feels like: It’s definitely cold, like running an ice cube along your skin, but you get used to it quickly. As the device moves over the skin, it feels like a small rubber mallet is hammering away. Once you get over the jolt of coldness, it becomes relaxing.
What the salon says: Around 16 treatments needed.
Cost: $100 for 30 minute treatment; $1,280 for a series.
Worth it?: My skin was noticeably smoother. As with other treatments, this one requires multiple visits. If you have the cash and the time, this might be worth the investment.
Body Wrap Cellulite Firming Treatment
What it is: Bath salts, blended "contour" oils and a seaweed body mask are applied to help eliminate toxins, improve skin’s elasticity and blood circulation. Cellulite activating gel completes the treatment.
Where I went: European Skincare Institute, Colleyville.
How it works: After you strip down to a disposable panty, your body is mildly exfoliated with a brush and then covered in a green seaweed body mask. Your body is wrapped in plastic and covered in a warm towel. The body wrap squeezes the underlying tissue. Excessive fluids are absorbed by the towels. Can cause heavy perspiration.
What it feels like: Like being wrapped in a cocoon of soothing warmth. Some people say they feel claustrophobic because you can’t move for about 20 minutes, but that did not bother me. I was too captivated by the warmth penetrating my skin. The New Age music and darkened room enhance the experience. It is a bit of a shock going from the warmth of the wrap to the coldness of a shower. But that is followed by a return to the table and a final application of cellulite activating gel. You should drink lots of water and avoid sugar and caffeine for the rest of the day.
What the salon says: Number of treatments needed varies. For maximum benefit, four to six sessions.
Cost: $80 per 60-minute treatment
Worth it?: Yes, for the pleasure of being wrapped in soothing warmth. It does make the skin feel incredibly soft and somewhat firmer. But that disappears by the end of the day.
– Jan Jarvis
Where the treatments are
Bliss anti-cellulite lotions
The Bliss Spa in the W Hotel in Dallas, and at www.blissworld.com
Tri-Active laser toning
Perfect Touch Spa, 3023 Bledsoe St., Suite 103, at University Drive, Fort Worth. 817-870-3610
Pamper House, 804 W. Abram St., Arlington. 817-860-4415
Legacy Salon and Day Spa, 6115 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. 817-737-0440
Accent radio frequency
European Skincare Institute, 5604-A Colleyville Blvd, Colleyville
6038 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth. 817-731-0707
VelaSmooth radio frequency
Clinical Skin Care Center, 1705 W. Northwest Highway, Suite 110, Grapevine. 817-329-5015
Slimming body wraps
Body Wraps Plus in Arlington, Colleyville/Southlake and Fort Worth. www.bodywrapsplus.org
Many area salons offer similar wrap treatments.